Bham budget cuts to nature preserves and green spaces highlight need for region wide support

Birmingham Mountain High Hikers at Ruffner Mountain. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

According to longtime supporters at Ruffner Mountain, in 2020, more people will have walked the popular and beloved nature preserve’s trails than at any time in its 43 year history.

Likewise, Birmingham’s Red Mountain Park will surpass last year’s attendance of 125,000 visitors with three months to go in the calendar year.

Since March, Railroad Park has welcomed 257,000 visitors and an increase depending on the weather of 100 to 500 people using the park a week (numbers also do not include activities they have moved online)

If we have discovered one thing from this global pandemic for the past 8 months, now more than ever we need nature preserves, parks and green spaces.

Budget Cuts

Jerri Haslem with Red Mountain Park. Photo by Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Despite record usage numbers at these preserves, the city of Birmingham, faced with a $60 million budget shortfall passed a number of budget cuts impacting our parks and various nonprofits.

Here are the cuts that impact the three “Rs”.

Railroad Park a.k.a Birmingham’s front lawn. Photo via @cotton_state

Across the board, funding for nonprofits was also significantly reduced at the Vulcan Park and Museum, Birmingham Zoo, Jones Valley Teaching Farms and McWane Science Center.   

Green Spaces are Essential – Think Regionally  

Birmingham Mountain High Hikers L to R – Ronald Williams,Maurice Miller, Darryl Washington, Lavette Evans, Jamaine Stanton, Nathaniel Rutledge. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Especially in today’s COVID-19 world,  green spaces are essential, Ruffner Mountain’s Executive Director Carlee Sanford told us. She added.

     

“Today the demand for outdoor experiences, natural escapes and green spaces has never been higher. Public parks and green space are not just ‘nice to have,’ they are essential to a healthy, thriving environment and community. Jefferson County needs more, but first we have to look at how these places are funded.”

Burden on Birmingham

Red Mountain Park
Aerial view of Red Mountain Park, Birmingham’s largest public nature preserve spanning over 1500 acres. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

                                                 

Preserves and parks like Red Mountain Park, Ruffner and Railroad Park and other destinations such as the Zoo are seeking to diversify their funding so that the burden is not all on the city of Birmingham.

Leaders such as Sanford recognize this problem. 

“While Ruffner Mountain’s funding was cut by 50%, another way of looking at it is— Birmingham is the only city funding a portion of this wonderful space that impacts residents across Jefferson County.

Ruffner Mountain
Ruffner Mountain. Photo via ruffnermountain.org

The real problem we are trying to solve is the need for dedicated, consistent, and sustained funds for the ongoing operations, maintenance, and security of public facilities, trails and green spaces.”

How will that happen? Sanford sees the need to develop a regional strategy that helps fund parks and green spaces, as well as our community’s non-profits. 

There is an old Chinese saying –  “crisis is opportunity.” Let’s hope the non-profit community dependent on the city of Birmingham funding can develop such a plan.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, How You Can Help

Jamie Nobles, Ruffner Mountain Conservation Director. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

We know you are reading this article and asking – what can I do NOW to help Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain Park and Railroad Park.

Here is a quick list from all three organizations.

Ruffner Mountain

Red Mountain Park

Railroad Park

Railroad Park today. Photo courtesy of Railroad Park

  • 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.