Above: Unity Garden Volunteers Beth Carpenier, Paulette Williams and Marcia Camp; photo courtesy of the Chattahoochee Nature Center

Set along the Chattahoochee River in Roswell, the 127-acre Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) is a testament to the beauty of nature, as well as to local residents’ resolve to preserve it.

Volunteers and staff tend its native plants and horticultural gardens, and keep up the wetland discovery gardens and woodland trails that wind through the center. They also care for the more than 50 species of injured wildlife there.

Fall crops include broccoli at Unity Garden.
Courtesy of CNC

Their work reaches into the community, too. The CNC’s year-round Unity Garden grows fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. Since it was established in 2010, the garden has provided over 27,000 pounds of fresh produce to the food pantry at North Fulton Community Charities, according to the CNC website.

The nature center was started by a group of activist citizens in the mid-1970s. The 501c3 organization is now in its 41st year, and according to Lynn McIntyre, Director of Community Relations of CNC, the nature center is a public/private partnership, which is unusual.

“We were established by our charter members, which included our local government,” McIntyre said. “The Fulton County government is our public partner.” She added that many of the people who founded CNC are still actively involved.

Since its beginning, countless others have gotten involved. McIntyre says that there are many older adults who volunteer 100 hours or more every year, and a few have been doing so for 20 years or more. “The legacy that they’re leaving is important to them,” she said. “And their time and effort is important to us. We couldn’t do all this without our volunteers.”

Bob Hagan at the Possum Trot 10K
Courtesy of Bob Hagan

One long-time volunteer, Bob Hagan of Roswell, learned about the nature center when his children were young and his son had a Boy Scout program there. “I was amazed at what we had in our own back yard,” he said.

Hagan became involved in the youth summer camp program and Halloween Hikes, guided night hikes on the CNC grounds that feature woodland creatures. “Over the years, as my children grew up, I started canoeing and walking the nature trails,” he said. “I’m a walker and I’ve participated in all the Possum Trots.”

The Possum Trot 10K & 1 Mile Fun Run, along with the Halloween Hikes, are important annual fundraising events that help support programs at the nature center.

Eventually, Hagan got involved with the administration and was asked to be on the board, “…and I’ve remained on the board for 20 years.”

The 62-year old says that he considers himself blessed that his daughter Brooke was the first bride to be married at the CNC.

“There’s so much to do here,” Hagan said. “You can be alone, bring a friend or enjoy your family with all the different activities, from the Flying Colors Butterfly Festival to Harvest on the ‘Hooch [an October Farm to Table festival that benefits Unity Garden], to just being outside with nature.”

This is the 19th year that Robin O’Connor, 65, has been volunteering. Since she began, she’s been involved with the horticultural department by helping to maintain the many gardens throughout the nature center, she says.

“Twice a year we have a plant sale open to the community,” she said. “We offer native plants and explain to people why they’re so much better to cultivate in local gardens than non-native species.”

Robin O’Connor, CNC volunteer, teaches butterfly etiquette. Her students are (left to right) twins Annabelle and Audrey Tidmore, 5 years, and older sister Melony Tidmore 8 years.
Photo by Phil Mosier

O’Connor is an artist—a painter and potter—and learned about the CNC from a fellow art student who was a volunteer. She says it was a perfect fit for her.

“The nature center is fully aligned with my own passion for environmental care and education,” she said. “I really believe in the importance of cultivating native plants.”

Over the past five years, the East Cobb resident has also been helping with community outreach, by sharing information at tables set up at local fairs and festivals. O’Connor says her role is to educate people about the importance of using native plants in their landscaping and gardens.

“I enjoy bringing artifacts like tortoise shells to share with community, especially the kids,” O’Connor said. “The kids get so excited and I love teaching them about nature.”

Rick Hirsekorn has been volunteering since 1994. He’s on the board of directors, and has served as a trustee and former board chair. He also lives in East Cobb and has worked as a consulting engineer for nearly 45 years.

“We first brought our children to the CNC in 1978, while visiting family here in Atlanta,” Hirsekorn said. “That was before we moved to the area. It’s always been a wonderful place for enjoying and learning about nature, as well as for relaxing and having family time together.”

Eagle at Chattahoochee Nature Center
Courtesy of CNC

He says that the best part of volunteering is having a “direct line of sight” from his volunteer efforts to its positive effects on the community.

“We value the many times that our grandchildren enjoy the CNC and we treasure another generation of our family growing up with a love and appreciation of nature,” Hirsekorn said. “That wouldn’t be possible without their experiences at the nature center.”

While he values the natural resources, he adds that people are the other important resource at the CNC. “We’re very fortunate to have the outstanding, professional, dedicated and committed staff that make the nature center what it is. The thousands of volunteer hours contributed every year support the staff and are essential to the high level of quality service for which the nature center is known.”

There’s always room for more volunteers, and there are many ways to donate to the CNC. Visit online to learn more, or call 770-992-2055, x. 223.


Chattahoochee Nature Center Basic Info

The Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) is located at 9135 Willeo Rd., Roswell 30075.

Open: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 12-5 p.m.

Closed: New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

To check whether the nature center is closed due to inclement weather, visit

facebook.com/ChattahoocheeNatureCenter/ or call 770-992-2055, x. 238.

General admission prices: adults, $10; seniors (ages 65+) and students (ages 13-18), $7; children (ages 3-12) $6; children (ages 2 & under), free. Group rates are available.

Beaver at Chattahoochee Nature Center
Courtesy of CNC

DO plan to spend at least two hours.

DO bring a picnic. Several outdoor, uncovered picnic areas are available on a first come/first serve basis.

DO reserve the covered picnic area for a party or special event. Email rentals@chattnaturecenter.org or call 770-992-2055, x. 250 for more info.

DO NOT bring your pet, other than service animals.

DO NOT feed the wildlife or captive animals.

DO NOT bring in alcohol, firearms or explosives.

DO NOT bring in bicycles or balloons.


Don’t Miss These CNC Events

Sundays on the River Concert

Gwen Hughes

Sunday, Aug. 13, 6 p.m. Gwen Hughes & “Grit Hits”; Sunday, Sept. 10, 6 p.m. Bob Bakert. Enjoy the area’s finest musicians in a one-of-a-kind setting. At the Ben Brady Lakeside Pavilion. Tickets are $12 for a lawn seat, $16 for a table seat. Purchase tickets online or by calling 770-992-2055.

Sunset Sips

Thursday, Aug. 24, 6:30 p.m. The Electromatics; Thursday, Sept. 28, 6:30 p.m. Sunset Sips is a laid-back, family friendly music series that offers live local music and a cash bar. Feel free to bring a picnic dinner and explore the grounds of the CNC. Free to members and included with general admission.

Grandparents Day

Sunday, Sept. 10. Come with your family and come out to enjoy a fall day at CNC! Grandparents receive free admission when they visit with their family.

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean is a freelance writer and editor based in metro Atlanta.