By Amy Wenk
The natural world can seem lost in the urban city of Sandy Springs.
That is until you find yourself at Lost Corner Preserve, the 22-acre tract at the corner of Riverside Drive and Brandon Mill Road.
There you may catch a red and gray skink crawling down a 200-year-old white oak or spy a red-tailed hawk hunting from a tree branch.
“It’s a wild place,” Linda Bain, executive director of the Sandy Springs Conservancy, said during a tour in mid-May.
Although the city of Sandy Springs acquired Lost Corner to construct a park in 2008, it remains closed to the public.
But nature lovers might not have to wait much longer to peruse the preserve.
City officials are looking to develop Lost Corner as a passive park, which means no recreational amenities like ballfields or tennis courts will be built. The land instead will offer trails, places to picnic and areas for nature education.
An advisory committee selected by Mayor Eva Galambos presented a master plan to City Council on Sept. 7. City officials allocated $268,468 in the 2011 budget year to pay for improvements to the land.
“We have a beautiful piece of land with some great natural topography, with a beautiful creek running through it,” said Eric Ross, chairman of the advisory committee. “We want to make it active. … There’s a lot of great ideas.”
Ross said a parking area will be one of the first additions. Adding walking trails is another priority, as is clearing invasive plants such as wisteria and privet, securing the boundaries with fencing and adding bathrooms to the property.
Other improvements include restoring native plants as well as adding herb and handicapped-accessible gardens. There is talk of renovating the fish pond, as well as adding platforms for osprey-watching and ropes for kids to swing from and climb trees.
Other ideas include adding an apiary for bees, an amphitheater, a farming demonstration area and a pond for toy boats.
Ross said no decision has been made on what to do with the bungalow that remains on the site. The tin-roofed house features a spacious porch framed by stone pillars but needs major work before it can be used.
“We can’t really deal with that,” Ross said. “We don’t have the expertise. We all think to make a lot of improvements to the house is going to be very expensive.” Ross said the committee recommends the land be developed first. He added the city could acquire some additional land on the east side of the property.
The city already paid the firm McFarland-Dyer & Associates, Inc. to complete surveys of the property, Ross said. A trail also was designed, and in May, landscape designers with McFarland-Dyer flagged its location.
Lost Corner Preserve was donated to the city by Margaret “Peggy” L. Miles, who lived on the land throughout her life. Her father purchased the land in 1915. He called it “Lost Corner” because at the time it was remote property.
Miles was a medical researcher passionate about the natural world. “Her avocation and her love was this property,” said Bain, a member of the Lost Corner advisory committee. But Miles never had children and had no heirs to inherit the property.
Miles spent two years working with the nonprofit Trust for Public Land to craft an agreement that provided her a life estate in exchange for the land.
The land was worth about $9 million, Bain said, but she sold it for $900,000 on the condition she could live there until her death and that the property would be preserved according to her wishes.
“Peggy died a month or two later,” Bain said. “I think she was just waiting for this to happen, to know the property was secured.”
The city of Sandy Springs acquired the land after the 87-year-old died in September 2008. As owner of the property, the city must adhere to the land-use restrictions Miles insisted upon.Work on a master plan has taken place over the past year and a half.
“As the years go by, we will figure out how to phase this and how to fund it,” Galambos said to the advisory committee Sept. 7.