By Louis Mayeux
On a cool, crisp morning at the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, turtles sun themselves on logs along the pond’s edge. Geese glide across the water, which reflects the sky and fleecy clouds.
A short walk away, Blue Heron founder Nancy Jones stands before a stone and glass building that sits beside the pond. As a soft breeze rises, she smiles softly in wonder at nature’s power, showing no distress that September’s floods washed away the preserve’s developed trail along Nancy Creek .
“It’s really interesting,” Jones says about the layers of sand now covering the creek’s banks. “We’ll kind of watch it and work with it; you can’t really fight it. The land is flood plain…the sand is beautiful in its own way.”
Such reverence for nature has guided the growth of the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, which celebrates its 10th birthday with its annual EcoFair from 1 to 5 p.m. May 1. The EcoFair will include bird walks, displays of green businesses and nonprofits, wildlife exhibits and entertainment.
Despite the loss of the trail, the Nancy Creek land remains open. From a parking lot off Roswell Road, a visitor “can go through the woods and the community garden and make a whole loop around,” Jones said.
Begun with 7 acres donated by Chastain Reserve developer Steven Delonga, the nature preserve now comprises 25 acres. A longtime resident of the neighborhood, Jones grew concerned that Delonga’s plans would make the creek inaccessible to residents. In cooperation with the North Buckhead Civic Association, she persuaded Delonga to donate the flood plain land along Nancy Creek, and received grants develop the site.
“It just kind of came together as a realization of the sense of place here,” Jones said.
Geese, ducks, egrets, fish, deer, turtles, bluebirds, muskrats, foxes, woodpeckers and beavers thrive in the preserve near where 250,000 cars pass each day, according to preserve literature.
Along with its primary site between Roswell Road and Rickenbacker Drive, the preserve includes 9 acres of wetlands at the end of Emma Lane, off Lakemoore Drive.
An art teacher who formerly worked at Sarah Smith Elementary in Buckhead and now teaches part time at St. Anne’s, Jones has matched her artistic sensibility with savvy business sense.
The latest jewel of the preserve’s natural necklace is the office building purchased from the architectural firm THW Design two years ago, along with the pond off Roswell Road across from Pike Nurseries. Along with nature preserve headquarters, the building houses the Audubon Society’s Atlanta chapter and the Little DaVinci International School for preschool children.
The building also offers quarterly art exhibits. A show by nature photographer and Delta Air Lines pilot Giff Beaton will begin March 27 with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m.
In another key move, the nature preserve acquired the land for the community garden when a developer’s plans fell through for property surrounding the R.M. Clayton Sewer plant.
Jones continues to plan for the future, including the possibility of a boardwalk system along Nancy Creek or redeveloping the trail on higher ground adjacent to the creek bank. Another plan is to receive a trail easement behind the Lakemoore condominiums to connect the pond/Nancy Creek area to the Emma Lane wetlands.
Last fall, she launched the nature preserve’s first fund-raising campaign. Despite the recession, contributions have remained steady. She works with a regular corps of volunteers, including Eagle Scout Troop 370 of St. James Methodist Church and Oglethorpe University students.
The city of Atlanta owns the land, but the Nature Preserve has full control of it. “The city does not help us in any way, shape or form,” she said.
“Under a restrictive deed, the land is classified as green space. It can never be developed,” she says. “We have ongoing care for the land.”