Reforesting and restoring East Lake Park, Birmingham’s original Railroad Park

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Planting native trees at East Lake Park. Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

East Lake Park is experiencing an ecological renaissance.

Thanks to a National Fish and Wildlife Five Star grant, sponsored by Southern Company, multiple community organizations are reforesting the park, and restoring Village Creek, which crosses the park’s boundaries.

Beautiful East Lake Park in Birmingham, one of the city’s oldest parks. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Originally built as a private park in 1886, East Lake Park has been called Birmingham’s “original Railroad Park” and Ruffner Mountain’s “sister city park,” by Ruffner Mountain executive director Carlee Sanford.


Partnership members, Patti Pennington (CAWACO RC&D Council), Carlee Sanford (Ruffner Mountain), Jamie Nobles (Ruffner Mountain), Francesca Gross (The Nature Conservancy). Photo from Pat Byington for Bham Now

Led by The Nature Conservancy in Alabama in partnership with Ruffner Mountain, CAWACO RC&D Council, City of Birmingham Stormwater and the Village Creek Society, the ecological restoration of East Lake Park has been years in the making.

Francesca Gross, Urban Conservation Manager, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama described the project best.

“We have planned together, to restore the creek and do some reforestation of the park itself.”

A forest and a revived Village Creek

Francesca Gross from the Nature Conservancy in Alabama addressing volunteers at East Lake Park. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

According to Gross, when the project is completed it will have accomplished two tangible results:

“The reason we are working in East Lake Park is because it is the biggest city park in Birmingham, it has got multiple uses, and it has a long history. We wanted to use our skills as biologists and planners to bring some sustainability to the park ecosystem,” said Gross.

Involving the entire community

Volunteers removing invasive plants from the stream-banks along Village Creek in East Lake Park. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

More than just returning East Lake Park back to nature, the project which has taken 3 years to plan, involved the entire community.

“We got the neighborhood on board and the city. It was critical people understand what we are doing, because then it will be sustainable,” added Gross.

Ruffner’s Carlee Sanford concluded:

“East Lake Park being healthy, vibrant and amazing is better for the community and for all of us.”

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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