By John Schaffner
More than a half-century before Morgan Falls Dam was built and long before Union and Confederate troops faced off across the Chattahoochee River, the bluffs over Bull Sluice Lake provided a tranquil vista and access to a river crossing — a ferry run by the Power family, which settled on both sides of the river.
Today, the still-young city of Sandy Springs is beginning to develop 23 acres on the bluff above Bull Sluice as Overlook Park, one of three parks the city is developing in that little-traveled natural area of the city.
While Overlook Park is above Morgan Falls Dam, the city has developed a temporary dog park on 3 acres just below the dam, where River Park is planned for the future — maybe on the agenda for 2010 or 2011. River Park would include a fishing platform that Georgia Power promised as part of its recent relicensing of the dam.
An additional planned major development for the area is the renewal of the connection between the two sides of the river — started in the early 1800s by the Power family — with a bridge that would link the park system on the Sandy Springs side of the river with the Hyde Farm in Cobb County and hundreds of acres of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
The bridge, a proposed project of the National Park Service, is in an environmental evaluation process that could take a year.
All of this activity is going on in an area nestled at the end of winding, two-lane Morgan Falls Road, which connects Roswell Road to the river site of the dam.
After years of tranquility, the parklands and bridge developments have sparked at least two controversies.
The first deals with the discovery of a stacked stone chimney and other remnants of a home on the bluff over Bull Sluice that likely was the home of area pioneer Joseph Power, who, according to recently discovered documents filed in 1912, was granted the land by the state of Georgia, “built a home thereon” and gifted the property to son William Power in 1839.
The controversy revolves around the historic significance of the site and the home remains and how they should be handled as part of the development of Overlook Park.
The Sandy Springs Conservancy and Dist. 6 City Council member Karen Meinzen McEnerny are upset that the city plans to ignore the recommendation of National Park Service architectural historian Tommy Jones that an archeological assessment be done on the site, that the two chimneys be preserved and stabilized, and that the other historic landscape features and characteristics of the site be preserved.
The second controversy involves the proposed bridge across the river. It involves whether the bridge should be only for foot traffic or for foot and bicycle traffic or whether it should be built at all.
Sandy Springs respondents have primarily been in favor of the bridge as a path for foot and bicycle traffic. But there has been some opposition from Cobb County residents about bicycle traffic and building the bridge at all.
A possible third controversy is where the city will locate a permanent dog park, since the temporary dog park will have to be moved if and when work begins on the bridge.
Blake Dettwiler, assistant director of land development for Sandy Springs, said the park site cleared on Morgan Falls Road was to be the home of the dog park but was changed to be a more traditional people-type park.
“In changing that programming, the chain-link-fenced area at the gravel yard down by the river is a temporary location for the dog park,” Dettwiler said, adding that the city is actively looking for another site for the dog park.
“We are concentrating right now on development of the Overlook Park,” he said. “The plans for that were submitted to the Fulton County Soil and Conservation District for review and approval. The bid went out on May 22, and we had a mandatory pre-bid meeting on May 26 which was attended by 26 contractors.” He said bids were due to the city by June 8. “We would like to get started in July,” he said. “Over the next six to nine months, you will see full development of that site.”
Regarding the chimney and house foundation found on the site, Dettwiler said: “The city is not planning on doing an archeological study of the site. … Our building officer did a structural inspection of the chimney itself. It is structurally unsound, but we think it can be saved and incorporated into the site.
“Our plan is to hire an individual or firm who specializes in structural conservation. It is going to have to be disassembled, but we intend to reassemble it and keep it on the same spot.”
Jones, the historian for the National Park Service, said the city should re-point and/or rebar the chimney without disassembling it. “Once you pull it apart, you can’t put it back together again, no matter how you label everything.”
Linda Bain, executive director of the Sandy Springs Conservancy, said an archeological assessment “takes just a few days and is not very expensive, about $10,000.” The City Council rejected the idea. “I think it was mistaken as something that would slow down the park construction,” Bain said.
Dettwiler said the only facilities planned for the Overlook Park will be a public restroom facility, a pavilion and a storage building for personal watercraft. “The rest will be open space. There will be benches, a small playground area. The rest will be green space.”
The area on the bluff to the left of the park area is part of the same 23-acre parcel the city purchased from Fulton County. But it is not part of the park. “That will remain as is,” he said. “In the future, what we would like to see is foot trails that allow people to walk from the park to below the Morgan Falls Dam.”
Dettwiler said the city is “outside the process” involving the river bridge. “It is a federal project.”
Jordan Jones and Goulding is doing the bridge environmental impact assessment.