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Lee Springs Park: A Shady and Natural Oasis

August 22, 2022

No disputing that parks greatly enhance the livability of a community. Place one in a wooded setting – particularly in such states as Alabama where sticky humidity lingers most of the year – and the park is bound to attract many visitors.   

Shade is indeed a primary reason why Lee Springs Park in Helena is so popular. Though Helena would unlikely be labeled a concrete jungle, it is part of the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area, therefore such a refuge is a much-appreciated amenity.

Why is the shade of a tree important on hot days? According to Energy.gov, it can reduce the surrounding air temperature by as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s no denying the positive impact of shade on outdoor thermal comfort.

Studio A Design was the lead consultant on the design of the park, which includes trails for walking and running, bike trails, picnic tables and a playground.

Signs within the park provide information about the history of steel production in the area. Between 1873 and 1876, roughly 180 beehive-style coke ovens were constructed in the park area. Though the ovens were moved in 1899, remnants of the oven walls are still visible.  U.S. Steel owned the property and set aside 30 acres for the park.   

Google reviews of Lee Springs show that many people not only love that the park is set in the woods, but also how it is carefully integrated into the landscape.

“Due to the federal funding sources through the Alabama Mining Bureau, several studies were required, including a Cultural Resource Assessment and a Phase One Environmental Assessment,” explains Amy Smith, president of Studio A Design.

As the landscape architect on the project, Smith relied on these studies as well as historic maps, LIDAR maps, and numerous site visits to study the lay of the land and envision a blend of historic interpretation along with modern activities that would be inviting and meaningful. 

“It was important to preserve the trees,” she adds, “whose root systems helped to preserve the historic landforms and prevent erosion, and it was also important to bring visitors within viewing distance of sensitive historic features, without disturbing those features.”    

Relying on natural materials at the site and working with its topography was fundamental in designing the park. For example, the play area was designed to fit into the wooded landscape, including the slides that are built on the natural slope of the hillside. Bridges, boardwalks, steps and other features were constructed out of natural wood. Trees were used to support swings. The treehouse, boardwalks, benches and overlooks are supported with tree trunks. Low impact features include crushed stone trails and parking surfaces, and the use of indigenous materials.

Using what nature has made available on the site was important in the design approach, such as using tree trunks to support the benches.

Signs within the park provide information about the history of steel production in the area. Though the ovens were moved in 1899, remnants of the beehive-style coke oven walls are still visible.    

Branches from the site were used to construct this eye-catching entrance to the park.

The play area was designed to fit into the wooded landscape, including the slides that are built on the natural slope of the hillside.

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy Studio A Design LLC