City to buy land for new parks in southeast Atlanta

The 46 acres are located within the South River Forest.

Atlanta City Council has approved the purchase of property for future city parks in southeast Atlanta.

Council members on Monday OK’d up to $1.6 million to purchase 46 acres in the South River Forest, which officials say is another step toward connecting greenspace throughout the entire area.

Council member Antonio Lewis, who represents southeast Atlanta and grew up in the South River area, said that part of Atlanta is a hidden gem to the community.

“We call it ‘the woods’ — this is our Chattahoochee,” he said, noting other benefits of expanding parks in the area like connecting neighborhood schools.

About 77% of Atlanta residents live within walking distance to a park, according to the Trust For Public Land.

Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Justin Cutler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that expanding public parks in the South River Forest plays a crucial role in increasing that number.

“We’re all in on South River Forest,” he said. “Just like we’re all in on making sure everybody has access to adequate green space across the city of Atlanta.”

The department will host public meetings and partner with nonprofits to get input on what the new park space will look like and how best to serve the surrounding neighborhoods.

Credit: Courtesy of The Conservation Fund

Credit: Courtesy of The Conservation Fund

Stacy Funderburke, The Conservation Fund’s state director, said both a 34-acre parcel and another 12 acres on the river itself were prioritized for tree canopy protection. The nonprofit has historically acted as the acquisition partner for the city during the purchasing process.

“That 34-acre track is somewhere between 90 and 95% tree canopy on that property, which is hard to get in the city,” he said. “And it contains a tributary of the South River.”

Funderburke also said that the purchase of the other acres directly on the river will boost water quality protection efforts against the impacts of I-75, which runs over it.

“There’s a lot of tree canopy protection that should and needs to happen there,” he said. “And also just to protect against further industrial development that is harming neighborhoods there.”

The soon-to-be city land in southeast Atlanta is part of a larger vision to connect the network of greenspaces in the South River Forest. That includes places such as Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve and Southside Park, to the 300-acres of greenspace that will surround the controversial planned public safety training center in DeKalb County.

In 2020, the city purchased the 216-acre Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve, which includes one of the largest old-growth forests in Atlanta among its more than 60,000 trees.

Cutler said that ambitious projects like connecting the BeltLine to the South River trail system may not be far out of reach.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to have an interconnected system,” he said. “It’s just a matter of resources and time.”

As the city continues to identify expansions of its already more than 3,000 acres of public parks, advocates have also been calling for an increase in funding for the parks department to step up maintenance.

Council member Dustin Hillis introduced legislation Monday to bolster the city’s dedicated Parks Improvement Fund by $16 million. The increase would make the contribution the biggest annual investment in greenspace upkeep in 50 years, according to the city.

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