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Plan to extend Jones Valley Trail excites Birmingham walkers, bicyclists

For years, bicyclists who’ve cruised through central Birmingham have looked longingly to the right as they rode east along First Avenue South past Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark toward the resurging Avondale neighborhood.

Just south of the road, there’s a strip of land that has long been eyed as a potential walking and bike trail connection to Avondale. Anticipation grew as the Red Rock Trail network expanded in central Birmingham with the opening of the downtown Rotary Trail. It links to a popular section of the Jones Valley Trail that runs past the Pepper Place retail complex and farmers market and on to Sloss Furnaces.

Extending the Jones Valley Trail to Avondale’s 41st Street always seemed like a no-brainer. That dream came a step closer to reality as the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust unveiled plans to raise funds to complete the next phase of the trail.

“We are thrilled to move forward on this long-anticipated project,” said Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust executive director. She said the Land Trust is working with the city of Birmingham and a number of landowners to complete design and construction documents. The next step is to solicit and secure funds for construction, which the Land Trust hopes to begin this year and complete in time for the 2021 World Games.

When complete, the Jones Valley Trail will be a safe, car-free route for walkers, joggers and bicyclists to travel some 2.5 miles to the east, from Birmingham’s booming Parkside area, which includes Railroad Park and Regions Field, through Lakeview with its expanding housing, restaurants and clubs, and on to Avondale. The Jones Valley Trail connects to downtown’s north and south sides, including the central business district, UAB and its medical complexes, as well as the neighborhoods of Highland Park, Forest Park, Glen Iris and Five Points South.

“The Jones Valley Trail is another great example of how trails, sidewalks and greenways can connect communities and inspire growth and economic development,” said Carolyn Buck, who directs the Red Rock Trail project for the Land Trust.

Conceived more than a decade ago, the Red Rock master plan envisions a 750-mile network of trails, sidewalks, greenways and “blueways” – accessible creeks and rivers where people can canoe and kayak – throughout Jefferson County, connecting nearly every community. To date, more than 115 miles of trails have been completed along six major corridors. The network is helping connect neighborhoods to major parks and open spaces across the county, including Vulcan Park and Museum, George Ward Park, Ruffner Mountain and Red Mountain Park. It sets the stage for expanding trails into surrounding counties. Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation have long supported the Land Trust and efforts by others to expand parks and greenways in the Birmingham area and statewide.

Smith said fundraising for the Jones Valley Trail extension is underway. She said the project fits in with Birmingham’s sustainability goals, which include making the city more walkable and providing more transportation options that reduce the need to drive a car. In 2018 the city approved a new “complete streets” policy that is driving upgrades of city roadways to include sidewalks, bike lanes and other improvements. The policy is designed to encourage people to get outdoors and walk or bicycle, which provide important health benefits.

“There are so many benefits to having a true network of parks, trails and greenways in our community,” Smith said. “Extending Jones Valley Trail is another positive development in boosting quality of life for all of us who live here. But it also helps make Birmingham and Jefferson County even more attractive – for tourists, for people and businesses looking to relocate, and especially for young people and entrepreneurs who seek out communities with these amenities.”

Learn more about Red Rock Trail system and the Freshwater Land Trust at www.freshwaterlandtrust.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)