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John Ripley Forbes Big Trees Forest Preserve named to Old-Growth Forest Network

By David Pendered

The John Ripley Forbes Big Trees Forest Preserve, in Sandy Springs, has been designated part of the Old-Growth Forest Network, a national network of mature forests that are protected, native and publicly accessible.

Fernbank, forest

The John Ripley Forbes Big Trees Forest Preserve joins Fernbank Forest (pictured here) as a forest designated by the Old-Growth Tree Network. File/Credit: Fernbank

The Big Trees Forest Preserve joins a small group of forests in Georgia to be so designated. They are located in DeKalb County, and in Floyd and Hall counties, according to a page on the OGFN’s website.

The Old-Growth Forest Network has a legacy, and purpose, that is plain and simple: Creating a national network of protected old-growth forests. Founder Joan Maloof wrote that the goal of the non-profit organization that dates to in 2007 is to, help stop the destruction of what old-growth remained, help some forests recover, and enable more Americans to experience an old forest.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul observed in a statement:

  • “Big Trees is a natural wonder nestled within a bustling urban environment. Within steps of entering the park, the natural beauty of the trees surrounds you.  We are proud of the national designation recognizing the big importance of this nature preserve.”

Sandy Springs has owned 20 acres of the 30-acre Big Trees Forest Preserve since 2006, when Fulton County deeded the land to the city that was incorporated in 2005. The State of Georgia owns 10 acres.

The designation for Big Trees is the latest commemoration for a tract of rolling, wooded land named after Forbes (1913-2006), who was a lion in the nation’s nascent environmental movement.

A few miles south of John Ripley Forbes Big Trees Forest Preserve, trees in the Blue Heron Nature Preserve filter sunlight. Credit: David Pendered

In 1953, Time magazine proclaimed Forbes to be the “Johnny Appleseed of the museum world.” The moniker recognized Forebes’ enthusiasm, and fund-raising ability.

Forbes became a household name in metro Atlanta because of his works in the region.

Forbes came to Atlanta in the go-go era after World War II, working in 1946 to help organize the first Fernbank Children’s Museum. Forbes met and married in 1951 the Atlanta field Director for the Camp Fire Girls, Margaret Sanders. The couple moved to metro Atlanta in 1971, following which he helped establish the Outdoor Activity Center, Chattahoochee Nature Center and the nonprofit Southeast Land Preservation Trust, to help protect open space in the region.

Forbes’ name lives on in the forest he helped preserve from development. This is the story the Southeast Land Preservation Trust tells of how Big Trees came to be:

  • “In January of 1989 Forbes first learned of a beautiful forest in Sandy Springs about to be marketed as land suitable for a car dealership. Upon visiting the property he was awed by the beauty of the forest and felt it should be saved for use as an urban forest education center. He thought the large trees were so historic and inspiring, that immediate action was needed to preserve the forest for the enjoyment of future generations.
  • “Through a co-operative partnership with Southeast Land Preservation Trust, Fulton  County, the State of Georgia and private citizens, a total of 30 acres of this forested land was purchased. For over a decade, Forbes has worked to develop and promote Big Trees Forest as a Tree, Plant and Wildlife Sanctuary and Urban Forest Education Center. Through his leadership, this special place has evolved as a model in urban forest preservation, management, stewardship and use. This special preserve is a living legacy to John Ripley Forbes’ commitment to conserving our natural heritage for future generations.”


David Pendered

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.


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