Crowds gathered Wednesday night for the momentous dedication and sign lighting ceremony at Birmingham’s newest landmark, the Rotary Trail.
City officials, members of the Rotary Club of Birmingham and community partners gathered to celebrate the trail and to light a 46-foot “Magic City” sign on 20th Street that marks the western end of the trail.
The original “Magic City” sign was erected in the 1920s and torn down 60 years ago. The replica of the iconic sign now greets visitors to the trail and symbolizes another step in Birmingham’s revitalization.
Members of the Rotary Club of Birmingham raised the funds necessary to reclaim and renew the four-block section of the old railroad cut along First Avenue South. The trail now provides a key pedestrian link to Railroad Park.
“Our club has a rich history here in Birmingham. It’s been around since 1913, and it’s for that reason we are here to celebrate the gift of today,” Rotary Club President Rob Couch said. “Something like this doesn’t happen in isolation. It cannot happen without strong partnerships. The partnership between the Rotary Club of Birmingham and the city goes back a long way.”
Birmingham Mayor William Bell said the gift of the original Magic City sign came from Edgar Elliot in the 1920s out of the pride he had for Birmingham.
“That civic pride is represented today by the work of the Rotary Club to come and take an eyesore in our city and make it into something special, make it something that can add to the energy that has come to our great city, something that all of our citizens can be proud of,” Bell said.
The western gateway’s Rotary Trail sign is a gift from BL Harbert International along with the donation of the raw materials from O’Neal Steel. Daniel Iron fabricated the structure and Fravert Services created its letters.
“This is a very special day for Birmingham and for the Rotary Club of Birmingham,” said Bill Jones, retired president of O’Neal Steel and co-chairman of the Rotary Trail Committee. “It was five years ago as the Rotary Club of Birmingham was thinking about its 100th anniversary in 2013 that one of the ways we wanted to commemorate that anniversary was undertake a project that would be a major gift to the city.
“We wanted that gift to be transformative, to require collaboration with a lot of groups including the city of Birmingham, wanted it to be long lasting and we wanted it to have a wow factor. And I think you can see by looking at the trail that we were successful in doing that,” Jones said.
The Freshwater Land Trust approached the Rotary Club with the idea for the decades-old abandoned railroad to be transformed into a green space.
Rotary Trail was made possible by a lead gift from the Rotary Club of Birmingham and donations from the city of Birmingham and a number of corporations. Clements Dean Building Co. and A.G. Gaston Construction are constructing the trail, following the designs and engineering of Goodwyn Mills and Cawood. Last week, the Rotaract Club of Birmingham and the Alabama Power Foundation worked together to install two mobile solar charging stations on the Rotary Trail.
The trail features the latest in trail design, including benches, plantings and a small amphitheater for community gatherings along the trail. Rotary Trail is part of the Jones Valley Trail System, which, in turn, is part of the larger Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System.
The longer-term vision for the Jones Valley Trail is that it will connect westward, through Railroad Park, to the Red Mountain Park and the so-called “High Line Trail” near the Birmingham Crossplex in West End. Moving east past the Rotary Trail, the next big connection for the Jones Valley Trail is to Sloss Furnaces Historic Landmark, and, ultimately, onward through Avondale, Woodlawn and East Lake to the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve.
“We know that people will walk 30 percent more if they have a good place to walk. It needs to feel safe, convenient and be a place that is beautiful,” said Cheryl Morgan, co-chair of the Rotary Trail Committee. “If people walk more, that’s good for health and well-being and that’s good for building our shared sense of community. Those are Rotary values.”
Rotary Trail has already claimed an award for its engineering design. The newly constructed trail captures and channels runoff water from the trail, feeding the water back into the existing storm water system. Previously, runoff and the accompanying pollution from the abandoned railroad cut flowed directly into the water supply via Village Creek, which lies beneath the streets in that part of the city. For its work on this innovative project, the Rotary Club of Birmingham was named “Water Conservationist of the Year” by the Alabama Wildlife Federation.