Roger Quick glanced down at his watch, which tracked him at nearly three miles on the day, as he coasted up to the trail map perched off Fieldstown Road.
With sweat cascading from is forehead down to his bare chest, Quick offered a wave to a passing cyclist as he merged back onto the path for the final leg of his Monday run. He’s one of many outdoors enthusiasts who have taken to the ribbon of gravel winding through the trees in northern Jefferson County.
From cyclists to runners to the everyday walk-and-talkers, the Five Mile Creek Greenway offers an abundance of open track. Upon completion, the trail will stretch more than 16 miles through the cities of Brookside, Center Point, Fultondale, Gardendale, Graysville and Tarrant.
The most recent section to open along the Five Mile Creek Greenway snakes through Gardendale and connects the Gardendale Urban Trail System to a much larger body.
“Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of the cities and the mayors of north Jefferson County, we’ve acquired 16-and-a-half miles of rail corrode, which is going to be the longest trail in central Alabama,” said Tom Thagard of the Freshwater Land Trust at a ribbon cutting ceremony in Gardendale.
Nature-seekers of all ages can enjoy the path, which will run from Black Creek Park in Fultondale all the way to the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River—16.5 miles in length. As of June 2019, 11 of those miles remain unfinished.
According to Gardendale Public Works Director Dale Hyche, the rail trail is available for everyone from serious cyclists to stroller-driving moms.
The Five Mile Creek Greenway Partnership began the project in 2002 as a way to utilize property which had been flooded along Five Mile Creek by creating a string of outdoor recreation destinations. CSX Transportation Inc. once ran the rail line, but filed for abandonment in September of 2003. With the rail bed silenced, the path has been federally land banked, meaning the federal government still holds ownership of the property, if needed.
The slight grade which comes with railroad lines made for an ideal walking path.
“Railroads work on such a level surface that that’s what we’re basically keeping,” said Hyche of the two % grade found on the path.
With the exception of mobility scooters, no motorized equipment (four wheelers, dirt bikes, ATVs, golf carts, etc.) is allowed on the path, which is covered with crushed limestone material. Vulcan Materials Company donated the first 700 tons of gravel to the most recent section in Gardendale and provided a discount on the remaining orders.
Quick, a former marathon runner, prefers the softer strides of gravel compared to running on asphalt. At 73, he still tackles multi-mile runs with ease, but would rather not take those steps on busy roadways.
“It’s much better out here,” said Quick. “Most people who don’t run wouldn’t believe it but people in cars will come at you for no reason at all.”
Roger Mauldin, a Gardendale resident who discovered his passion for cycling and running 30-plus years ago, drops in through the trail head on Fieldstown Road two or three times per week. Sometimes he brings his mountain bike, while other visits need only running shoes. Either way, Mauldin enjoys the convenience of a lengthy path so close to home.
“I do most of my riding at Oak Mountain or Tannehill but since I live out here, this is a nice alternative,” said Mauldin as he clipped into his helmet and mounted his ride.
Malden says he can knock out 12 miles on a ride from Black Creek Park in Fultondale to the end of the line in Gardendale and back.
Hopefully, given a little more time, Malden, Quick and nature goers aplenty can add more miles to their ever-growing journey.
This story originally ran in the Summer 2019 edition of North Jefferson Magazine.