Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve (Photo by Stacy Funderburke)

Just in time for Earth Day, the Atlanta City Council approved the acquisition of a 216-acre forest commonly known as the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve in southeast Atlanta.

The property—which encompasses one of the largest old growth forests in Atlanta—was under major threat of industrial development and forest loss. To protect the land, The Conservation Fund purchased it from Waste Management in December 2019, and it is now on track to be acquired and permanently protected by the city. This will be one of the largest greenspace acquisitions in the city’s history and provides critical protection for the South River Watershed.

The nature preserve is located near the intersection of Moreland Avenue and I-285, an area with historically heavy industrial usage with little access to recreational greenspace. The Lake Charlotte property has 98 percent canopy cover encompassing predominantly native tree species, according to a report prepared by Trees Atlanta in 2019. The greenspace also includes a portion of an archaeologically significant ridge known for its Native American soapstone quarries and workshops, dating back to 3000 B.C. The development and stewardship of this culturally and naturally significant space will be a collaborative effort among government, education, environmental and social organizations.

Despite its name, the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve was not previously on a path toward conservation. Spearheaded by The Conservation Fund, City of Atlanta Department of City Planning and City of Atlanta Department of Parks & Recreation, this effort will conserve approximately 60,000 trees in one of the highest quality forests remaining in the city.

“Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve will be the first greenspace acquisition funded through the city’s tree ordinance, which was modified several years ago to allow for both the planting of new trees and the protection of intact, mature forests to mitigate tree loss to new development in the city,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a media statement. “Thank you to The Conservation Fund and the Arthur M. Blank Foundation for their unwavering commitment and partnership in helping to preserve natural resources that are important to our city.”

“We’ve been working for almost two years to prioritize purchasing land that will significantly increase our tree canopy protection efforts as part of the Atlanta Canopy Alliance. This property is the number one priority on that list,” said Stacy Funderburke, regional counsel and conservation acquisition associate for The Conservation Fund. “This is the first step to not only expand the city’s tree canopy protection but also provide additional outdoor recreational access for the Atlanta community.”

The Conservation Fund has been the City of Atlanta’s Department of Parks & Recreation’s primary acquisition partner for new park and greenspace expansion since 2003 and has also supported Atlanta Beltline, Inc. on acquisition priorities since 2015. With the support of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s $2 million revolving fund dedicated to acquiring greenspaces across Atlanta, The Conservation Fund has completed nearly 50 greenspace projects, acquiring over 400 acres valued at a total of $32.1 million. The Lake Charlotte acquisition, at approximately $4.5 million, is the Fund’s single largest purchase to conserve greenspace in the City of Atlanta to date. Revolving fund support from both the Blank Foundation and the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation were critical in its success.

This also represents a significant commitment by the City of Atlanta in the One Million Trees Initiative, launched by Trees Atlanta in partnership with nine other Atlanta non-profits. This single acquisition will add over 60,000 trees towards the goal of saving one million trees in the Atlanta metro area. “This is a big win for the residents of Atlanta,” said Greg Levine, Co-Director of Trees Atlanta. “The primary goal of the Atlanta Canopy Alliance and the One Million Trees Initiative is to protect high quality forests throughout metro Atlanta. Partnerships are so important to make projects like this a reality because tree protection impacts so many communities, stakeholders, and decision-makers. We are very excited to be a part of protecting this unique natural resource for our city.”

The Atlanta Canopy Alliance, a coalition focused on protecting Atlanta’s canopy, includes The Conservation Fund, Trees Atlanta, The Nature Conservancy, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Atlanta Audubon Society, Park Pride, the Trust for Public Land, and the Georgia Conservancy. This acquisition in the South River Forest area was a key focus of the City’s Urban Ecology Framework led by the City of Atlanta’s Department of Planning and Community Development.

When the acquisition is completed in early summer, the City of Atlanta Parks Department will work on a plan for security, public access and stewardship of this unique forest. It will also work with the community and other stakeholders to plan for future greenspace amenities like nature trails. Groups like The Nature Conservancy and Park Pride will work to engage the surrounding communities in this development process to ensure an equitable outcome for the preserve’s usage. Once completed, the City of Atlanta’s Department of Parks & Recreation will manage and maintain the nature preserve as a city park.