The first and perhaps one of the most important improvements made to the park (and guided by the Conservancy) was the closing of roadways in the park to vehicles. Not too long ago, cars, buses, trucks cruised through the park belching exhaust fumes, parking all along the roads, speeding, etc. It was impossible to enjoy a walk or stroll in the park. At night, drug deals and prostitution were common place. Let's just say it was a bit out of control. In 1999, an updated master plan was adopted by the Atlanta City Council which included a recommendation to close these roadways and return the park to pedestrians. The Conservancy, utilizing the newly adopted master plan proposed closing the roadways in the park. Over a 6 month period of discussion and negotiation with the city, MARTA, APD, the Cyclorama, the Zoo, and District 1 City Council Representative, Vern McCarty, we were able to secure the gates and turn roadways into pedestrian-ways. Almost overnight, the tenor of the park changed. Walkers, joggers, dog walkers, kids on bicycles, moms with strollers, etc. replaced the traffic. Gradually, the crime moved out too. (in warm weather months events and groups can get permission from the city to have vehicles in the park so always keep a watchful eye)
When John Charles Olmsted began a development plan for the park his initial observations included notes about the existing trees and greenery. He noted that trees were of similar age with oaks dominating the landscape. Much of the understory and undergrowth had been removed and thus created a less interesting experience for the park visitor. His recommendations called for greater variety in species and age mix.
Unfortunately, most of the tree canopy has been lost over the years. Expanding facilities, age, disease, drought and general lack of care have all taken their toll. Were Mr. Olmsted to take a walk through the park today, he could make very similar observations.
Help is on the way. Over the past few years the Conservancy has installed thousands of trees and shrubs in an effort to provide for a healthy mix of species, canopy levels and ages. One of the first projects involved the relocation of 75+ trees from office parks and parking lots where major construction was planned - including the 5th runway construction at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. These trees, while not small, were adolescents (in tree years) and helped provide for the next generation of canopy. Since this initial effort the Conservancy has planted over 3000 trees and shrubs. The job is not complete and because our trees are more challenged in an urban environment, the job is on-going.