Driving Regional Cooperation
Carlee Sanford, Jefferson County Parks Cooperative
“The Community Foundation is intentional with their funding priorities, and it lets you know when they pick something like the Jefferson County Greenways Commission to fund – that there has been a lot of deliberation and strategic planning in what they fund.”
Jefferson County Parks Cooperative
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Philosophers and scientists have pondered this question for generations. Scientifically, at least, the answer is yes. And in the Greater Birmingham area, if a tree falls at Red Mountain Park, Ruffner Mountain, or the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, chances are now much greater that someone from one of these three parks will definitely hear about it and be there straightaway to assess the situation.
That’s all because of the newly formed Jefferson County Greenways Commission, funded in part by a 2022 $600,000 grant from the Community Foundation. As the only large urban area in the state without dedicated funding to support our large acreage parks, parks throughout Jefferson County have had to rely solely on private donations to sustain themselves. This grant follows an initial grant the Community Foundation made in 2021 that enabled Red Mountain Park, Ruffner Mountain, and the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve to engage Clarus Consulting and create a plan and proposal to create a more unified approach to managing our region’s parks.
“The Jefferson County Commission has passed a resolution committing $2 million toward our $3.6 million goal, and some community partners – private and corporate funders – have stepped up to help us begin to close that gap between $2 and $3.6 million,” says T.C. McLemore, who was, at the time of this interview, the executive director of Red Mountain Park. “The Community Foundation really helped lead the charge and be that beacon out in front telling other major funders that this is a good idea worth funding aggressively.”
Carlee Sanford, the executive director of Ruffner Mountain, agrees. “There was a problem out there to solve that’s been around for a while, and the Community Foundation saw that we were bringing something tangible,” she says. “It’s just been wonderful working with them because they’ve been that next voice carrying it forward.” She says that the original goal was for the Jefferson County Greenways Commission to be 100% publicly funded to preserve private donations for programming, capital campaigns, and other initiatives to improve these green spaces. And that’s where the Community Foundation has made a difference in the momentum of this project.
“It feels different now from last fall when we first started presenting this thing we were working on,” Sanford says. “The Community Foundation really made us feel like it was a viable project and that it was something that would work. Now there’s support. There’s buy-in. ”
Both Sanford and McLemore say that the Community Foundation’s regional cooperation vision has been crucial to the launch of the Jefferson County Greenways Commission. “They are out in front thinking of what this community can be as a whole and thinking of ways to bring the community together to solve issues that affect all of us,” says McLemore. “The district lines go away,” continues Sanford. “Their charge is what’s good for the whole.”
And McLemore commends the Community Foundation for turning to local agencies and nonprofits for solutions to regional issues. “The Community Foundation doesn’t prescribe solutions. They are really looking for insight from the community and from organizations who are closer to issues that are important to them,” he says. “And then they pursue unique solutions with those partners. What sets the Community Foundation apart is that their work begins well before a grant is ever written, and their work ends well after a grant is awarded. I think they are as valuable as a thought partner and convener as they are as a funder.”
Sanford and McLemore are thrilled that the three parks can now work together more efficiently and effectively for the good of the green spaces and the public. “We exist in a world of mutuality where we are all tied together,” says McLemore. “And like Carly said, these district lines that we make up don’t really matter because the success of our neighbor is our success. I think regional cooperation is the single most important thing the Community Foundation could be funding right now.”