Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve – Get Close to Nature in the “Magic City”

Your car winds up the mountain amidst homes until this sign welcomes you and lets you know you have arrived

 

Meet Ziggy…

 

Ziggy

 

An Eastern Screech Owl named for David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona, he finds a warm and welcoming home in Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve.   Hit by a car a long time ago, Ziggy is unable to fly. 

 

Wildlife Curator Chivon Morse came from Texas to work at the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. She and her fellow staff members at the Visitor Center are a font of information about the flora and fauna you find there

 

What he can do—and what he does along with several other flagship critters you find housed in the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve—is travel as an animal ambassador to Birmingham schools that make time for urban wildlife education.

 

Harriet, an Eastern Box Turtle lives with her fellow turtle Romeo at Ruffner. She is also a very busy animal ambassador representing Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. When not touring Birmingham schools she is said to be fond of strawberries and earthworm treats. Photo by Bob Farley and courtesy of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve

 

The contrast of bucolic Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve with places like Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, where you see the city’s industrial roots, couldn’t be more stark. 

 

Ruffner Mountain is one of the largest privately held urban nature preserves in the United States

 

Now a sanctuary for native Alabama species of plants and animals, the mountain was once mined for the iron that fed the nearby Sloss furnaces below. 

 

Located on Birmingham's East Side, and once a mine for the Sloss Furnaces below the mountain, the landscape today lets you forget that you are in a city

 

We visited in early December on what turned out to be the first frost of the year, adding a touch of glisten to the foliage and occasional winter wildflowers on the trail.    

 

Jog, hike or dawdle-- there are 12 miles of trails on this mountain that was once mined to feed the Sloss Furnaces below. Map image courtesy of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve

 

En toto, Ruffner has 17 trails over more than 12 miles that range from easy walks to hikes ranked as fairly difficult.  Some feature tours of geological features on the mountain, one takes you where fossils are visible in the limestone walls, another through wetlands, and all carved out with an eye to bringing you close to nature even though you are in a city.  Our schedule didn’t allow a hike on one of the trails that give an overlook to the city below, but that would probably be a top pick for a return.   

 

Turtles in the Visitor Center climb up a log to catch the sun rays coming through the windows

 

Someone seemed to have a lot of fun making the educational placards you find along the trails and as you read you’ll find yourself smiling.  Stop at a sign that says “They’re Fun—Guys” to learn about mushrooms.  Another says “It’s Over Our Heads” and goes on to talk about critters in the forest canopy.  “Go Nuts!” is about squirrels and what they eat.  And so on…

 

Ruffner's Visitor Center has turtles, snakes, rabbits and more animals that are native to the area

 

While most preserve visitors are Birmingham locals, people do visit here from around the globe.  It is a recommended stop for anyone doing a 2+ day tour of Birmingham.

 

Trails are open daily from dawn to dusk.

 

Visitor Center Hours:

Tuesday – Saturday : 9 am – 5 pm

Sunday:  1 pm – 5 pm

Mondays- Closed

 

For more information visit the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve website.

 

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Photos:  Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated

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