By Shannon Lee

For the past two decades, The Conservation Fund has protected and enhanced public natural lands here in Atlanta. Like you, we live, work, and play in and around the metro area. Now more than ever, we need time outside to reconnect with nature and recharge our spirits. But we also want to be safe and limit our travel and exposure. So, we thought what better way to celebrate 20 years of working in Atlanta than to share a little bit about the more than 3,270 acres of critically important urban and suburban landscapes that we’ve helped to protect across all metro Atlanta. 

Please read along as we highlight some of the beautiful places that are all within a few minutes’ drive of downtown Atlanta. We protected them for you, so we hope that you get out there and enjoy them!

Arabia Mountain’s diamorpha smallii plants. Photo Courtesy of Stacy Funderburke

Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area 

In December 2000, the Fund secured it’s very first property in metro Atlanta – a 10 acre tract of land that would eventually join more than 1,700 acres we’ve added to the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area. Just 20 minutes east of downtown Atlanta in DeKalb and Rockdale Counties, the National Heritage Area offers historical, cultural, and environmental marvels for the entire family. Like Stone Mountain, the area includes two massive rock outcrops—Arabia-Davidson Mountain and Panola Mountain—both of which look more like another planet than Atlanta. The park includes miles of trails and spectacular views! Every spring, the mountains roll out a red carpet of diamorpha smallii plants to welcome visitors. These plants are endemic to the mountains, which means they don’t grow anywhere else in the world! 

Connally Nature Park

In 2002, we partnered with the Fulton County School Board and the City of East Point to secure nearly 30 acres of land for the Connally Nature Park. The forest includes several “Champion Oaks” estimated to be more than 300 years old and is home to rare pink lady’s slipper orchids. 

Utoy Boulder Park

In 2004, we made our first purchase on behalf of the City of Atlanta Parks Department, securing 100 acres for the Utoy Boulder Park and Herbert Greene Nature Preserve in west Atlanta. This park preserve provides one of the largest stands of old growth forest in the city and includes a beautiful stretch of Utoy Creek filled with abundant wildlife. 

Blue Heron Nature Preserve

In 2007, we helped to expand the Blue Heron Nature Preserve in north Atlanta. This forest and wetland habitat is home to beavers, salamanders, frogs, muskrat, deer and countless other urban wildlife. The nonprofit that manages the Preserve offers a variety of environmental education activities for all ages.  

Yellow River Park

In 2014, we worked with Gwinnett County to secure more than 140 acres that were incorporated into the Yellow River Park. The park includes miles of hiking, running, equestrian and mountain biking trails, all set in a beautiful forest along a meandering river, just outside the city where greenspaces are under severe threat of development and sprawl.

Atlanta Beltline

In 2015, we began working with Atlanta Beltline Inc. and secured a 1.7-acre property along DeKalb Avenue. This small tract was a key link in connecting the north and south sections of the Eastside Trail segment and allowed for the development of affordable housing units on the site. We continue to work with Beltline partners to complete the full loop and recently purchased a six-acre trail segment that is a key link in connecting downtown Atlanta into a broader trail system that goes all the way to Anniston, Alabama. 

Atlanta Beltline Photo Courtesy of Stacy Funderburke

Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill

In 2016, we protected seven acres of land for the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill in south Atlanta. In partnership with the City of Atlanta Office of Resilience, the U.S. Forest Service, and Trees Atlanta, residents have helped transform this one-of-a-kind park into an edible landscape, open to all. More than 2,000 edible trees, bushes, and groundcovers have been planted and over time will provide thousands of pounds of produce in a community that lacks access to fresh foods. 

Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park

In 2019, we celebrated the opening of Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park, the latest Parks with Purpose project. This new 3.5-acre park in the English Avenue neighborhood includes a new playground and fitness equipment for all ages. This park was developed through a community-driven visioning process led by residents, and in partnership with Park Pride, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, and other partners. The park features native plantings and rain gardens that capture up to 3.5 million gallons of stormwater annually, reducing historic flooding in this neighborhood. 

Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park in the English Avenue neighborhood. Photo Courtesy of Shannon Lee

Coming Soon! 

While these last two sites aren’t open to the public just yet, we couldn’t help but share a little bit about our latest projects!

Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve

In 2019, the Fund made its largest acquisition within City of Atlanta limits securing over 200 acres of old growth forest in the heart of Atlanta, including an impressive stand of shag bark hickories.  The Fund transferred this property to the City in the summer of 2020, and it open to the public as the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve in 2021. The greenspace also houses extensive Native American soapstone quarries and workshops dating back to 3000 B.C. 

Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve Photo Courtesy of Stacy Funderburke

Mud Creek

In 2020, The Clayton County Water Authority Board approved the Fund’s purchase of 12 acres of wetlands along Mud Creek. This tract is important for protecting Clayton County’s water supply and will also allow for a trailhead and passive nature-based trails that will connect community members into the broader Aero Greenways trail system. While this property isn’t open to the public just yet, this acquisition is a milestone for our collaborative Finding the Flint  initiative as a first step in uncovering the hidden headwaters of Georgia’s second longest river for the benefit of local communities. 

This is a historic grist mill along the Flint River very near Hartsfield-Jackson airport ⎯ it’s another hidden gem along this long-forgotten stretch of the river. Photo Courtesy of Stacy Funderburke

2021 and Beyond

Looking forward to the next decade, Atlanta is expected to see continued growth, putting ever increasing pressure on our natural greenspaces. At The Conservation Fund, now more than ever, we feel a great urgency to protect these important ecological wonders that provide each of us with much needed natural space where we can recharge and reenergize ourselves as we face these challenging times. 

Winter in Atlanta is the perfect time to get outside and explore these unique and special natural areas. We can’t wait to see you in the parks and on the trails! 

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