On Saturday, April 13, Livable Buckhead Executive Director Denise Starling hosted a tour of Path400’s latest progress. The one mile path begins at Miami Circle and runs along GA400, winding beneath train trestles for MARTA and Norfolk Southern, dipping down into a valley and nearly intersecting with GA 400. It ends at a park in the Peachtree Park neighborhood and will one day connect to the Gordon Bynum pedestrian bridge that crosses the interstate to Lenox Square.
Before starting our walk, Starling addressed the group and explained how relying on local and state, rather than federal, funds has allowed the project to move along more quickly. Though much of this section is today only razed dirt it is progressing quickly and slated for completion in October.
It’s rather surreal walking under the train lines that cross overhead. Occasionally a MARTA train buzzes through or a Norfolk Southern engine slowly rumbles by. The conductors seemed happy to see our little tour group as we made our way down the path, beeping a friendly hello as they zoomed through the scene.
Sterling explained that cooperation is key in the completion of this project, as the land that’s being transformed into a premiere metro greenspace belongs in part to Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), MARTA, and the railroad. A square brick building that sits about halfway down this stretch is particularly important because it is MARTA’s main power source, so locking gates and cameras have to remain in place for security and safety reasons. Nearby developments also need access which require the path to be able to handle vehicles coming through. “It’s not just a trail in the woods that we’re building,” said Starling, “it’s a road.”
Another challenge is the deepest valley where water runoff from the neighborhood has been steadily flowing in, bringing with it silt and mud. There’s an area in the hook of one bend that has been transformed into a bit of a swamp. Though it is a challenge for the Path400 design team to work around, wildlife seem to appreciate it. While on the tour a couple of neighbors spotted snakes in the reservoir below the path and a few geese flew through the trees landing cheerfully in the water beyond. Starling shared that the contractors have reported seeing skunks and during phase 1 they came across a huge snapping turtle! They gave him a wide berth to find his own way off of the path.
Soon this still wild and rough route will be transformed and will serve as an important connection between disparate legs of the 5.2 mile Path400 greenway. When the construction of GA400 cut through Buckhead in the 1970s it effectively divided entire communities. Path400 will not only provide much needed greenspace to local neighborhoods but will also facilitate easy access for walking and biking trails to Sandy Springs and north Fulton County as well as the BeltLine to the south. Similar to the BeltLine, the design will incorporate art installations and murals framed by the natural beauty of the area. As the design comes together it becomes easier to envision a future where Buckhead neighborhoods can reconnect in a more meaningful way through healthy outdoor activities and time spent in nature.