The EcoScape program began on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College in 1996. Today, visitors there can stroll through a wildflower garden, sample edible plants and walk well-marked wetland and tree trails, all supplemented by nature-inspired works by local artists.
After the success of the first EcoScape, the SEC decided to expand with a second park in Woodlawn, an urban neighborhood plagued by blight. It took a scrubby patch of ground in an economically depressed swath of east Birmingham – one of more than 8,000 vacant lots in the city – and turned it into a model of how to combat urban decay.
Naysayers said the little patch of nature wouldn’t stay green and welcoming, but they were wrong. A recycled brick pathway runs from a wrought-iron leaf gate past raised beds of organically grown vegetables and native plants. A graduate of a local substance abuse clinic serves as a resident gardener, and the park is used for community festivals and by the nearby school and church.
Today there are many EcoScapes around the city. Many have a special focus: the Paul Samuelson EcoScape in East Lake highlights medical plants. The Healing Garden on the grounds of Princeton Baptist Medical Center is designed to be a therapeutic tool for staff and visitors of the hospital and residents of the Princeton Towers assisted living facility. The Seven Springs EcoScape in Powderly, protects a spring-fed tributary of Valley Creek that is home to a tiny endangered fish, the watercress darter.
Each EcoScape begins with community input and includes local artwork. They demonstrate the principals of organic gardening and re-using old materials and are open as outdoor classrooms for local schools.