A Celebration of Land, Water – And Early Visionaries and Advocates
George Dusenbury, Executive Director, The Trust for Public Land in Georgia
Not much happens in Atlanta without Marcia Bansley noticing. In the early 1970s, long before becoming the first executive director of Trees Atlanta, she saw bulldozers chewing through green hills on the south side of Interstate 285, making way for a new development. Following a major rainstorm, a significant mudslide at the site pushed red clay into the Chattahoochee River, and Bansley became emblazoned to “stop the ugliness” that was the “needless desecration of all things natural along the Chattahoochee River.”
Given its prominent location, what would come to be known as the Batson Cook Mudslide caught the attention of much of the city, including the Junior League of Atlanta. Bansley was a member of the Junior League, and working alongside the head of civic engagement for the organization, Alice McDonough, they found the perfect cause to practice their mission of community service. They reached out to Roy Wood at the Federal Department of the Interior and then engaged Georgia Canoeing Association president and ecologist Claude Terry. The group started organizing, raising money and advocating all the way from the Atlanta City Hall to the state capital and even to the halls of Congress; the Friends of the River was born, with Junior Leaguer Kay McKenzie serving as its first president.
The actions and advocacy of the Friends of the River were a turning point. Forty years ago, on August 15, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the law to protect the Chattahoochee River and its land, establishing the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA).
Those pioneers of conservation and greenspace protection–and so many others–laid the foundation for what would become an all-encompassing mission for the Chattahoochee. The Trust for Public Land is proud to be among the organizations that have worked to protect the Chattahoochee, preserving public land and providing access to the river. Beginning with the acquisition of three acres to expand the Chattahoochee Nature Center in 1984, The Trust for Public Land has helped preserve more than 18,000 acres and 80 miles of riverfront along the Chattahoochee.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, The Trust for Public Land will honor the vanguards who brought this beloved system of parks and trails to a reality at our annual Celebration of Land and Water on September 15.
It’s hard to imagine what the Chattahoochee River would be like today without the early visionaries who fought to make and keep the river and lands around it a natural, healthy and productive place. Since the beginning, the Chattahoochee Nature Center has provided educational programs while connecting families to the wonders of the river. In 1994, Laura Turner Seydel and Rutherford Seydel co-founded the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and brought Sally Bethea on board as the founding director. In 2012, the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy was established as the official friends group for the CRNRA to build a community of support and promote stewardship of river’s cultural and natural resources. Today, the CRNRA attracts 2.7 million visitors, has an economic impact of more than $160 million and supports 1,700 jobs.
The population of our region is growing fast, and the demands on the Chattahoochee are increasing. It is clear that continued, collaborative leadership is necessary to ensure that this vital waterway serves our city’s evolving needs. A new generation of visionaries are now rising up. The Trust for Public Land, working with the Atlanta Regional Commission, is bringing together dozens of stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan for expanding the public realm along the river. We are excited to share more about this process over time, and we hope that metro Atlanta residents and beyond will get involved in writing the next chapter for the river that sustains us all.
Join The Trust for Public Land, along with event co-chairs Mary Calhoun and Will Huff, at our annual Celebration of Land & Water to honor the leaders who created and carry forward the vision of the Chattahoochee River. We’ll gather on the river on September 15 for an evening of fantastic food and great conversation; find out more and buy your tickets today.
Featured photo above: The Trust for Public Land staff visit the Chattahoochee Nature Center, one of the river’s anchor institutions.