Peachtree Creek, Confluence sign
Atlanta is preparing to buy land to improve access to the trail system being built by the South Fork Conservancy. File/Credit: SFC

By David Pendered

Plans to connect Buckhead with an urban wilderness stretching east to Emory University and beyond got a big boost in the form of a $500,000 pledge from the Kendeda Fund to the South Fork Conservancy, the non-profit conservancy announced Friday.

Peachtree Creek, Confluence sign
The South Fork Conservancy is focused on the South Fork of Peachtree Creek, which begins at the confluence of the North and South forks of the creek. Credit: South Fork Conservancy

“Kendeda’s magnificent grant gives us a solid base on which we can work to raise additional money – including promised matching funds – and demonstrates that our goal is within reach,” South Fork board Chairman Bob Kerr said in a statement.

South Fork Conservancy builds and connects trails along Peachtree Creek in Atlanta and DeKalb County. The conservancy has ramped up its capacity this year, bringing Kimberly Estep on board in April as executive director and adding two additional board members this month.

Next up is the conservancy’s first capital campaign. The group hopes to raise more than $2 million to build an iconic pedestrian bridge, footpaths and other improvements that will link the Lindbergh area, PATH400 and the Atlanta BeltLine to South Fork’s existing creekside trails, according to the statement.

While the Atlanta BeltLine receives a lot of attention for its potential to reconnect neighborhoods, the South Fork Conservancy has been working quietly on a program with the potential to become a model for reclaiming waterways from urban effects and invasive species and reconnecting them with neighborhoods.

South Fork map
The South Fork Conservancy is working on a network of creekside trails that will connect Buckhead with Emory University and other points east. Credit: South Fork Conservancy

The South Fork project aims to connect greenspaces including Medlock Park, Zonolite Park, the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve and the historic Olmsted Linear Park along Ponce de Leon Avenue, according to the conservancy’s website.

The conservancy posted a video that shows a tour of the Confluence Trail.

In addition, the conservancy aims to connect South Fork communities to a much larger greenspace network that includes the Atlanta BeltLine, Piedmont Park, Candler Park and Freedom Parkway. The creek connects institutions and cultural facilities including Emory University, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the Veterans Administration Hospital, the Toco Hills Branch Library, and half a dozen schools. It connects major sites for revitalization and redevelopment including Emory Village, North DeKalb Mall, Sage Hill, and Lindbergh City Center, according to the website.

“You have to experience the South Fork Trails to really grasp their importance,” South Fork co-founder Sally Sears said in the statement.

Sears said philanthropist Diana Blank has visited the urban greenspace before she provided the pledge from the foundation she founded.

North Fork after rain, Peachtree Creek
The North Fork of Peachtree Creek becomes a raging torrent during rain events, as stormwater runoff from pavement finds its way to the creek. Credit: South Fork Conservancy

“She saw long ago what a difference this very generous grant might make,” Sears said of Blank’s pledge.

The pledge was announced to key South Fork supports at an Aug. 18 event hosted by capital campaign co-chairs Billy Hall and Joni Winston. Ryan Gravel was in attendance and recalled working with Hall and Sears on the South Fork Vision Plan.

“This topography and this terrain and this kind of watershed is all over Atlanta, but ‘all over Atlanta’ isn’t doing this,” Gravel said in the statement. “I think that the South Fork vision here is a real model for the rest of the region in terms of connectivity, stream restoration, nature, biodiversity and all the other kinds of elements that are part of this plan.”

Gravel helped create a plan to reclaim the South Fork of Peachtree Creek. The plan consists of six phases and includes a number of related improvements.

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...

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