It's good to get out of the office. Sometimes you discover really cool places. Like this one.
Where do you suppose it is? If you're a world traveler, you may very well think you're hiking in the Scottish highlands awash with heather in bloom. But that pink isn't heather and you're not in Scotland. You are, in fact, in the heart of downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham has been Grumpy's home for the last 28 years.
Oh, I know what you've heard about Birmingham from the chowderheads on the network news. It's populated by racist rednecks with six-grade educations who live in trailers, juggle rattlesnakes, marry their cousins, and have more toes than teeth.
And Now for a Truth Break
In fact, Birmingham is a very nice place to live. It has a pleasant climate and beautiful hills. Health care, not steel, is the biggest employer. You can't throw a stone without hitting a world-class hospital. Birmingham boasts fantastic restaurants that offer every ethnic food you could want. The city is easy to get around and the people are friendly. And surprise, surprise, black folks live next door to white folks and it's no big deal.
Back to Our Story
Soapbox now stored safely in the garage. What did Grumpy discover in his jaunt to downtown Birmingham? Its brand new, 19-acre Railroad Park that looks and feels like the city's back yard.
A park is the heart of every great city. London has Hyde Park, New York has Central Park, and Boston has the Boston Common. Now Birmingham has joined the ranks with the opening of its Railroad Park. Resting alongside a very active railroad yard, the Railroad Park celebrates Birmingham's industrial and artistic heritage. Visitors can enjoy 9 acres of open lawn, a beautiful lake, more than 600 newly planted hardwood trees, clean and safe walking trails, and impressive plantings of annuals, perennials, wildflowers, native plants, and ornamental grasses. In October and November, that means gawking at the biggest sweeps of pink Gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia filipes) they've ever seen.
Also called sweet grass in the South Carolina Low Country, Gulf muhly is the native grass Gullah people weave to make baskets. It forms mounds 2-3 feet high and wide. I've seen it grown in both dry and wet soil. Its only requirement seems to be sun. In fall, rosy-purple plumes rise 2 feet above the foliage. When backlit by the sun, they seem to crackle with fire.
In addition to paved paths, the Railroad Park features grass-covered paths that wind through the plantings. The one above feels like you're walking through a meadow in the middle of downtown.
Where Are the Trains?
When Grumpy said this was a Railroad Park, he wasn't kidding. Just beyond a fence, trains move constantly in and out of the rail yard, transporting goods and supplies. Thanks to the skillful landscape design, it's the prettiest rail yard I know. (Grumpy used to ride the rails as a hobo and has seen some mighty attractive ones.)
Below are a few more shots to extend your visit to the Railroad Park. If I worked downtown, I'd want to be eating lunch out here every day in nice weather.
Miscanthus grass in bloom.
A stroll by the lake.
The entrance to the Railroad Park.
Birmingham's Railroad Park is open daily from 7 AM to 7 PM. You can take pets, but you have to clean up after them. The park is well-lit, monitored, clean, and patrolled. A cafe called George's Boxcar is open Monday - Friday, 11 AM to 7 PM and Saturday noon to 7 PM. There's lots of free parking all around the park. I parked on 18th Street South near the intersection with 1st Avenue South and needed less than a minute to reach the entrance. For more info, call (205) 521-9933.