Pine Lake now wildlife sanctuary

Pine Lake, DeKalb County’s smallest city, has been part of a farm and later a camping resort. Its residents, who joke about the tininess of their municipality, take pride in its identification as an arts center. Recently it received a new designation—wildlife sanctuary.

In early August, Atlanta Audubon Society officially recognized Pine Lake as an Atlanta Audubon Certified Wildlife Sanctuary. The certified area includes the 17-acre lake, the adjacent park, two adjoining wetlands, and a bio-retention area, according to Atlanta Audubon Society.

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“We continue to be proud of being a place where the arts thrive and our efforts at preserving and restoring natural areas go hand-in-hand with that,” said Megan Pulsts, a Pine Lake City Council member who was involved with the restoration effort that led to the Audubon Society recognition and who spearheaded the certification on the city’s behalf.

Pulsts described the work that proceeded certification as a decades-long effort. “Designation as a wildlife sanctuary simply capped what we had been doing through the administrations of at least three mayors. As Pine Lake started to redefine its vision, we wanted to make the lake area a place people could continue to enjoy with picnicking, fishing, swimming and other recreation that also would be wildlife friendly.”

She said many city officials and residents contributed to the effort over the years. “Certainly, there were many contributors and I was just one, but I do feel as an attorney, I was able to play a special role. With my legal background, I could be sure as we went forward that we were in compliance with the law,” Pulsts said.

The restoration got a boost after longtime resident Ann McAllister left a large bequest to the city in her will, specifying that the money was to be used for environmental enhancement. Pine Lake city officials and community residents worked together to remove invasive plant species, such as privet and English ivy, and to add native plant species to provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife, Pulsts said. They added more than 150 trees, 250 bushes and 36,000 square feet of native wildflower and grass seeding. The focus was on native plant species that tolerate Georgia’s variable weather conditions ensuring minimal maintenance over the lifetime of plantings.

Melinda Langston, Atlanta Audubon board member and wildlife sanctuary program coordinator, states in an announcement of the certification, “The welfare of birds and other wildlife is directly linked to the quality of food and shelter available to them. Pine Lake has worked diligently in recent years not only to create valuable habitat for birds and other wildlife but also to create a wonderful outdoor space for the residents of Pine Lake.”

The body of water that defines the area and gives the city its name is not a natural lake. A stream that flowed through what was then farmland, was dammed in the early 20th century by the Army Corp of Engineers as an erosion and flood prevention measure, forming the lake.

“There were all sorts of rumors, including one that the dam was made from old automobiles. That one, like many others, turned out not to be true, but we wanted to replace the old dam with an earthen one and create a natural shoreline along the lake,” Pulsts said.

Pulsts said she is unsure who first suggested contacting the Atlanta Audubon Society, but it proved to be a good move. “They were excited to work with us,” Pulsts recalled. “Their projects usually involve private property; they don’t often work with a city.” She said the certification happened quickly. Audubon representatives came out in the spring and suggested a few changes, she said, adding that after a second inspection, the certification was approved.

Explaining its decision to include Pine Lake among is certified areas, the Audubon Society notes in a statement: “Pine Lake features a beautiful lake as well as two constructed wetlands and a bioretention pond that naturally filters storm water runoff and other water flowing through Pine Lake. The western wetlands features clusters of big leaf magnolia, holly, and redbud trees as well as blackberry spicebush and winterberries. The Pine Lake dam was seeded with wildflowers and native grasses, and, in the eastern wetlands, Southern magnolia, sycamore, swamp white oak, sweet gum, tulip poplar, native azaleas and other drought tolerant species were added. Finally, more than 30 new trees were planted in the bio-retention area.”

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