In 2010, Freshwater Land Trust, under the Jefferson County Department of Health and the Health Action Partnership, received funding through a Centers for Disease Control “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” grant to develop a greenway master plan for Jefferson County, Alabama. The purpose of this plan was to develop a feasible and “ground-truthed” master plan for greenways and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructures that would promote active and healthy living, use of alternate modes of transportation, and protect regional waterways.

The planning process was given the name “Our One Mile,” and it exemplified the indispensable value of individual input in a plan designed to serve the public. To obtain your input, the “Our One Mile” team, led by the Planning and Engineering firm of Goodwyn, Mills, & Cawood, organized over forty stakeholder meetings with a diverse array of organizations and individuals throughout Jefferson County to discuss important destinations and prospective trail routes. The stakeholder meetings offered participants the opportunity to illustrate optimal trail routes and to make their own recommendations on paper maps. We asked the question, “Where is your one mile and what does it connect you to?” For those unable to attend the meetings, an online “virtual” stakeholder meeting was created on our website to capture public input. Over 3,000 separate comments were provided by the public through both the physical and virtual stakeholder meetings.

Following the initial input period, the design team held follow-up workshops, and many elected officials, citizens, and advocates for bicycle-pedestrian connectivity were invited to provide further input. The design team then conducted extensive field visits to examine all prospective path routes for feasibility and to verify and assess existing infrastructure that would become part of the trail network.

Red Rock Trail System presents an inclusive “roadmap” for a regional greenway and street-based trail system to connect communities across Jefferson County. The master plan proposes over 200 miles of shared-use greenways and trails along six main corridors, as well as over 600 miles of street-based bicycle and pedestrian pathways that will connect the corridors with surrounding areas. Upon implementation of the plan, citizens will be able to walk and ride bicycles for routine transportation and recreation, which will improve the quality of life of the people of Jefferson County and create a region attractive to new residents and businesses, which will sustain future economic growth in our communities.

Red Rock Trail System’s master plan is primarily designed as an implementation tool for municipalities and cooperating organizations, supplying all the information needed to apply for grants to fund the site design and construction of trail segments. Existing greenways and bicycle-pedestrian master plans at the municipal level were carefully incorporated into the master plan, so that we can ensure connections are made between communities throughout Jefferson County as part of the overall network.

To assist in funding the implementation of this plan, the RPCGB has graciously agreed to incorporate the Red Rock Trail System into its Long Range Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), thus making all trails eligible for Surface Transportation Program (STP) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding. By contributing to regional connectivity, this master plan will also serve as a supplement to the RPCGB’s Active Transportation Plan of the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan.

History of Jefferson County’s geography

Jefferson County, Alabama, was officially created by the Alabama legislature in honor of President Thomas Jefferson in 1819.

While cotton farming was abundant in the county, early settlers also took advantage of the abundant regional minerals, such as iron ore and coal. By 1865, Jefferson County had become one of the south’s major suppliers of iron and steel to the Confederacy. It was the region’s natural resources of iron and coal that made Birmingham’s industrial boom possible in the late 19th Century, and thus Birmingham became the leading industrial city in Alabama. In the late twentieth century, Birmingham’s industry-based economy began to transition into a diverse service-based economy, where the city experienced emerging economic growth in the sectors of biomedical research, banking, and insurance.

Jefferson County lies within a dramatic geography of 1,119 square miles made up of the southern extension of the Appalachian Mountains, Cumberland Plateau. Butler Mountain in northeastern Jefferson County boasts the highest elevation in the county at 1,480 feet. The valleys and ridges provide a drainage system of many beautiful rivers and creeks, such as the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, the Cahaba River, Turkey Creek, Five Mile Creek, Village Creek, Valley Creek, and Shades Creek. This web of smaller and larger tributaries is a host to many scenic vistas and recreational opportunities.

The overall shape of the county with the predominant ridge and valley formation has dictated the pattern of development through the years and shaped the foundation of the greenway network proposed in the Red Rock Trail System master plan. The Red Rock master plan looks very similar to what the Olmstead Brothers firm proposed for Birmingham in 1924, with a greenway system following the streams and ridges that run northeast to southwest.

According to local historian Marjorie White, the Olmstead plan suggested numerous parks for active and passive uses. The plan recommended neighborhood parks within easy walking distance of every house for all citizens, including expansion of certain parks with beautiful, natural features; the creation of beauty spots and athletic fields; a civic center surrounded by major public buildings; parkways and large parks in the flood plains of area creeks and along ridges; reservations of vast lands in Shades Valley and at sites critical for the protection of domestic water supply; and the building of parkways along ridge tops to gain for the public impressive outlooks.

Inspired by the Olmstead Brothers, the Red Rock Trail System master plan is organized into the following seven corridors that are generally parallel with those ridges and valleys:

  • Jones Valley and Valley Creek Corridor / Central Spine of the Network
  • Village Creek Corridor / The Olmstead Vision
  • Five Mile Creek Corridor / The Great Partnership
  • Shades Creek Corridor / The Over the Mountain Greenway
  • Cahaba River Corridor / The Living River
  • Turkey Creek Corridor / A Natural Sanctuary
  • Northern Beltway Corridor / A New Opportunity

These corridors provide great connectivity to major destinations and communities along their routes, as outlined in the master plan. Jefferson County is fortunate in that many of the greenways and community connectors that the Olmsted Brothers envisioned can still become a reality, and this master plan is designed to facilitate that achievement.