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Flashback: Mountaintop Triumph

This should be named the official state tree house.

Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve’s Tree Top Visitor Center.

Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve’s Tree Top Visitor Center.

Photo by Gary Knight

Eye popping new Alabama buildings are the focus of a collection of stories in our March 2018 issue: http://www.businessalabama.com/Business-Alabama/March-2018/Alabama-Projects-by-Alabama-Builders/

An Alabama landmark well worth driving across the state to visit was one of a similar series we introduced in the October 2010 issue — the Tree Top Visitor Center and Mountainside Pavilion Complex at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve.

“Raising the building up pulls the building into the tree canopy, and it feels like a tree house,” said Ronnie Collis, project manager with the Birmingham design firm KPS Group.

Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve has been, for more than 30 years, a steadily growing oasis — now 1,040 acres — in the midst of Alabama’s largest city.

“The Ruffner Mountain Nature Conservancy, which operates the preserve, came to us about four years ago, and we did a master plan for the entire park,” said Collis. “The first stage of that plan was a new nature facility.”

Sustainability was the key word in the visitor center’s design.

“We did everything we could to make it as sustainable as possible,” said Collis. “It embodies a lot of sustainable principles, from the way it sits on the site and catches the northern light, to the use of cover during the summer. It also collects water to use in the area. The building itself sits off the land so that it doesn’t disturb the land below it, and it uses a lot of recycled and rapidly renewable materials. So it reduces the energy that goes into transporting material long distances.”

General contractor for the visitor center was Birmingham’s Stewart Perry. Project value was $3.16 million.

The preserve started with the Ruffner Mountain Coalition, a grassroots group that sprouted, in the decade of the first Earth Day, to protect the mountain from plans for the development of an apartment complex. The coalition began with 28 acres leased from the City of Birmingham. The Trust for Public Land added more than 500 acres in the ’80s, and 400 acres were added in 2000 under the state Forever Wild program.    

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

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