Restore the view. Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club seeks to re-discover Altamont Park

View of the Birmingham skyline from Altamont Park. Photo from the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club

Inquiring minds want to know… Who’s been clearing all the underbrush alongside Altamont Road beginning at the cannon and ending at the hairpin turn near Altamont School?

Answer: The Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club

Now the big question… Why?

Move over, Rotary Trail, Kiwanis Centennial Park at Vulcan Park and Railroad Park—these early-rising Rotarians intend to uncover Altamont Park, the 9.6 acres of green space from just left of the cannon to where it turns into Cliff Road, restoring public views of the Magic City’s skyline.

They’ve launched the Altamont Park Reclamation Project.

Birmingham’s lost park

Map of Altamont Park. Photo from the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club

Nearly 100 years ago, Robert Jemison, Jr., the developer of the Redmont Park neighborhood sold the land overlooking the sprawling 1920s metropolis to the city of Birmingham for $64,000.

“Jemison, to his credit, saved some land from his development for the residents of the city,” according to Nathan Marcus, President of the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club. He sold it at a deep discount against the wishes of his friends and even got sued for it. But he thought the residents of the city should enjoy the view—it shouldn’t just be for the few.”

Other than a World War I cannon which is continuously vandalized with graffiti and a nice stone overlook, most of the park has been dormant.

Graffiti painted World War cannon overlooking Altamont Park in Birmingham. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

“It’s not like there was once a great beautiful park that has been overgrown,” described Norman Jetmundsen, the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary co-chair on the project. There has never been anything there. We’re actually creating something that was envisioned but never happened.”

Building Support

Local Boy Scouts and Birmingham Sunrise Rotary members removing invasive plants from Altamont Park. Photo from the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club

The Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club had been seeking a “difference-making” project in Birmingham that would add to recent civic attractions, such as the Downtown Rotary’s popular Rotary Trail.

That is how they discovered Altamont Park.

Beginning in 2019, the Rotarians began generating awareness about the park and securing support from the city, the neighborhood, the Freshwater Land Trust and the Park and Recreation Board.

Video taken by Bham Now’s Pat Byington of the length of Altamont Park. Note at the end the brush that has been collected.

Once they checked those boxes, the club hired Lea Ann MacKnally, a local landscape architect who was instrumental in the design of Railroad Park. In the coming months, they hope to get an initial draft design from MacKnally to engender support for a fundraising campaign on behalf of the park.

Both Marcus and Jetmundsen expressed to Bham Now interest in seeing local art, native plants, historical interpretation (the area along the park has a rich mining history) and environmentally-sensitive landscaping incorporated in the design.

Surface mining at the Helen Bess Mine in Phillips, William Battle (1912) “Iron Making in Alabama. Vol. 7 of the Geological Survey of Alabama. Brown Printing Co. The mine was near Altamont Park.

They also recognized the steepness of the property and that special care must be taken to prevent excess stormwater runoff from harming the homes below the park.

Furthermore, the Rotarians welcome neighborhood input and anticipate holding a number of gatherings with the community.

“Our hope is to raise enough money to create a platform for the public to see the incredible view,” added Marcus.

Local Boy Scouts clearing the underbrush at Birmingham’s Altamont Park. Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club

Meanwhile, Rotary members, Boy Scouts throughout the region and their families have taken on the massive job of picking up the litter and removing invasive plants and dead trees along the green space.

What’s Next

The ultimate goal is to have a re-introduction of the park in November 2021. Why then? It will be the 100th anniversary of the park.

Marcus summed up the project best:

“The people who are involved in this project believe in the Rotary motto—“service before self.” There’s no one out in front of this thing trying to put their name on it. We don’t even care if it has our Rotary name on it. We want this for the city.”

To learn more about the Altamont Park reclamation Project visit: https://www.altamontsunrisepark.com. Also feel free to contact the Birmingham Sunrise Rotary Club at: janetgellis@gmail.com

Stay tuned to Bham Now for more updates.

Author: 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.