On the heels of some of Birmingham’s most hailed examples of resurgence comes the completion of yet another widely anticipated transformation to a once neglected and unused area of downtown. The Rotary Trail is also proof that methods for redeveloping urban spaces are also evolving in more modern and sustainable ways.
The project, which was initiated by the Birmingham Rotary Club in honor of its centennial, has transformed a four-block section of downtown, a neglected and abandoned railroad bed once known as “The Cut.”
Much has been said about the work done on the project itself and the positive changes it brings to the city. There’s more than meets the eye to this urban space with a history more than a century in the making. Rotary Club members and project co-chairs Cheryl Morgan and Bill Jones share some of the most interesting facts regarding the history and redevelopment of Birmingham’s Rotary Trail.
1. Welcome to the Magic City
The Rotary Trail’s western gateway is representative of the famous sign that once welcomed people to “the Magic City” when they arrived at the City’s Terminal Station on the train. The original sign and Terminal Station were torn down in 1969. The new sign was donated by BL Harbert International and was created with the help of other contributors including O’Neal Steel, which donated the steel, Fravert Services which fabricated the letters, and Daniel Iron which assembled the sign. Daniel Iron also happens to be “descended” from a firm that fabricated the original sign at Terminal Station.
2. The Red-Light District
Located in a section of town once known as Birmingham’s red-light district, the Rotary Trail runs along a part of the downtown that once housed many brothels and their well known “madams.” In the late 1800’s however, the “madams” of Birmingham were credited with helping to save hundreds of people during a serious cholera epidemic by opening their houses to the sick and providing them with beds and necessary care. One such madam, Louise Wooster, earned positive recognition for leading efforts to convince her peers to help during the epidemic. Today, just one of the buildings that formerly housed a brothel remains situated along the Trail.
3. Water Conservation
With a primary mission to enhance the city with additional greenspace and more bike and pedestrian-friendly options, the Rotary Trail has also become an important part of a solution to correct a major environmental problem with wastewater draining into nearby Village Creek. Morgan says the design of the Trail “caps soils” that have been contaminated by local industry or runoff from city streets and rooftops. “The soil and plants that now sit over these caps in the Trail’s undulating hillocks allow for the runoff to percolate in a clean context and literally be filtered before going into the ground water and appropriate storm water systems.” In 2015, the Rotary Club was honored with a Water Conservation Award from the Alabama Wildlife Federation for the trail’s innovative design.
4. Powering Up with Solar
The Rotaract Club of Downtown Rotary became involved in the project when it worked to match a grant from Alabama Power Foundation to purchase and install four power charging stations that are situated near seating areas on each end of the Trail. Morgan says the trail is even equipped with wifi which along with the charging stations, will help keep you connected and powered up while on the trail.
5. Made for Walking
The Rotary Trail is a part of the growing Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail system which was conceived in 2010 when the Freshwater Land Trust (working under the Jefferson County Department of Health) received funding from the Centers for Disease Control through a grant called “Communities Putting Prevention to Work.” The goal was to use the funding to create more feasible methods to promote more active and healthy lifestyles through the “use of alternate modes of transportation, and protect regional waterways.” Morgan says if you walk from Railroad Park (located at 14th street) to Rotary Trail (along 20th to 24th streets) and then along Jones Valley Trail (32nd street) and back, you will have walked more than three miles. This trail currently goes from Cross to Sloss – The Crossplex at Five Point West to Sloss Furnaces (at 32nd and 1st North streets). Through downtown, this trail is along First Ave. South.