Peachtree Creek: ‘A gift waiting to be rediscovered again’
By David Pendered
A new bridge across Peachtree Creek in Buckhead is the latest fruit of relations being woven by the South Fork Conservancy as it establishes an urban nature trail and park system that spans 25 acres.
The $2.5 million bridge project is to get underway this Spring. It culminates a dozen years of effort and involves support from diverse entities including private landowners, the Georgia Department of Transportation and City of Atlanta.
“Everyone has come together to make it a reality, and everyone will get the benefit of opening these lands,” Kimberly Estep, the conservancy’s executive director, said Monday.
The bridge itself is an achievement for offering a soft footprint across a considerable distance in a hardscape part of town. The visible parts of the bridge are to be made of Corten steel, a material that takes on the muted patina of an old railroad bridge as it weathers. The bridge is to be 175 feet long, with an additional 175 feet of ADA-compliant ramp, to connect two existing trails.
Another partnership is providing construction funds to make it more pleasant to reach the bridge by building a new trail segment; creating a new trailhead for the Cheshire Farm Trail; restoring habitat, and establishing a new rain garden along the trail. GDOT is to help match a $950,000 grant the conservancy is on track to receive from the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program.
Final approval of the conservancy’s grant is pending a decision by the board of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Georgia voters approved a funding source for GOSP in 2018 when they voted for the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, which allocates 80 percent of sales taxes collected in sporting goods stores and outdoor recreational equipment.
The bridge is the latest milestone in the South Fork Conservancy’s efforts to reclaim creek banks from decades of neglect and turn them into an urban nature trail.
The banks used to be impenetrable thickets of privet. Erosion along the creek made any semblance of pathways treacherous, as a hiker could slip on a narrow trail and tumble down an eroded embankment into the water. Much of that era is now gone, replaced with a tended trail; large stepping stones that solidify stream banks, and sewer drain pipes that empty rainwater from streets to manmade rock outcroppings, where water is cleaned as it cascades down the rocks and then soaks into the ground.
The material of the trail is a rarity. It’s soft, not a hard paved surface such as is used at Piedmont Park and the Atlanta BeltLine. The soft material is gentle on knees and hips. Emory University’s cross country runners frequent the Peavine Trail, located near the campus.
Intentional efforts abound that add to a friendly atmosphere – for example, trail signs are positive, asking that dogs be leashed, rather than negative, instructing that dogs may not be off leash.
Along the way, smallish parks have been created to serve as trailheads and neighborhood gathering spaces. Armand Park opened to rave reviews from residents who have turned it into their outdoor living room – much as Centennial Olympic Park is a central gathering space for the Atlanta region.
Estep speaks of the conservancy’s mission as one of protecting slivers of riverbank from encroaching development. The social and cultural benefits are just as important.
“We are a conservation group,” Estep said. “We are creating, out of nothing, a 25-acre park – all the greenspace, miles of trails, 3-foot trails, meadows restored by Trees Atlanta and Atlanta Audubon Society. All the restoration work that makes it feel like you’re in a natural setting, because you are. The creek is a gift waiting to be rediscovered again.”
Note to readers: South Fork Conservancy plans a fund-raising celebration April 23 at Zonolite Park to discuss achievements and future plans.
This is a snapshot of the trail guide:
Cheshire Farm Trail (1.5 mile round-trip)
Visitors can stroll under the GA 400 ramp soaring high above, gaze at the creek from three beautiful bridges, and walk among old-growth and newly planted native trees. This trail is named for the Cheshire family who settled the area in the nineteenth century.
Meadow Loop Trail (.5 mile round-trip)
This sunny trail meanders through 3.5 acres of butterfly-friendly plants along the creek’s North Fork and features Midtown Atlanta skyline views. The trail leads visitors along the creek to a clearing where native species are thriving.
Confluence Trail (1.5 mile round-trip)
Native Americans gathered where the South and North Forks meet. Peachtree Creek officially starts at the confluence of these two streams. Today, visitors regularly see deer, otter, and a beaver family raising its kits beneath GA 400.
Zonolite Park (1 mile round-trip)
Once an industrial brownfield, this area has been restored to a native meadow and wetland with a trail system. This greenspace is part of a wildlife corridor that includes Morningside Nature Preserve and Herbert Taylor-Daniel Johnson Park. Visitors particularly enjoy the low sandy banks and up-close views of the creek.
Peavine Trail (0.75 miles long)
Some of the best views of an urban creek can be found alone the Peavine Trail. A major tributary of the South Fork, Peavine meanders through Emory University and Emory Village. Opened in 2019, the Peavine trail is beloved by neighbors and running teams who use the soft-surface trail for practice runs.