Consultants working for the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy have suggested removing some trees and adding concrete trails and foot bridges to the park.
Consultants working for the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy have suggested removing some trees and adding concrete trails and foot bridges to the park.

A proposal to add walking trails to a portion of Atlanta Memorial Park drew widely varying reactions Nov. 5 when presented to the city park’s neighbors.

Consultant Jill Sluder, a landscape architect with Hughes, Good, O’Leary and Ryan, outlined a plan that would add two miles of 5-foot-wide concrete trails around the perimeter of the 35-acre portion of the Buckhead park west of Northside Drive. The plan also calls for another mile of trails within the park that would be made from permeable materials.

“You have a lot of people using the park,” Sluder told about 60 people who gathered at Northside United Methodist Church for her presentation. “However, the odd thing is they’re not in the park. They’re in the streets. Let’s get these folks off the streets.”

In addition to the trails, she said, consultants working for the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy proposed removing invasive plants, such as ivy and privet, from the park, replacing curbs and adding two foot bridges. The consultants recommended cutting down five trees Sluder described as hazardous.

Sluder said the trees to be removed would be replaced and were among 800 “specimen” trees in the park. “When we finish this project, your tree canopy is going to be greater than what we started with,” she said. “We are not removing any healthy trees on this property,” she said. “That is phenomenal, in my experience.”

The project also would protect five “champion” trees in the park, she said. “Champion” trees are the largest of their type in a particular locale.

The work, if approved by the city, would cost the conservancy about $1 million, she said. The conservancy also has proposed extensive renovations to the nearby Bobby Jones Golf Course and Bitsy Grant Tennis Center. That proposal, which includes remaking the 18-hole course into a nine-hole course, has drawn loud complaints from golfers. The Georgia Trust for Hisoric places placed the course on its 2016 “Places in Peril” list.

Sluder’s proposals met sharp criticism from some neighbors who said the work was an unnecessary expense and could increase flooding and parking in the area.

“I hate to say it, but I have had it,” John Whitney said. “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 said.

One resident asked whether the consultants had interviewed anyone who uses the park now. Another said, “I think what’s going to change if we put sidewalks in is more people are going to come to enjoy our park. … I’m concerned we’re going to have more crowds, more people that will take away from us enjoying the park.”

A third resident questioned the width of the proposed concrete path, saying “if you want to walk with friends, you walk in the street.” Sluder replied, “That’s not very responsible. You don’t want people in the streets.”

Other residents welcomed the proposals to open up the park to more users and to more use by its neighbors. “I think it’s, in a word, good,” said Stuart Shelton.

“I think it’s a great plan,” resident Bob Caton said. “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.”

Another residents said, “It just sickens me we have to walk around most of the park in the street. Anything that gets my kids out of the street, I’m very much in favor of.”

Andrew Lunde expressed “mixed feelings” after listening to Sluder’s presentation. “I think having a sidewalk around the circumference would be an improvement,” he said, “but the interior path, I’m not so sure it’s going to make it substantially better than what we’ve got now.”

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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