How you can help restore the Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway

Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway
The Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway could reopen to the public—with your support. (Jeff E. Newman)

In early April, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and a public/private partnership began work on the Elton B. Stephens Red Mountain Expressway and the famous “Red Mountain Cut.” In addition to upgrading the roadway, workers have removed dense vegetation and trash from the side, allowing motorists to see the Cut’s walls for the first time in years.

Now, a local group is seeking grant funds to restore and maintain the Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway—and needs your support.

History of the Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway

Red Mountain
The Red Mountain cut in 1970, shortly before opening to the public. (BhamWiki)

Between 1962 and 1969, workers removed massive amounts of soil, clay and rock from the ridge of Red Mountain to make way for the Red Mountain Expressway—an extension of Highway 31 and Highway 280 connecting Birmingham to the Over the Mountain communities.

The 210-foot-deep cut exposed never-before-seen geologic rock layers, offering a unique glimpse into the history of our region.

“The removal of 2 million cubic yards of the ridge of Red Mountain exposed over 190 million years of geologic strata dating to over 500 million years ago. The Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian and Mississippian geologic periods are visible in the cut. Special features include caves, volcanic ash layers, the Red Mountain fault line, prehistoric reefs and beaches, fossils and fossil tracks. Significantly, the cut reveals the cross-section of the red ore seam that spurred Birmingham’s development and a layer containing fossils of a unique Silurian trilobite species.”

Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway
Old markers explaining the geologic formations on the Red Mountain Cut. (Jeff E. Newman)

The exposed geologic data attracted geologists from around the world, and in 1978 the City of Birmingham opened a new science museum—the Red Mountain Museum, near the site of present-day St. Rose Academy—to house and display the fossils found during the excavation, along with other treasures such as a mososaur found in Alabama. A portion of the Cut was turned into a walkway, where visitors of the Red Mountain Museum could see the geologic layers up close.

Bham Now’s Managing Producer Sharron Swain remembers trips to the Red Mountain Museum and the Red Mountain Cut:

“As a student at Cherokee Bend Elementary School in the 70s, walking on the Red Mountain Cut was one of the coolest parts of any field trip to the Red Mountain Museum. It was amazing to realize that 100s of millions of years of history were contained in those diagonal layers exposed by the blasting that made the expressway possible. It was such a great way to bring history alive for little kids, and I still think about it every time I drove past, decades later. I would love to be able to take my own kids out there one day to see the Red Mountain Cut.”

Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway
Although workers have cleaned lots of trash and vegetation from the Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway, there is still a lot of work to be done. (Jeff E. Newman)

However, after the Red Mountain Museum merged with another local museum to form McWane Science Center in 1991, the walkway was closed. Over the years, the walkway became covered in graffiti, trash and dense vegetation—hardly a walkable trail!

Support the restoration of the Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway

Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway
You can help restore the Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway. (Jeff E. Newman)

Although the walkway is currently inaccessible, plans are underway to clear the cut and build a brand-new walkway through it, including new displays with explanations of the geologic formations. Since the new walkway will require funding for maintenance, a new group—the Red Mountain Cut Foundation—is seeking grants.

You can help this project hit the ground running by sending letters of endorsement that the Red Mountain Cut Foundation can use in their grant proposals. The Foundation suggests each letter:

  • Include content that speaks to the educational value of the Red Mountain Cut and the importance of long-term access.
  • Show support for the efforts of the Red Mountain Cut Foundation.
  • Be in color on letterhead and be signed.
Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway
Red Mountain Cut. (Jeff E. Newman)

Once complete, you can send your letter to the Red Mountain Cut Foundation:

  • By Mail
    • Attn: Mary Jane Webb
    • Red Mountain Cut Foundation
    • 5724 Highway 280 East, Birmingham, AL 3524

Have you ever visited the Red Mountain Cut Geologic Walkway? Tag us @bhamnow to let us know what you loved about it!

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer at Bham Now

Articles: 755