Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Webpage: Nature Center/Arboretum
General Description: Ruffner Mountain Nature Center is a nature preserve with the primary purpose to protect, preserve, and restore natural habitats and wildlife populations. Being located within the city limits of Birmingham, Alabama it provides the urban visitor an opportunity to experience nature in the southeast. Much of the center was a surface mine for iron during the early 20th century and many of the old digs, railroad beds, and crushing machinery is still visible. The center consists of a large outdoor pavilion, the Tree Top Visitor Center, and numerous trials ranging from moderate to difficult.
1) This was a great way to spend the morning hiking in the northern Alabama mountains, even though the drive to the center is through residential neighborhoods of northern Birmingham. Once on the nature center you lose all contact with the city. The trails were extremely well marked and all have challenging stretches. These are the northern Alabama mountains, after all.
2) We took the trail that led into the mining area of the center. You can still see the areas that were dug out of the mountain as the miners followed the iron veins. There was even an old extremely rusted rock crusher that I would guess was used to load the railcars. Although the train tracks have all been removed you can still see the grade that was used to transport the ore off the mountain.
3) While all traffic on the trails have to be by foot (no bikes or horses), dogs are certainly welcome at the Center. At least half of the visitors to the Center had their dogs along and we had a couple of friendly visits with them and their owners.
4) Once again we found out that Monday is not a good day to visit as the Visitor Center was closed so I cannot comment on what they had to offer. I suspect the focus would be on their restoration efforts and the many species of plants and wildlife that can be found on the Center. We did have the opportunity of watching a small group of college students along with their teacher identifying some of the plants along the trail. It was most interesting since the focus appeared to be on finding rare species.