Published on November 11th, 2015 |0
Plan to fix Atlanta Memorial Park’s passive side gets mixed reaction
Landscape design firm, Hughes, Good, O’Leary and Ryan (HGOR), presented Nov. 5 at Northside United Methodist Church a proposal to add walking trails in a portion of Atlanta Memorial Park which reportedly drew widely varying reactions from the city park’s neighbors.
Jill Sluder, a landscape architect with HGOR, outlined a plan to add two miles of 5-foot-wide concrete trails around the perimeter of the south Buckhead park and another mile of trails within the park that would be made from pervious materials that would allow water to pass through.
In addition to the trails, the consultants working for the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy proposed removing invasive plants from the park and cutting down five trees from among 800 specimen trees in the park they said are hazardous. The removed trees would be replaced.
The Memorial Park Walkways Project Feasibility Study Findings and Recommendations focused only on the 35-acre portion of Atlanta Memorial Park, west of Northside Drive—the part commonly referred to as Memorial Park. The work, if approved by the city, reportedly would cost the conservancy about $1 million.
The conservancy raised $55,000 with $50,000 more coming from a Park Pride matching grant, to conduct the $90,000 study on the park’s 35-acre passive side, which has Peachtree Creek running through it. The remaining funds likely will be used for future improvements to the park, which was built in the late 1920s.
Conservancy Executive Director, Catherine Spillman, thanked Park Pride for awarding AMPC the $50,000 Legacy Grant to fund the study. The Conservancy raised matching funds from individual donors in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The project is part of a larger Conservancy plan to improve the entire park, which includes 128 acres on the active side, east of Northside. Like the active side plan, which includes a proposal to turn the 18-hole Bobby Jones Golf Course into a nine-hole reversible course, about half of the people weighing in the issue are for it and the rest against it, according to news reports.
Before presenting the recommended changes for the passive part of Memorial Park, Sluder, the HGOR project manager of the Memorial Park Walkways Project, first provided an overview of current conditions:
- The existing trail system is in poor condition with exposed roots and rocks on the eroded surface, creating a hazard for joggers and walkers. Given the poor condition of the perimeter walkways, pedestrians run and walk on the street with vehicular traffic – a hazardous and dangerous combination.
- Settled stone curbing has caused erosion and drainage problems after heavy rainfalls.
- Invasive species such as privet and ivy threaten the ecological system and wildlife habitat.
Sluder discussed the extensive research over eight months that went into its HGOR’s final trail system and forest preservation recommendations which she
summarized as follows:
- Improve the existing perimeter trail on Wesley Road and Woodward Way with a 5’ wide ADA accessible concrete sidewalk. HGOR recommended a landscape buffer between the curb and the sidewalk, where feasible. (This recommendation is in keeping with the existing 5’ wide concrete sidewalks on the connecting streets of Howell Mill Road, Peachtree Battle Avenue and the new sidewalks being built by the Georgia Department of Transportation on Northside Drive.)
- Improve the existing interior trail with a 5’ wide natural, porous material constructed of aggregate stone and slate scape stabilizer which will keep the trail in place during times of heavy rain or flooding. This natural trail surface is used throughout the region in similar environmental conditions along creeks, low lying areas and wooded forests.
- Prune dead limbs of trees that have branches overhanging the proposed trail, posing a hazard to park users. Sluder said the need for removing dead limbs is important in select areas where blocked views could pose a security issue such as near the playground where views are a necessity for child safety.
- Maintenance of these trees is essential and an arboricultural necessity for proper tree care. She emphasized that HGOR’s tree survey found only 5 trees (all of which were in poor health) out of the 871 specimen trees surveyed in the park that were in need of removal.
- Remove invasive vegetation identified by a forest restoration specialist along the banks of Peachtree Creek and within the surrounding passive park for the purpose of restoring native flora and fauna habitats that benefit the ecosystem. HGOR also recommended replacing with native vegetation as prescribed by the forest restoration specialist.
“You have a lot of people using the park,” Sluder reportedly told about 60 people who gathered at Northside United Methodist Church for the presentation. “The odd thing is they’re not in the park. They’re in the streets. Let’s get these folks off the streets.”
According to reports by The Buckhead Reporter and Northside Neighbor newspapers her proposal met sharp criticism from some neighbors who argued the work was an unnecessary expense and
could increase flooding and traffic in the area. But others favored the plans.
“I hate to say it, but I have had it,” John Whitney told The Buckhead Reporter. “I have had it with the Conservancy. I have worked for 45 years to protect this park as a haven for wildlife and now you are going to ruin it.”
Whitney said he opposed everything in the consultants’ plan. “It’s a railroad locomotive going down the track and it’s unstoppable,” he added.
Other residents welcomed the proposals to open up the park to more users.
“I think it’s a great plan,” resident Bob Caton told The Reporter. “Anything to get the city of Atlanta to have more accessible parks is what we need to improve livability of the city, which is pretty much a concrete jungle now.”
“I have lived at the park for 48½ years and 9 months in the womb,” David Quillian told the Northside Neighbor. “I have used the park, either the entire thing or part of it, more days than not. Something that is important to me is when I had twins in a stroller and a 2-year-old in hand, I could not use the trail because it was too narrow or was muddy and so we walked in the street. It sickens me that we would have to use the street. Anything that would get my kids out of the street is something I am in favor of.”
And Andrew Lunde said he had “mixed feelings” after listening to Sluder’s presentation. “I think having a sidewalk around the circumference would be an improvement,” he told The Reporter, “but the interior path, I’m not so sure it’s going to make it substantially better than what we’ve got now.”
The conservancy kicked off the feasibility study in April and the next phase is the construction document one, which starts this month and will last at least three months. The bidding and negotiations for construction on the project would not start until at least 2017 and would not begin until after the funds are raised.
Simultaneously, the plan must go through the required permitting process, which Sluder said will take eight to 12 months. It includes stops with four city of Atlanta departments plus the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for approval. But in response to one woman’s question about the process, Sluder said progress is being made.