Sandy Springs children took a front seat to hear Mayor Rusty Paul speak to them and a large crowd of residents and officials when the Abernathy Greenway and Playable Art Park opened on July 17.

“This is an amazing jewel for our community, for these neighborhoods, for these younger constituents down here,” said the mayor, pointing to the children.

The project has been a long time in the making, with its opening delayed several times over the years by construction, weather and attempts to appease neighbors. The 6.6 acre portion that opened on July 17 was along the north side of Abernathy Road from Wright Road to Brandon Mill Road.

In 2001, before Sandy Springs became a city, federal funding became available for the Georgia Department of Transportation and Fulton County to address congestion along Abernathy Road. To alleviate community concerns about widening the road, the plan included a 20-acre greenway to buffer surrounding neighborhoods.

“Look around, tell me was it worth it,” the mayor said to applause.

“Only by promising a parkway or linear park, were we able to sell the neighborhoods on the widening of Abernathy,” said founding mayor Eva Galambos. “The park concept was integral in our ability to enhance traffic flow along that artery.”

In 2007 the city of Sandy Springs adopted a master plan to develop the green space, including walking trails, a pavilion, patios and gardens.

Construction began in 2009. But it became more than a way to get out and walk, with the plan eventually becoming modified to include artist-created playable art.

The sculptures, which children can climb, swing and play on, were created by noted artists from across the country who entered a design contest. The art was funded through a grant from Northside Hospital in collaboration with Art Sandy Springs and the Sandy Springs Conservancy.

“We have two reasons to celebrate,” said Conservancy Chairman Steve Levitan. “First is the completion of the Abernathy Greenway here on the north side and second, the installation of the six remarkable sculptures for children in the Playable Art Park.” He said that the conservancy was the community organization that championed the greenway and became the liaison to the city for the surrounding 12 neighborhoods. The conservancy’s steering committee for the greenway first suggested adding a playground in the park.

“The [Conservancy] steering committee suggested that we add a playground to the greenway,” Levitan said. “Our board member, Cheri Morris, who was also chair of Art Sandy Springs, . . . said ‘let’s build something really special — public art for the kids. The Conservancy formed a joint venture with Art Sandy Springs, which had a great public sculpture experience, and the rest is history.”

Officials weren’t the only ones attending the grand opening. Parents showed up with children, who flocked to the sculptures before they officially opened.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Sandy Springs resident Amy Abney, who brought along her children, Sam, 4, Sydney, 7, and Marilyn, 9. “It’s for all ages, and it’s something we don’t have. We need more park space, and the children will never get tired of it.

Michele Chronopoulos said she’s excited that her family, including children Andrew, 7, and Kailee, 6, can walk and bike to the park and playground. “It’s fantastic,” she said. “We’ve waited so long for it.”

Oliver Schuman was in town from Seattle visiting his cousin, Oliver Healey. “I can see my cousins having a lot of fun here,” he said. “Seattle has a sculpture garden, but you can’t play on it.”

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul addresses the crowd, and children in the front row, at the grand opening of the Abernathy Greenway.
From left, friends Kailee Chronopoulos, Keira Sellers, Marilyn Abney, Andrew Chronopoulos, Finn Sellers, Sydney Abney and Sam Abney enjoy one of the sculptures at the newly opened Abernathy Greenway.
Cousins Oliver Schuman (left) and Oliver Healey wait their turn to play on the sculptures at the newly opened Abernathy Greenway.
Founding Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos talks about the Abernathy Greenway’s origins.
Children enjoy the playable art at the Abernathy Greenway.
Children enjoy the playable art at the Abernathy Greenway.
Children enjoy the playable art at the Abernathy Greenway.