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August 26, 2020

Dear FLT Community,

Last July, I started my position as Executive Director of Freshwater Land Trust (FLT), and it has been a wonderful first year. I would like to thank our board of directors, junior board, staff, partners, and supporters for their warm and engaging welcome. As you can see from the information below, our organization has accomplished a great deal over the past year, and the best is yet to come! We believe that FLT’s mission to provide high quality, outdoor greenspace and trails to our area residents is more important now than ever, as the increased use of our amenities throughout the COVID-19 crisis has clearly demonstrated. 

In 2019, our conservation and stewardship programs conserved 531 new acres, completed monitoring of 6,966 acres, and enhanced critical habitats for the endangered rush darter (Turkey Creek) and the watercress darter (found only in Jefferson County). We also completed a bank stabilization project at Cahaba River Walk in Irondale, reducing erosion into the river and improving the trail and parking lot. FLT and its partners opened three new Red Rock Trail System (RRTS) segments last year, adding ten miles to the trail system, including the Five Mile Creek Greenway in Gardendale and Fultondale, the High Ore Line Trail to Red Mountain Park in Birmingham and Midfield, and the Clairmont Walking Trail in Birmingham. Last year, we reached over 1,500 individuals through our weekend hikes, tours, staff presentations, and fundraisers, including our popular, day-long Endangered Species Tour. Our year-end concert fundraiser, Land Aid, was our most successful to date, and we reached over 600 people that evening.

In 2020, despite the challenges of COVID-19, we have already conserved an additional 153 acres of high-value conservation property and installed six litter gitter trash collection devices in Jefferson County waterways. We recently attended the ground-breaking of the City of Tarrant’s $9.5 million flood mitigation project, made possible through FLT’s donation of 522 acres of land. Finally, FLT learned recently that we are a recipient of a 2020 SHIFT Award and were selected as one of the six recipients from across the country in the Land Management Innovation category, with emphasis on RRTS. The SHIFT Awards are presented every year by the organization SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) and recognize individuals, initiatives, or organizations that make innovative, impactful, and replicable contributions to the advancement of the health benefits of time outside. 

Furthermore, FLT has decided to continue with our original goal of completing the Jones Valley Trail Extension (JVTE) by the summer of 2021, which will connect downtown Birmingham to Avondale’s 41st Street. We have been working on plan development while seeking financial support for the trail extension’s construction. The JVTE will link residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds and ages to the outdoors in an urbanized environment, while also providing momentum towards eventually connecting Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in the east to Red Mountain Park in the west – all by a loop of trails. In addition to the health and safety benefits, expediting the JVTE will showcase Birmingham’s commitment to much-needed progressive, sustainable infrastructure.

In looking towards the future, we will continue serving our communities by connecting people to the outdoors and contributing to the enhancement of our natural world. It is my pleasure to serve this dynamic organization as its Executive Director, and I look forward to many more years of success for the benefit of our communities. I always welcome your suggestions or ideas about how our organization can be more effective, so please feel free to share them with me. Go enjoy the great outdoors and stay safe!


Rusha Smith, Executive Director

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