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It takes a family and a village of many to save a forest and build a trail

By Maria Saporta

It was a day of pride for the three Morton brothers.

On Saturday morning, the City of Atlanta officially dedicated a 1.2 mile multiuse path in Southwest Atlanta just blocks away from where they grew up — a trail that meanders through one of Atlanta’s few remaining forests and a trail that eventually will connect to the Atlanta BeltLine.

“We are standing on the shoulders of our parents who fought to save this forest,” said Bruce Morton, a leading citizen environmentalist who learned to value nature when he was growing up and spending time playing in the forest and the creek.

Keith, Harold and Bruce Morton at the new trail dedication (Photos by Maria Saporta)

Keith, Harold and Bruce Morton at the new trail dedication (Photos by Maria Saporta)

His oldest brother, Keith Morton, said their mother used to send them out of the house in the morning to go play in the woods and not expect them home until lunchtime.

Then in the 1970s, developers planned to build a 300-home subdivision in the community around the Beecher Hills Elementary School, but that was project was stopped by the neighborhood, including their parents.

Later in the 1980s and 1990s, Keith Morton said there was another proposal to cut down the woods and build another 300 units of multi-family homes.

But then his brother, Bruce, got together with jazz musician Lionel Hampton, and others, and they were able to get the area turned into a city-owned nature preserve.

The Morton brothers and their children

The Morton brothers and their children

Still the woods needed to become more accessible to the Southwest communities. The PATH Foundation began working on building a trail that would connect the Beecher Hills area to PATH’s existing Lionel Hampton Trail and to the Westwood Terrace neighborhood.

The $1.4 million project that was dedicated on Saturday is just the first phase of a 4.5 mile spur trail that eventually will connect to the Atlanta BeltLine. It is part of a planned 33-mile network of trails that will encompass the Atlanta BeltLine project.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said that as of today, 60 percent of the 22-mile circular corridor that makes up the BeltLine core is now under the city’s control.

Mayor Kasim Reed addresses the crowd before the ribbon-cutting

Mayor Kasim Reed addresses the crowd before the ribbon-cutting

“We are not going to let up,” the mayor said. “We are going to make Atlanta more sustainable.”

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell said the vision for the BeltLine came from the community, and it’s becoming more real everyday.

“It symbolizes our desire to connect our city, connect our soul, connect our dreams, but also connect our aspirations,” Mitchell said.

The PATH Foundation, which has been developing multiuse trails all over the region for more than 20 years.

More than 100 people turn out for the trail dedication

More than 100 people turn out for the trail dedication

Ed McBrayer, PATH’s founder and executive director, said that when this particular spur is complete it will resemble a spider-web, connecting several neighborhoods in Southwest Atlanta as well as connecting the existing PATH system and the BeltLine.

“My hats off to Mayor Reed and the City of Atlanta for putting cycling and walking first,” McBrayer said, adding that he welcomed the trend to designing and building the city on a more human scale.

And then they cut the ribbon!

And then they cut the ribbon!

Another person who was pleased was Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell. When Mayor Reed finished his remarks, she whispered in his ear: “We’re finally bringing it Southwest.”

But no one was happier or prouder than the three Morton brothers — Bruce, Keith and Harold.

Let me take that back. The only person who could have been prouder would have been their late mother, who probably was watching all the festivities from above.

“The three of us never got along when we were growing up. We could go months without speaking to one another,” Keith Morton said. “My mother, on her death bed, said she had one wish, for the three of us to get along.”

And then looking back at the newly-dedicated trail that they helped bring to life, Keith Morton said: “We are very close.”

The entrance to Atlanta's newest PATH trail

The entrance to Atlanta’s newest PATH trail

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. qcompson August 10, 2013 6:45 pm

    I stumbled across this new section of path by accident on a recent bike ride. It’s really beautiful and does a great job of combining transportation functionality with aesthetics. It’s amazing how removed you feel from the city along that trail. Kudos to the Morton family for helping to keep these beautiful woods intact, and for helping make them more accessible to the public.
    Also, perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but the trail allows easy access to the wooded southern half of the Westview Cemetery. There are some really great wooded paths (dirt/gravel) that lead past Lake Palmyra (the ruins of a really cool old stone building on the lake edge are worth checking out), then up to the developed portion of the cemetery. It’s a hidden jewel, and a great place to spot wildlife. I’ve personally seen deer, coyotes and wild turkeys. Check it out on Google Earth if you’re unfamiliar.Report

  2. John Wolfinger August 10, 2013 8:36 pm

    What a great story – thanx for sharing.Report


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