Why This Project Matters

Only a few miles east of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve can be easy to miss while driving along I-285 in southeastern Atlanta. An oasis of green amongst an industrial corridor, this 216-acre oak-hickory forest will become Atlanta’s newest public park. Once open to the public, visitors will be able to walk along the trails under an unbroken canopy of mature trees including late-successional species such as white oak, shagbark hickory, black oak, and American beech. In the understory, younger trees including chalk maple, black cherry, and flowering dogwood climb to reach the sunlight that trickles through the old oak trees. This high quality, diverse tree canopy is a rare find in an urban landscape and provides great opportunities for public activities such as bird and wildlife viewing.  

 

Oak-hickory forests support a unique wildlife community through the production of mast, which is the fruit produced by trees and shrubs. Acorns are the most common and are often seen littered across the forest floor, providing food for squirrels, white-tailed deer, chipmunks, and other small mammals. The populations of these species are intertwined with the fluctuations of acorn production and often change seasonally. 

On the eastern side of the property, a tributary stream of the South River flows northward, meandering through the forest and changing the habitat around it. This stream micro-habitat is important for reptiles and amphibians, and a dry lakebed near the end of the stream transforms into a small wetland after heavy rains. Ephemeral wetlands such as these will retain water after heavy rains, providing important breeding habitat for frogs, toads, newts, and turtles. This unique ecosystem also serves as a productive source of food and shelter for resident and migratory birds.

A significant feature of this forest is its southern boundary along Soapstone Ridge, a geological formation characterized by the presence of mafic-ultramafic rock and Native American archaeological sites from the Late Archaic period (ca. 3,000- 1,000 BC). The development and stewardship of this culturally and naturally significant space will be a collaborative effort among government, education, environmental, and social organizations.

This forest is one of the oldest in Atlanta and has been closed to the public for decades; however, its historic use and the influence of neighboring industrial properties has allowed invasive plant species, pollution runoff, and trash debris to disrupt the native ecosystem. While the forest supports a healthy upper canopy of native trees, some areas of the property have been disturbed by invasive plants, particularly amongst the understory and shrub layer. Habitat management and restoration will remove non-native, invasive shrub and tree species and promote native biological growth. Management of this forest as a park amenity will allow the forest to recover from previous neglect and restore it to a healthy, productive ecosystem. The preservation of these important cultural sites and ecological values will provide educational opportunities and a place of respite that can be fully enjoyed by the people of Atlanta.

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Despite its name, the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve was not previously on a path toward conservation. Before The Conservation Fund purchased this land for conservation in 2019, it was highly threatened by industrial development. The forest is now on track to be acquired and permanently protected by the City of Atlanta, which will be one of the largest greenspace acquisitions in the City’s history and provides critical protection for the South River watershed. The acquisition of this property and its mature tree canopy was a key focus of the City’s Urban Ecology Framework, led by the City of Atlanta’s Department of Planning and Community Development.

Spearheaded by The Conservation Fund, City of Atlanta Department of City Planning, and City of Atlanta Department of Parks & Recreation, this effort will conserve one of the largest forests remaining in the City and further the goal of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to protect one of Atlanta’s key natural assets: its extensive tree canopy. The City has also approved legislation for a 5-year stewardship plan, providing funding for the park that will support habitat management and public access. The preservation of the valuable forest ecosystem and the archeological sites found here will benefit the local community and serve as a new metro Atlanta destination for outdoor recreation.

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