With its winding paths and streams leading into a tranquil lake, it’s hard to believe that Railroad Park was once just an abandoned lot littered with debris and a few empty buildings. Railroad Park is a calm, refreshing spot in the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown Birmingham — a dream that has been 20 years in the making.
Built by Design
While the park was originally supposed to stretch from Sloss Furnaces to I-65 along the railroad corridor, Railroad Park actually stretches just four blocks along the tracks.
“What the original group realized was that they had to work on something a little more do-able first and then expand,” said Railroad Park executive director Camille Spratling.
The committee also encountered a few more bumps in the road while in the planning stages of the park.
While looking through the property deeds it was difficult to tell how much of the land belonged to the city, which resulted in the park being slightly smaller and not as near to the train tracks as originally planned.
“The good news about the change in the park’s size is that the design that evolved out of it actually ended up being a superior design,” Spratling said. “There were several hurdles and challenges but they ended up enhancing the park, interestingly enough.”
That design included plenty of walking paths, benches, a playground, an exercise area, a climbing dome, a mini-skatepark and several water features, including a wetlands area.
One of the most striking features the 19-acre park offers its visitors is the lake, which is made even more beautiful by its backdrop of the Birmingham skyline. “It’s nice because we’ve never had our skyline reflected in water before,” Spratling said. “Now we have that lake and seeing the skyline reflected in that lake. It’s beautiful.”
What separates Railroad Park from other Birmingham parks is its design.
“It’s designed to be an active park. It encourages people to run, walk, jog, bike and play,” Spratling said. Spratling says that because of the way the park is designed visitors can walk for hours without taking the same trail twice.
“My favorite thing about Railroad Park would have to be the openness; how you can move from one thing to the next,” said Jill Everrett, one of the park’s regulars.
The scenery is another component that sets Railroad Park apart from others in the Birmingham area.
“There is just something about the design that just kind of strikes people,” Spratling said. “It’s hard to put your finger on, but it was just designed so well that sometimes when you look at it, it just takes your breath away. It’s just beautiful and it makes people feel better to be in a beautiful space.”
A Sense of Optimism
Spratling attributed a renewed sense of optimism within the downtown community to the opening of the park, because several businesses have relocated to the area surrounding the park.
“People have seen that we can work together to do something exciting and new. With that sense of optimism it’s hard to put a price tag on that,” Spratling said.
In fact, Railroad Park has made such an impact that Children’s Hospital will be turning it’s front door in order to face the park.
A Gathering Place
The park also brings many different types of people together, who would not normally be in the same place at the same time.
“The gathering of people from all over Birmingham is my favorite thing about the park, that, and it’s so pretty,” said Carol Moss, who serves hot dogs and chips out of a red dining car located in the park.
Even foreigners have enjoyed Railroad Park. “Somebody from Stockholm emailed me the other day and said ‘I took some pictures, while I was in your park,’” Spratling said.
Another part of what attracts people to the park is all of the events that are hosted there.
“We’ve got music festivals, arts events, dance events going on this spring. We had a movie series back in the fall where we put up this huge projection screen, played movies here for free and people brought picnic baskets, blankets, and just hung out outside.”
People can get involved several different ways. They can volunteer by either signing up to be a greeter, by raising money, or by simply spreading the word by bringing friends and family to the park. If you would like to volunteer, simply visit railroadpark.org.