Natural Resource

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Ruffner Mountain is 1,040 acres of nature preserved, located in South East Lake and stretching through east Jefferson County. But that’s just the barebones facts with no nod to the context of this amazing place on the edge of the city. For the hiker, there are 14 miles of  trails that traverse the singular terrain of this mountain. For the local historian, the mines that were cut through the rock of this mountain kept the furnaces of Birmingham aflame from the late 19th century through the 1950s. In 1896 alone, 200 tons of ore a day fed the Sloss Furnaces. There are more than 525 plant, tree and shrub species, 260 invertebrate species, 150 bird species, 27 reptile species, the list goes on and on as a testament to the biodiversity of this amazing place. Explore its beauty and read about a brand new book that offers a deep dive into what makes Ruffner Mountain a Birmingham treasure.

Bob Farley/ –Ruffner Aerials


Back to Nature

A new Ruffner Mountain books brings its history to life.

Here is an excerpt from a new book about the history of Ruffner Mountain, from its geological formation to the days of Birmingham’s industrial rise through the last 40 years of effort to preserve the mountain. Mark Kelly weaves together a story of Ruffner’s past, present, and future.

Photography in the book (and this spread) is by photographer Bob Farley and the book was designed by Melanie Colvin.

Introduction by Mark Kelly

The story of Ruffner Mountain, of the marvel of geologic happenstance known as Birmingham, is there for the seeking. The story’s beginnings are imprinted on the mountain itself.

Not far from Ruffner’s peak — the floor of Jones Valley spreading below, the city skyline rising in the northwesterly distance — stands a gnarled pine. Near the foot of the tree, a limestone boulder is littered with the fossils of brachiopods, bryozoans, and crinoids; these were marine creatures, with origins that date to a time when Alabama lay somewhere south of the earth’s equator, beneath a warm, shallow inland sea that covered most of what is now the North American continent.

Over the course of more than 500 million years, the forces of nature made this spot ripe with limestone and hematite iron ore, two of the three basic ingredients of the iron that fueled Birmingham’s early growth and development. The third ingredient, coal, was also plentiful in the surrounding area, making Birmingham the only place on the planet where all of the building blocks of America’s Industrial Age could be found in such proximate abundance.

From the mid-1880s through the onset of the Great Depression, and again between 1949 and 1953, Ruffner Mountain was honeycombed by mines and gouged with quarries, a steady source of the raw materials that fed a city’s growth. With the mines finally abandoned and the quarries left to heal, the mountain reverted gradually to its natural state of wooded ridges and hollows, with only decaying structures and scattered pieces of discarded mining equipment remaining to bear silent testament to the mountain’s place in the history of Birmingham. So began Ruffner’s sojourn back to nature.

Today, though the physical reminders of its industrial past remain, that journey of transformation is complete. The mountain is the centerpiece of the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, established in 1977 and now one of the largest urban nature preserves in the United States. The fascinating story of this beautiful place, a lush oasis in the midst of a growing city, has many parallels with the history and development of Birmingham, a city that has undergone its own remarkable transformation, from an industrial marvel to a Civil Rights battleground to a city now hitting its full stride as a place of reconciliation and progress.

Back to Nature: A History of Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain tells the intertwined stories of the mountain and the city in compelling detail. Superbly written, illustrated with historical images and breathtaking current photographs, the book uses the 500 million-year history of Ruffner Mountain and the four decades of the Nature Center’s existence to shed fresh light and captivating new perspective on the ongoing story of Birmingham.

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