Think about the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. If you’re in your early 40s or younger, chances are you’ll remember a school field trip or a scout troop hike.
“What we have found is that people came for a field trip a long time ago and never came back,” says Kimberly Jeanty, Ruffner Mountain’s interim executive director. The preserve, located in Birmingham’s East Lake community, is changing its emphasis to offer more programs that appeal to adults who care about nature.
“Everyone likes nature,” Jeanty says. “We just have to find our level of love for nature.”
Plans call for a variety of changes, including raising funds to renovate the fire tower that is on the property and investigating development of a trail that would be accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, she says.
“Our biggest change right now is we are gearing up for budget weddings,” Jeanty says. She had a booth at the recent Southern Bridal Show and immediately began booking weddings.
“We are going for our demographics…[of] active, young and minimalist” people who don’t need or want elaborate wedding venues. Ruffner Mountain is offering weddings in its amphitheatre. Packages start at $900 for up to 30 guests and include a wedding cake, bridal bouquet and boutonnieres.
But weddings are just the beginning. “We are refreshing just about all of our regular events,” Jeanty says.
For example, the Beer on the Back Porch series is being expanded. The events will be held the third Friday of March, April, May, September, October and November. None will be scheduled in the summer months. “We like people. We would prefer they don’t burn up outside,” she says with a laugh.
This year, Back Forty Beer Co., a microbrewery, will sponsor Beer on the Back Porch. Local bands are being booked to provide music.
The Ruffner Mountain staff also is considering eliminating the Faces in the Forest fall event and replacing it with another concept.
Plans also call for combining Wine and Cheese Hike events with Full Moon Hikes. The idea is to have participants hike to the preserve’s overlook during a full moon and enjoy wine and cheese there.
Ruffner Mountain will not lose its focus on children’s programs. In fact, schools from around the metro area take students there for field trips and Jeanty is working with schools to increase the number of students from Birmingham City Schools who experience Ruffner Mountain.
Longleaf Cottage, where children’s programs are held, is being renovated so that those programs can be expanded, Jeanty says.
A day camp is planned during spring break and Ruffner Mountain will offer a series of 10 weeks of summer day camps, with some camps designed for children as young as preschool and others planned for elementary or middle school students.
Ruffner Mountain has operated as a nature area since 1977, when a grassroots effort to preserve it began. The city of Birmingham added about 500 acres to the area, turning the property over to the Ruffner Mountain organization to manage. Jeanty says the fiscal 2014 city budget includes $200,000 for Ruffner Mountain – which now covers 1,102 acres.
Jeanty, who has been interim executive director since October, stepped into the job with ease because she lives a few blocks away from Ruffner Mountain and is involved in other community efforts, such as revitalization of the East Lake area and the East Lake Arts District. She was assistant to City Councilwoman Kim Rafferty before taking the Ruffner Mountain position. She says the Ruffner Mountain board is in the process of selecting a permanent executive director.
While there is a charge for programs, there is no admission fee for visiting Ruffner Mountain or hiking on its trails. Jeanty says it is impossible to know how many people actually use the preserve because it can be entered from the main entrance at 1214 81st St. South, the Roebuck Springs Neighborhood or near a salvage yard in Irondale.
In good weather, hundreds of people use the preserve each day. In fact, Jeanty says more than 200 were there Feb. 1, a bright and moderately warm day after a week of cold and sometimes snowy weather.
Jeanty says she and her staff want to get the message across that “what you need is right here. You don’t have to go outside the city. Nature is here inside the city.”
She says, “This is an exciting year. We are in transition. … Our goal is to share and make nature accessible to everyone.”
For more information on Ruffner Mountain and its programs, go to ruffnermountain.org.