Nature Conservancy putting its support behind DeKalb’s natural places

Constitution Lakes is a DeKalb County park that, according to the people who know it and love it, has tremendous potential. It’s not the kind of park with athletic fields and pavilions but a natural site that many consider a nature preserve.

However, its potential is marred by invasive plants and debris from people who have used it as a dumping ground.

Volunteers pitched in to plant 10 trees and 50 shrubs in the median on Hairston Road just south of Redan Road in October 2016.
Volunteers pitched in to plant 10 trees and 50 shrubs in the median on Hairston Road just south of Redan Road in October 2016.

Thanks to a Nature Conservancy initiative launched on Earth Day, April 22, Constitution Lakes and several other parks and outdoor spaces in DeKalb County and Atlanta connected to the South River will receive funding and support. The conservancy is a global conservation organization that works to protect ecologically important lands and water.

The new South River Neighborhood Network initiative is part of the conservancy’s global conservation in cities program. The project includes:

  • Chapel Hill Park in Decatur—trail creation to better connect residents, many of whom are seniors, to the park
  • Sugar Creek Farm at the Wylde Center in Decatur—native plant pollinator garden
  • Constitution Lakes Park in southeast Atlanta—invasive species removal/native plant project to improve existing habitat/nesting areas for birds and wildlife
  • East Lake flood plain—funding installation of native plants, interpretive signage and cistern repair
  • Thomasville Heights in southwest Atlanta—trail creation and neighborhood beautification

The conservancy is also in preliminary talks with Pine Lake residents about a project, possibly having to do with the wetlands there.

Joy Carter, founder of Friends of Constitution Lakes, said the conservancy’s commitment to help rid the property of plants such as non-native privet is significant.

Carter explained that Constitution Lakes is a 200-acre scenic wetland located off Moreland Avenue that once was a brickyard, then a farm, then a place for hunting and fishing and a dumping ground for items such as tires and even a boat and car. She said the DeKalb County purchased the property in 2003 and Friends of Constitution Lakes have been diligently working to clean it up for years, holding events to remove tires, bricks and invasive plants.

Herbs at the Sugar Creek Garden at the Wylde Center in Decatur.
Herbs at the Sugar Creek Garden at the Wylde Center in Decatur.

“It’s a very scenic park,” said Carter. “Most people don’t know about it.”

Now the property is a popular spot for hikers, dog walkers and geocachers as well as urban artists who have transformed bricks and other found objects on the site into random “quirky” art installations, according to Carter. There’s even a trail marked by a collection of dolls’ heads that were found on site.

“It’s on the South River. People don’t realize Atlanta has more than the Chattahoochee,” said Carter. “It’s been an abused river.”

Carter said she’s most excited about the Nature Conservancy’s ability to “help to string together groups working in different areas along the South River.”

Nature Conservancy officials said all projects are community-driven and address environmental issues, including forest protection and restoration, pollinator habitats, greenspace management, invasive species, neighborhood beautification and water quality in the network of streams and forests that support DeKalb County and south Atlanta communities. The conservancy plans to hold community events throughout 2017 to engage local residents in the shared benefits of public green spaces. 

Myriam D. Dormer, urban conservation director for the Nature Conservancy, said that her organization is seeking to get more people interested in the impact on natural resources and quality-of-life issues by introducing them to projects in their backyards. Demonstration projects can open people’s eyes to local, regional and national issues, she said.

“I think what’s really exciting about these projects is the community really indicated that these projects they care about,” said Dormer.

Jackie Echols, Ph.D., president of the board of the South River Watershed Alliance, said she is pleased that energy, effort and time are being focused on urban areas, particularly the South River.

“It’s good,” Echols said. “It’s something they haven’t done in urban areas where most people live and the environment is most impacted.”

The conservancy also is in talks with the Greater Hidden Hills Community Development Corporation (GHHCDC) regarding partnering on visual improvements along S. Hairston and Redan roads in Stone Mountain. Dormer described it as beautification for economic development and said the goal of the “streetscaping” is to attract private investment in nearby strip malls.

Jan Costello, president of GHHCDC, said with the conservancy’s support her group is proposing to build a “green room” as part of a heavily used MARTA bus shelter. It would involve adding border plants, more seating and installing a concrete floor.

“Right now all it is, is red dirt and patches of weeds,” said Costello. “It’s just a muddy mess.”

“When an area looks pretty and cared for your impression of the community is more positive,” said Costello, adding that the goal is to attract both customers and businesses to area shops.

GHHCDC already has spruced up a 400-foot-long median in the area.

Other partners the conservancy is working with on these projects include DeKalb County, Chapel Hill Park Friends Group, Wylde Center, Emory University, city of Atlanta, Atlanta Canopy Alliance, Audubon Society, Thomasville Heights Civic League, Georgia Institute of Technology, UGA, the Conservation Fund, American Rivers and Trusts for Public Land.


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