Pedestrian bridge at Jemison Park Nature Trail will improve accessibility

Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
The steppingstone Shades Creek crossing at Jemison Park Nature Trail. Photo by Alex Robertson for Bham Now

Jemison Park Nature Trail is one of my favorite local spots. Just a hop, skip and jump away from central Birmingham, this greenway follows the waterways that meander through Mountain Brook. However, the steppingstone crossing at Shades Creek has long presented an accessibility challenge for some. Soon that will change.

On July 11, 2018, Morris-Shea Bridge Company broke ground on a new pedestrian bridge at the crossing, with the goal of completing the project by Labor Day. Schoel Engineering is consulting on the project.

“No longer will these steppingstones be the only option to cross the creek and impede passage of caregivers with strollers or those with questionable balance.”—Sim S.W. Johnson, president of Friends of Jemison Park, via Instagram

Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
Towering pine at Jemison Park Nature Trail. Photo by Terri Robertson

Years in the making, the bridge is the collaboration of the community, the nonprofit Friends of Jemison Park and the city of Mountain Brook, including city manager Sam Gaston and city councilors Billy Pritchard and Virginia Smith.

An anonymous donor stepped forward to make the Shades Creek pedestrian bridge possible.

Options For Everyone
Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
An opportunity to get close to nature or an accessibility roadblock? Photo by Terri Robertson

If you love the steppingstones, not to worry. They will remain.

“That’s something that was debated, whether the steppingstones stay or go,” Johnson said. “A lot of people enjoy them. They like to be able to get closer to the water. The final solution is that we’re able to put the bridge a little bit upstream to allow for the steppingstones to remain.”

“People bring their dogs to the trail, and they like their dogs to be able to get their feet wet.”—Sim S.W. Johnson

Improved Public Safety

The Shades Creek pedestrian bridge will be a replica of the one built in 2017 across Watkins Brook in the section of Jemison Park Nature Trail that runs along Cahaba Road.

Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
Philadelphia fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) in bloom in spring at Jemison Park Nature Trail. Photo by Terri Robertson

The Watkins Brook bridge project was coupled with a new crosswalk at the corner of Cahaba Road and Mountain Brook Parkway. While the old crosswalk allowed pedestrians to cross without waiting for the traffic light, the new one is safer.

“You had drivers gaining speed as they crossed the intersection. They wouldn’t necessarily stop for a pedestrian at the old crosswalk,” Johnson said.

Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
Little Sweet Betsy (“Trillium cuneatum”), also known as toadshade, in bloom in spring at Jemison Park Nature Trail. Photo by Terri Robertson
A Haven for Native Plants

So what’s next for Jemison Park Natural Trail? The Shades Creek pedestrian bridge is the biggest project you will see for a while. However, the Friends of Jemison Park always have plenty to do, such as addressing stream bank erosion and supporting the park’s native flora.

“The native plants—the trilliums, the spring ephemerals—those were all there. What the Friends (of Jemison Park) have done since their inception in the late 1960s is advocate for how to encourage their growth and protect them.”—Sim S.W. Johnson

Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”) in bloom in spring at Jemison Park Nature Trail. Photo by Terri Robertson

Pssst. If you’re not familiar with the many Alabama native plants that call Jemison Park Nature Trail home, you are a stranger no more. The photos in this post feature the spring ephemerals I spotted along the trail earlier this year.

Preserving the native plant population requires vigilance against invasive species, such as wisteria and elaeagnus, which can bully out natives, Johnson said.

Birmingham, Alabama, Jemison Park Nature Trail
Red Buckeye (“Aesculus pavia”) in bloom in spring at Jemison Park Nature Trail. Photo by Terri Robertson

The Friends of Jemison Park supplement the natural vegetation with other known natives to the area.

“The ferns and shrubs you see planted around the (Watkins Brook) bridge that went in last year, those are all known natives to Mountain Brook. That is the guide we use for the park.

“If it’s not a known native, we’re not putting it in there. We have enough bounty of natives available to us that there’s no need to bring in something else that really shouldn’t be there.”—Sim S.W. Johnson

The Jemison Park Nature Trail Support Network

Our streams and rivers all connect, so it makes sense the organizations devoted to their preservation would work together too.

The Friends of Jemison Park collaborates with the Friends of Shades Creek just downstream in Homewood, the Cahaba Riverkeeper and the Freshwater Land Trust.