The Coca-Cola Co. funds South Fork Conservancy’s efforts at Zonolite Park

By David Pendered

The effort to improve Peachtree Creek now includes a $25,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Co. that was used to install a rainwater harvesting system at Zonolite Park, in northeast Atlanta.

South Fork Conservancy, Coca Cola grant

South Fork Conservancy board member and NewFields Chairman Billy Hall presents a plaque to John Radtke, director of Coca-Cola’s Water Sustainability Program. The plaque reads: ‘This rainwater harvester is a gift from The Coca-Cola Company to the watershed and all the life it supports.’ Credit: Eric Voss

“We’re so grateful to The Coca-Cola Co. for this gift, and can’t wait to keep working with them to preserve the creeks and waterways of our city,” said Sally Sears, a founding and current board member of the South Fork Conservancy.

The grant speaks to the momentum gathering around the volunteer-driven effort to restore the corridor along one of Atlanta’s historic waterways.

In August 2016, the Kendeda Fund pledged $500,000. South Fork Conservancy’s board Chairman Bob Kerr said at the time that the pledge established a solid base for future fund-raising activities. The goal is $2 million.

Incidentally, in addition to building trails along the waterway, the South Fork Conservancy aims to connect greenspaces including Medlock Park, Zonolite Park, the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve and the historic Olmsted Linear Park along Ponce de Leon Avenue, according to a page on the conservancy’s website.

The water system installed at Zonolite Park is to collect rainwater runoff from 9,200 square feet of rooftops on the adjacent Floatway business and office park that ‘s located near Emory University.

South Fork Conservancy, Zonolite Park

South Fork Conservancy board member and NewFields Chairman Billy Hall (center) speaks to the group that lines the raised planting bed along walkways covered with pervious materials. Credit: Eric Voss

The retained water is to pass through an industrial-grade filter and be stored in a 3,470-gallon cistern. From there, the water is to be used to irrigate 6,000 square feet of greenspace in the park. The space includes an orchard, several raised planting beds and a community garden, according to a statement release by South Fork Conservancy.

The project also included the installation of a bioswale that will retain additional storm water run-off. In dry spells, the cistern will be filled with water drawn from Floataway Creek, meaning that the greenspace can be irrigated with no water that’s been treated for human consumption.

“This system is critical because storms in Atlanta often pound rooftops and rush off quickly, causing flooding and scouring creek banks, Sears said. “Now, this rainwater can work through the soil of the gardens and meadow and filter naturally and slowly into our creeks.”

The notion of an environmentally friendly project at Zonolite Park marks the swift and dramatic turnaround of a former manufacturing site that processed asbestos. Asbestos has been labeled a, “known human carcinogen” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Photo of Zonolite Park

Zonolite Park, once a tainted industrial site, now has a rainwater harvesting system provided through a grant from The Coca-Cola Co. File

Ben Smith, a former columnist with SaportaReport.com, wrote a piece in 2013 about the effort to reclaim Zonolite Park and the role of the South Fork Conservancy in that effort. Smith included the following slice of history about the park and how it came to become what Smith described as an, “asbestos laden wetland:”

  • “Zonolite Park is 12 acres near Briarcliff and Clifton roads, where the South Fork of Peachtree Creek parallels railroad tracks. For two decades beginning in 1950, freight trains stopped at the W.R. Grace Co. plant and dumped as much as 1,225 tons of raw material for attic insulation marketed as Zonolite. Grace was an important business in DeKalb County, and the street where the plant was located was named Zonolite Road.

    The crowd that celebrated a grant from The Coca-Cola Co. to the South Fork Conservancy included (left to right) Atlanta’s director of urban agriculture, Mario Cambardella; Coca-Cola ecologist Rena Ann Stricker; Atlanta’s chief sustainability officer, John Seydel; and South Fork Conservancy board member and NewFields Chairman Billy Hall. Credit: Eric Voss

    The crowd that celebrated a grant from The Coca-Cola Co. to the South Fork Conservancy included (left to right) Atlanta’s director of urban agriculture, Mario Cambardella; Coca-Cola ecologist Rena Ann Stricker; Atlanta’s chief sustainability officer, John Seydel; and South Fork Conservancy board member and NewFields Chairman Billy Hall. Credit: Eric Voss

  • “But Zonolite’s raw material carried natural asbestos fibers, and the Montana mine where it was dug ended up the target of a massive EPA investigation. Grace Co. executives were indicted in 2005 for knowingly placing the town of Libby, Montana, in danger and later covering up their actions. They were acquitted in 2009, but the company had filed bankruptcy and abandoned its Atlanta site. A Montana judge had to approve the $2 million needed to remove 27,000 tons of contaminated soil at what would become Zonolite Park.
  • “Enter the Conservancy, which pulled together volunteers to cut through privet and vines to make preliminary trails that lead through the wooded parts of the track and down to the creek. Since November, the conservancy spent $10,000 to restore bushes and trees that are native to the park, such as red maple trees and sassafras and blueberry bushes.
  • “’We think the fur is really going to fly now here that we have the support of federal money, through the state, through the county with the support of all of you,’ South Fork Conservancy executive director Sally Sears said to last week’s gathering of supporters.”
Photo of old Zonolite advertisement

From 1950 to 1970, Zonolite was a popular attic insulation processed in northeast Atlanta. The raw mineral later was found to have natural asbestos fibers. File/Credit: Asbestorama

South Fork Conservancy, map

The South Fork Conservancy has a vision to build trails beside Peachtree Creek and connect them with a network in Atlanta and DeKalb County. Credit: southforkconservancy.org

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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