BSC Office of Communications

News from the Hilltop

May 10, 2011

Birmingham-Southern College launches new website that gathers information on Birmingham's natural environment in one place

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—The Urban Environmental Studies Program at Birmingham-Southern College has created a new online tool that pinpoints destinations in and around Birmingham to explore and learn about the city's natural environment.

Trek Birmingham (, which went live on May 10, gives residents and visitors a single source for accurate information on how to experience metropolitan Birmingham's relationship with nature. It includes custom-built maps and in-depth explanations of the region's ecology, geology, biodiversity, and watersheds.

"These days, Birmingham residents and visitors seem hungry for a chance to get outdoors and a better understanding of the world around them," said Jeanne Jackson, director of leadership and environmental studies at Birmingham-Southern College. "We hope this project will help give them a sense of place, pride, and purpose in relation to their natural environment."

She pointed to the success of downtown Birmingham's new Railroad Park and buzz about the upcoming Red Mountain Park, both future Trek Birmingham locations. At the same time, other, lesser-known spots offer opportunities but may be under the radar. Trek Birmingham aims to link all the options in an easy-to-use format.

The site, which was created in partnership with the design firm Scout Branding, is built around the concept of "treks," or journeys that users take both virtually and in the real world. Six sites are in the first phase: Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, Oak Mountain State Park, Moss Rock Preserve, Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, Vulcan Park and Museum, and Southern Environmental Center at BSC. Future sites will include the McWane Science Center, Turkey Creek State Preserve, Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge, and Five Mile Creek Greenway.

Each of the three main treks is keyed to our special place in the natural world: the Urban Wilderness trek gives access to the great outdoors near and in the city; the Iron Age trek leads users through Birmingham's unique geology and iron-making past; and the Nature Center trek links sites around the region that offer hands-on exploration.

"Birmingham is one of the most biologically diverse and geologically interesting urban locations in the region or nationwide," said Scot Duncan, associate professor of biology at BSC and the creator of most of the site's content. "We want people to be able to learn about those riches in an easy-to-understand format."

For example, users who want to learn about mining history can tour the Iron Age trek online and then take what they've learned out into the real world. Avid hikers or birdwatchers may want to try the Urban Wilderness trek, and parents looking for rainy day activities might start with a Nature Center trek. Visitors can follow other suggested treks geared to specific activities such as hiking, or viewing fall foliage.

For those who want to learn more—and for parents or educators who want to introduce youngsters to ecological concepts—Trek Birmingham also examines four topics that draw from the natural world but also affect the built environment: watersheds, geology, biodiversity, and ecoregions. Most locations have maps created just for Trek Birmingham by BSC Assistant Professor of Geography Ed Brands. For example, viewers can, for probably the first time in a manner easily accessible to the public, figure out where a drop of water that lands at the feet of the statue of Vulcan ends up as it flows downstream. (It either runs down the southern slope of Red Mountain into Shades Creek and then the Cahaba River, or down the north slope to the Black Warrior River and eventually into Mobile Bay.)

"My hope is that it will be easier to more closely connect our current lives and livelihoods with Birmingham's natural history and to understand how the natural environment guides where we build our cities and how human activities affect the natural world," Brands said.

Along with those maps, Trek Birmingham also incorporates Google-based maps so visitors can easily get directions from any location and has stunning pictures and slideshows to give a sense of the vistas, rock formations, and plants and animals found at each location. There is a mobile version that can be accessed on location.

Trek Birmingham is funded through grants and donations to the Urban Environmental Studies Program at BSC from key donors Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Alabama Power, 3M, and the Stephens Foundation. With further funding, dozens of sites will be featured. In later phases, displays may be added at featured destinations to give visitors there a summary of what's offered online.

In addition, BSC students will be involved in future phases of the project. With faculty guidance, they can post summaries of scientific data gathered at the destinations and may also be called on to help create free Trek Birmingham curricular material for elementary school teachers.


The Trek Birmingham website is:
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Trek Birmingham logo, photos downloadable at


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