Many people know Peachtree Street is in the center of Atlanta—both figuratively and literally. But even residents are largely unaware of Peachtree Creek, an urban waterway that runs through local neighborhoods into the Chattahoochee River. The watershed includes 2,000-year-old ruins of an Indian village, Civil War battlements, Atlanta’s busiest interstate highway, Emory University, the Center for Disease Control, affluent neighborhoods of Buckhead and Morningside and diverse communities.
Unfortunately, like many urban waterways, the Peachtree Creek watershed has been under appreciated by residents and suffers from years of misuse. Stream banks are covered with invasive species of plants such as privet and English ivy. Trash is gathered by rainwater and flushed into the stream. And communities have lost their connection with the water.
The South Fork Conservancy was formed in 2008 to protect the South Fork waterways and lead development of a pedestrian-friendly nature corridor encompassing 25 miles of winding streams and natural areas. The conservancy has mobilized community and governmental organizations with long-term vision and a series of projects.
My personal project is to develop a broad portfolio of images from the South Fork of Peachtree Creek to support advocacy groups and the development of an urban trail network along the stream. The project to create the trail system began in 2010 with Zonolite Park, named after an insulation product made by W.R. Grace and Company. Years ago, the park was an industrial site with an asbestos-shingle manufacturing plant. The plant closed down in 1990 and ended up on the EPA Environmental Cleanup list. W.R. Grace funded the cleanup. The conservancy brought together real estate owners, urban designers and the county to form Zonolite Park on the site, complete with a small pond, trails, and restoration of native plants.
My first walk into the area was shortly after the cleanup project ended in 2012. I was concerned about the lack of beautiful scenes and the continued abundance of trash in the stream. Slowly but surely over a series of visits, I came to know the park and witnessed wildlife such as deer, foxes and migratory birds return to the area. A major milestone, early this year, was a large population of green tree frogs—the Georgia state amphibian—a sign of health in a tiny pond.
My images have provided significant value to the conservancy and the community. They were featured in a presentation and submission for the Park Pride program, resulting in a large grant to fund additional park improvements. My photos are regularly posted on Facebook and other social media sites in an effort to build social following and communicate progress. Images are being used on the website of the South Fork Conservancy and a community project called Nickel Bottom. As the trail system expands, my images are being used on signage and trail markers.
This project is about giving back to the community. I’ve also been able to use the project to become better connected in the community.
Eric Bowles is an Atlanta-based professional photographer and chair of the NANPA Marketing and Communications Committee. He specializes in nature photography in the southeastern United States. Eric leads workshops and provides instruction. His work is found in Atlanta-area galleries and the collections of individual and corporate buyers.