Category Archives: Across the Board

Who Cares? A Message from the Executive Director

Across the Board is a monthly column authored by members of Freedom Park Conservancy’s Board of Directors. This month’s post was written by Executive Director Laura Hennighausen.

Recently an acquaintance asked what motivated me to take the position as Freedom Park Conservancy’s first Executive Director and I had to think for a moment. Why do I feel drawn to this job? I don’t know… why wouldn’t I? I’ve always loved parks and this park needs a champion!

Laura Hennighausen is the Executive Director of Freedom Park Conservancy.

I remember specific parks from when I was a kid. I remember the playground my grandparents would take us to when we visited them in New Jersey. I remember trying to catch a ground ball during a baseball game at our neighborhood park on Canada Day and the ball popping up and bashing my shin. I remember soaring as high as I could on the swings just so I could jump off to feel like I was flying for a split second.

What I don’t remember is trash. Or erosion. Or invasive plants. Someone else worried about that! Now that I’m older, I know that it takes people like me to make sure kids can grow up with similar memories. 

Now, when I walk through Freedom Park I see litter. I see where the ground is eroding and where kudzu is fighting to take over groves of trees.

 

But I also see where there could be gardens. I can picture local dance groups performing in the meadow. I can imagine picnics and places to rest.

I believe Freedom Park should be a space where everyone feels comfortable. A place where there is something to be curious about and where you can relax. A place to see friends or get your heart pumping. The park should be filled with laughter, it should be clean, and it should be cared for.

This past Saturday, Freedom Park Conservancy organized a volunteer day. An energetic group collected 15 bags of litter (and two tires!) in just an hour. You might look at that and think “that’s great, a free way to keep the park clean.”  But remember, to make this possible FPC had to spend time creating a sign-up sheet and publishing calls for volunteers with neighborhood associations and on social media. Hours were spent identifying the area for the project and planning logistics, buying supplies, and coordinating to have the collected trash picked up and disposed of after the event. We even worked with an attorney to draft a volunteer release!

We all own Freedom Park. There might be a bunch of trash and who knows how it got there.  In the end what matters is that it’s addressed and that’s why Freedom Park Conservancy exists and why I am proud to lead this organization.

But who cares? Do you? Right now you might be at work. You’re busy. Maybe you have to take kids to soccer this weekend or your in-laws are coming. You have to go to the store. It’s hot. You have allergies. You understand what needs to be done but you don’t have time to get out and volunteer. That’s fine! By simply making a donation to enable us to do this work, you can do your part.

Our motto is Freedom Is Your Park and that’s because it is. It’s yours. It’s mine. It’s Atlanta’s. Help make Freedom Park a place to be proud of – make a donation today.

Across the Board: A Neighborhood Asset

Across the Board is a monthly column authored by members of Freedom Park Conservancy’s Board of Directors. This month’s post was written by Philip Covin.

My wife and I bought our little bungalow in Inman Park in 2016. There were a number of factors that led to that decision: a great school district, historic architecture, short walking distance to restaurants, close proximity to a MARTA train station, etc.  On the other hand, one of the negatives was that it did not come with a very big yard in which our five-year old son (nor our soon-to-be-acquired dog) could play. However, only a few steps away was a huge rolling park with wide open spaces, a playground, and walking paths.  

I’m not even sure that I knew Freedom Park’s name at the time, but what did it matter?  Here was this great resource in my backyard, and yet I didn’t even have to maintain it! Even better, right?  The Freedom Park PATH could also connect me to other fun neighborhoods which I could walk or bike to: Candler Park, Druid Hills, Lake Claire, Old Fourth Ward, Poncey-Highland, and Virginia Highland, as well as the Beltline which could eventually link me to even more areas of town.  As both a commercial real estate broker and an actor, I spend a lot of time in the car, driving from appointment to appointment. Yet, as we contemplated the purchase of our home three years ago, I felt enticed by this opportunity to use my car as little as possible on weekends as we could walk to restaurants, neighborhood festivals, or shopping, using the park and its trails.  

All that is to say that Freedom Park helped convince us to buy our home. And when the northeast segment of the Beltline trail is completed hopefully later this year, I will be able to bike from my home to my work, using only the Freedom Park and Beltline trails.  It’s pretty exciting, to say the least. My commute time will become exercise time so that I can start my day with a clear mind, and I’ll also save on gas and car maintenance expenses.

What a wonderful resource we have right around us – the largest park in the City.  Do we take it for granted? Hopefully not. Let’s invest our resources – both time and money – to make sure that it continues to provide these benefits and more.   Please consider giving a couple hours of time on one of our volunteer days and contributing monetarily, as you can. Every dollar counts. Can you help?

Click here to learn more about how you can support Freedom Park Conservancy!

Across the Board: Celebrating Urban Activism and Activity

Across the Board is a monthly column authored by members of Freedom Park Conservancy’s Board of Directors. This month’s post was written by Naka Nathaniel.

It’s not out of the ordinary for ancient Rome to be credited for great urban ideas. Contemporary Rome? Not so much. However, Atlanta was the beneficiary of an idea inspired by a modern-day Roman: Jane’s Walk.

For a year, the Freedom Park Conservancy prepared to become our city’s inaugural host for Jane’s Walk. Jane’s Walk is an annual celebration of free, citizen-led walking conversations inspired by Jane Jacobs. On the first weekend of May every year, Jane’s Walk festivals take place in hundreds of cities around the world.

I’m proud to say Atlanta’s first Jane’s Walk weekend was a tremendous success.

Kelly Jordan and Don Bender led a Jane’s Walk discussing the past forty years of revitalization in Little Five Points. Photo by Terry Kearns.

The idea first came to our board member Nancy Boyd, when a friend called to wish her happy birthday from Rome. Her friend had to end the call so he could attend a Jane’s Walk. Nancy had never heard of the event, but she knew she wanted to bring it to Atlanta.

Fortunately, Harriet Lane, the president of the FPC board, has a very well-earned reputation for leading great urban hikes. It was a natural pairing of urban activism and urban activity.

Jane Jacobs inspired the walks, but her story isn’t well-known in Atlanta. Luckily, Matt Tyrnauer recently directed an incredible documentary about Jacobs called “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.” The Carter Presidential Library and Museum hosted the film and Matt was interviewed by CNN’s Lisa Respers France after the screening. It was wonderful to see Georgians inspired by her story and the parallels to the fight to create Freedom Park.

Over 100 people attended a free screening of Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.

Matt and Harriet were also interviewed by Lois Reitzes for WABE’s City Lights program. “Citizen Jane” can also be seen on many streaming services, but it was tough to beat watching in a crowd of like-minded citizens.

FPC conducted several workshops to train citizens on how to lead the walks. Twenty three walks were  held across Atlanta through not only through Freedom Park, but Oakland Cemetery, Little Five Points and the Olmsted Linear Parks.

My favorite was the hike I did with Cub Scout Pack 586. Many of the scouts are students at Mary Lin Elementary which was supposed to have an interstate highway next to school. Thankfully for the students, there’s a bird and butterfly garden next to the school instead of six-lanes of traffic.

The Cub Scouts hiked through the park collecting more than a 150 pieces of trash before reaching the Farmer’s Market at the Carter Center where they celebrated their hike and their helpfulness with popsicles.

Next year’s Jane’s Walk will be May 1-3, 2020. The FPC hopes you’ll be able to join a walk next year, or even better lead one! If you’re interested in helping sponsor this event next year, please contact our Executive Director, Laura Hennighausen, at laura@freedompark.org.

Across the Board: Why I Donate my Time

By Nancy Megehee, Board Secretary

I recently met with a small group of Atlanta businessmen about topics unrelated to Freedom Park.  When I mentioned I was on the Freedom Park Conservancy Board of Directors, they shifted forward in their seats to hear more. It was just one of the many times I’ve experienced the interest and connection the entire Atlanta community has to this wonderful asset.  I told them it was part of the Conservancy’s mission to advocate for improvement of the park and it was clear from their follow-up questions that they felt the park has a lot of promise and that now is the time to act. This public perception is one of the main reasons I agreed to represent my neighborhood on the Freedom Park Conservancy’s Board – to have an opportunity to apply my expertise in a meaningful way to generate results that the public can recognize as benefiting the park and surrounding areas.  

Nancy Megehee lives in Historic Fourth Ward.

Freedom Park is an enormous green space that ties together the neighborhoods of Candler Park, Druid Hills, Inman Park, Lake Claire, Old Fourth Ward, Poncey-Highland, and Virginia Highlands.  Depending on which stats you review, Freedom Park is larger than Piedmont Park, and is Atlanta’s largest passive park.

What does “passive park” mean? Passive recreation refers to activities that do not require prepared facilities, like tennis courts, sports fields, or pavilions.  Passive recreation typically can include activities like bird watching, walking, photographing nature, and bicycling. While this can be a bit restrictive, we are also a Public Art Park, and as such boast multiple pieces of permanent outdoor sculpture and host temporary art installations.  These features differentiate Freedom Park from Atlanta’s other green spaces and motivates us to be creative in how we engage visitors. We hope this adds a wonderful dimension to the enjoyment of Freedom Park.

What does it take to create programming, to successfully plan events, to make improvements in landscaping, and to implement the countless other ideas we and our constituents have for the park?  Citizens like you that are willing to give of their own time and expertise to contribute to the process. Input from across the region from readers like you on what you would like to see in the park.  Donors like you that provide critically needed funding to make the community’s dreams a reality.

I hope you’ll see an opportunity to make a meaningful difference.  It doesn’t have to be a large investment, but every contribution of every type helps!  I hope you’re leaning forward in your chair and deciding that you, too, will have a hand in making Freedom Park the best community-treasured passive park it can be.

Click here to sign up to volunteer, or click here to make a donation!

Across the Board – What’s in the Works

By Harriett Lane, Board Chair

FPC Board Chair Harriett Lane

It’s winter and fewer people are using the park. But while the grass lies dormant, Freedom Park Conservancy (FPC) has been busy planning for an exciting 2019 featuring public art projects, new plantings, public events, and more. FPC is eager to implement new projects in partnership with partners like the City of Atlanta, Atlanta Audubon Society, Trees Atlanta, and Park Pride. We can’t wait to share details!

As FPC has been gearing up, many of our board members have been asked about a proposal to build a pedestrian bridge in Freedom Park over Moreland Avenue. A pedestrian bridge over Moreland Avenue was one of several proposed pedestrian bridges in the original concept plan for the park, all of which were not built. A new grassroots effort has brought the idea forward once more. 

EDAW Sketch of Freedom Park at Moreland Avenue
A rendering of Freedom Park at Moreland Avenue from the original 1994 master plan

FPC’s Board of Directors, made up of representatives from our surrounding neighborhoods and other stakeholders, dedicated a meeting to discussing the idea. We talked about the state of the park today and how the bridge concept intersects with our mission to promote the improvement of the park for a diverse public. It’s important to us that the Conservancy encourages the exploration of all ideas that would improve the connectivity, safety, and beauty of the park. We’re very glad to see people talking about Freedom Park and how it’s used!

We concluded that we would like to see the concept studied with full public participation and the complete involvement of all stakeholders, particularly the neighborhoods bordering the park. We intend to be part of that conversation and anticipate the bridge will be explored as part of our upcoming master planning process.

While the bridge idea has generated a lot of discussion, it’s far from the only improvement our park needs. When Freedom Park was first laid out, a beautiful concept plan was created. Many ideas in this original plan were never implemented, and as a result most of our 200+ acres are missing what many may consider to be basic park amenities: benches, landscaping, lighting, picnic tables, drinking fountains, and more.

A rendering of the corner of Freedom Parkway and Ponce de Leon Avenue from the original 1994 master plan

In an effort to enhance the park in ways that would benefit the diverse community who loves it,  FPC is fundraising now for a new master plan for the park to address long-delayed improvements, big and small. We recently received a $50,000 gift from an anonymous donor to help us kickstart this fundraising. That’s a lot of money, but we need at least $100,000 more to create a comprehensive plan that spans the parkland running through all seven neighborhoods. Please consider making a donation today to help us improve our park.

If you’re curious about the original plan for the park and what’s missing, you can view high-resolution scans below. Please keep bringing us your ideas and we’ll keep working hard to make Freedom Park the best park it can be.

EDAW Freedom Park Master Plan Page 1

EDAW Freedom Park Master Plan Page 2

Across the Board – How to Ride a Bike in Freedom Park

By Steve Cushing, Immediate Past Chair

Like many of us who live and work in East Atlanta, I spend my work days looking at a computer screen. It’s either a desktop flat panel HD monitor, a smartphone, or tablet. Typing and reading emails, creating spreadsheets, analyzing data for cost benefit analysis or project implementation…I know, yawn—stretch—ugh is it only 3:30?

One of my favorite ways to unwind at the end of a day is to go out for a bike ride in Freedom Park. Now—I love road biking, and modern, high-end bike technology. A carbon fiber frame road bike with electronic shifters, an 11 gear rear cluster and 23cm wheels is the cat’s meow—but that’s not for Freedom Park. No, in fact I roll my eyes when I see road bikes on Freedom Park, at least as much as they will roll inside a rectangle.

No, for Freedom Park you just need an old, slow, heavy bike. One cobbled together from broken bikes eagerly given to you by friends, or a hand me down clunker is just fine. Thanks to the foresight of the early CAUTION members and the first plans drawn up by EDAW with the input of the neighborhoods, Freedom Park trails are not designed to get you from Point A to Point B. The paths in Freedom Park are designed to slow you down so that you will enjoy the space in between those points. Miles Davis once famously said of Jazz that the most important part of his music was the space in between the notes. Freedom Park is the space in between seven neighborhoods. To ride in Freedom Park, you need to take your time. Heck, get off the bike and walk.

Sometime in this past September, toward the middle of the month, it was a particularly pretty day outside. Clouds like shipwrecks were scuttling across a snappy blue sky. Far off in the Atlantic a low pressure center was pulling in cool, clear air from the north toward its slow vortex. Here in Atlanta, we sat on the perimeter watching it all go by. I got on my city bike, a 20 year old mountain bike that I’d striped down of shocks and other non-essential hardware to become a spunky curb jumping red ATV. It weighs a ton, but has lots of granny gears and is bullet proof, perfect for riding in the city.

It was late in the day and the sun cast long rolling shadows across the grand meadow. A lone sunbather was stretched out in the acres of late summer grass. Beyond the single figure, trees bordering Druid Place drew a dark line of natural patterns that separated the earth from sky. Some of the trees were older, well established oak trees that once stood in the yards of homes; now the trees and lone steps leading from the sidewalk are all that remain.

I stopped at the Domenge sculpture, Tree of Life, located just east of Oakdale Road at North Ave, which had been recently refurbished. It’s vibrant red color and cursive, calligraphic shape were catching the afternoon’s last light. I was feeling better already, my eyes slowly returning to their natural shape. My next stop was near Euclid Avenue,at  the Diane Solomon Kempler multi-part bronze, water and stone sculpture entitled New Endings. Now the afternoon light was cutting in steeply as it set. The water feature was on and the fairytale Jack and the Bean Stalk feel of the bronze was even more dramatic – it looked like a water fountain from some larger than life creature that was going to come harvest the bronze tubers.

New Endings by Diane Kempler

Nearby a large lush stand of flowering Canna Lilies added to the imagery of harvest, their leaves well munched on by voracious caterpillars. I spent time at each sculpture, taking pictures with my smartphone and wishing I’d brought a real camera, before riding down to the eastern terminus of Freedom Park at the slowly crumbling Jackson Heights Baptist church. The path below Candler Park golf course is one of my favorite spots. The stone work on the bridge is nice for portrait photography and the stream, rejuvenated thanks to efforts by neighborhood organizations, is now home again to beavers that migrated upstream from the Chattahoochee.

On this day, I don’t bother to ride the full eight miles of trails in Freedom Park. I take my time riding back toward home, enjoying the play of light in the trees, stopping to snap pictures, dawdling in a way that only the green and light of outdoors can help you do. No need to repeat a mantra, each step or pedal stroke is another breath, troubling thoughts come and are released. This is the way to ride a bike.

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Steve Cushing is a photographer, sculptor, and former Board Chair of Freedom Park Conservancy. He, and his wife “Miss Laura” have lived on Seminole Ave and enjoyed Freedom Park for 27 years.

 

The artwork in Freedom Park is owned and maintained by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.