By VICKI JOHNSON
Homewood will soon boast a sprawling urban park in its vicinity.
Red Mountain Park will showcase the area’s rich mining history and iron ore production, which propelled the founding of the city in 1871. The 1200-acre park, which spans some 4.5 miles from Homewood to Bessemer, sits atop the ridgeline where it all began.
The eastern portion of the park, located in Homewood with an entrance off Sydney Drive and Lakeshore Drive, will be completed and open this fall. This 500-acre section will provide areas for historical education along with miles of hiking, mountain biking and ADA-accessible walking trails that will connect throughout the rest of the park.
David Dionne, executive director of Red Mountain Park, hopes that the urban park will help define the character and quality of life of Birmingham like other urban parks have done nationally. He also hopes that it will make the surrounding communities even more attractive.
“We’ve designed a beautiful park, a knockout facility that people are just going to be absolutely astonished by and that will tell the story of how Birmingham was formed and the impact we had on the United States and world history,” Dionne said.
“The city of Homewood is very fortunate to have all kinds of diversity in the economy,” Dionne said. “Draw in (nearby attractions like) the zoo, Botanical Gardens, Vulcan Park, The Civil Rights Museum and Sloss Furnaces, and it really creates a multi-faceted package that everyone can benefit from.”
“This area has such a strong historical link to the minerals that really made Birmingham this industrial powerhouse in the south for a century,” said Homewood resident Peter Allsopp, manager of commercial development and sales for USS Real Estate in Birmingham.
When the land became unused, neighbors began to advocate that the property be preserved. According to Allsopp, in 2003 U.S. Steel realized that the land could make a park that would be an asset to all of Birmingham. In 2006, the land, which was valued at $16.7 million, was purchased from U.S. Steel for $6 million, and The Red Mountain Park Commission began their work.
Homewood City Council President Allyn Holladay couldn’t agree more. “I feel that as we strive as a country to be more active, having amenities close to home only serves to encourage that initiative,” she said.
The park’s existing ties to groups like Friends of Shades Creek and the Boy Scouts will spread involvement to citizens of Homewood.
“Having Red Mountain Park, West Homewood Park, The Vulcan Trail, the Greenway and the Homewood Forest Preserve all in such close proximity, the climate is ripe for the area to become a hub for outdoor activities and enjoyment, which I believe benefits everyone, and drives economic development in the area,” said Holladay.
Allsopp thinks the park will serve as a unique place for school field trips. “It kind of has a different feel on how it’s connected to the past,” he said. “And I think that Homewood residents are very close and certainly the schools will have another good educational venue to go to.”
Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer is excited about the plans for Red Mountain Park. “Our City of Homewood is currently designing and planning for more sidewalks that I would love to tie in from Homewood to Red Mountain Park,” he said. “It would be an incredible benefit for Homewood residents to walk from their home to Red Mountain and spend the day. It would also be a great opportunity for those visiting Red Mountain Park to walk into Homewood and see what a great city we have here.”
Both Dionne and Allsopp want the project to have a lasting impact that ripples into the nearby communities.
“Just the magnitude of what was mined in that mountain and the state of the art that was developed here in Birmingham is really a very interesting story,” Allsopp said. “I think that will appeal as much to local residents as it will to people around the country who are interested in that industrial past.”
“We are building the community into the park,” said Dionne.
For more information about Red Mountain Park or to donate, call 202-6043 or visit www.redmountainpark.org.