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Freshwater Land Trust focuses on conservation, stewardship to benefit Alabamians

From the ever-expanding Red Rock Trail System to protecting the habitat of the endangered vermilion darter on Turkey Creek, the Freshwater Land Trust both cares and caretakes.

“We own and manage 7,000 acres of Alabama land,” Executive Director Rusha Smith said. “We visit that land on a regular basis to ensure nothing negative is affecting the water species, the flora, fauna or anything else on the property.” The acres came to the trust through purchase, donation or conservation easements.

These conservation and stewardship efforts benefit all Alabamians in a behind-the-scenes, good-for-the-future manner.

Other Freshwater Land Trust programs are more visible every day. The Red Rock Trail System offers dozens of trails running through 120 miles of Jefferson County. Seven “corridors” are each a main thoroughfare made up of many individual trails.

“Our goal is for every resident of Jefferson County to have access to an outdoor place in a convenient way,” said the trust’s Mary Beth Brown. “To use trails for exercise, to walk or bike to work, to access the library or church, to live healthy lives and be outside in nature where the car isn’t the only option.”

For instance, the new Five Mile Creek Trail in Gardendale connects to Fultondale’s existing trail, providing a 10-mile loop between the two cities. Plans call for extending the Rotary Trail from downtown Birmingham to Avondale and adding nearly 2 more miles to Homewood’s Shades Creek Greenway, so far the most used of all the trails.

Freshwater Land Trust strives to preserve and protect beauty all around us from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

As the newest trail of all, the High Ore Line Trail begins in Midfield, runs 3 miles along an old railroad bed and connects with Red Mountain Park at its recently opened Venice Road entrance. Closing the 20-mile loop around downtown Birmingham is coming soon. Eventually, every trail on every corridor will connect into a continuous linking of communities and outdoor possibilities, in all 750 miles lacing through the county.

People are excited. “When we build a new trail, the running and cycling groups want to be on it before we even finish,” Brown said.

Runner Tom Bartels, training for his next 50K, rejoices in the many choices. “These trails are in our own backyard,” he said. “You can get nice, long runs. I can easily do a 21-miler on the system. I’ve spent a lot of time running in other cities and, as Red Rock Trail System continues to grow, we’re going to rival some of those larger places. The terrain and beauty we have here is a match made for trails like these.”

Tom Cosby, a downtown enthusiast, agreed. “The system is burnishing Birmingham’s reputation as a truly great city. My wife and I bike from our home to the heart of the city center and throughout Railroad Park, and we hike the Vulcan Trail during winter months to see the breathtaking views of the city below. Of all the great things that have happened in Birmingham in the past 10 years, I would put Red Rock Trail System at the top of my list.”

That’s the idea behind the idea: getting people out, using and enjoying the wonders around them. A newly announced project in Birmingham’s Parkside District will draw people to reconfigured land that will include an entertainment venue for movies, music, special events, restaurants and shopping.

“The Freshwater Land Trust is going to assist with trail development through that area and even farther into the Titusville neighborhood,” Smith said. “We feel trails are vital to a community. Not only do they improve walkability and promote healthy living, they also attract businesses and residents to our city.” The project is expected to be completed in the next two to three years.

Of course, the quiet streams, pastoral lands and vistas protected by the Freshwater Land Trust remain a priority. When Turkey Creek experienced severe bank erosion, Stewardship Director Jeffrey Drummond enabled stabilization and the removal of an old dam in the midst of an 11-mile stretch that serves as habitat for the bright red-yellow, endangered vermilion darter, which is found only in Alabama. After strengthening the stream segment, “we found the fish even farther up the stream than ever before,” Drummond said.

The Freshwater Land Trust is looking to the future as it continues to add infrastructure to its stewardship and conservation of properties in Bibb, Blount, Dallas, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties.

“We hope to increase the property we own and manage,” Smith said. “And to continue the trails along the connectors of the Red Rock Trail System.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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