In November 2000, an article appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution detailing construction plans and schedules for the 5th Runway at Hartsfield Intarnational Airport (now Hartsfield/Jackson International Airport). Residential areas and several office parks, in the direct path of construction, would be closed, emptied and demolished. Conservancy Director, Phil Cuthbertson saw an opportunity. He pitched the idea to Board members and began to develop a plan of action.
In residential areas and office parks effected by the construction there were thousands of trees and shrubs destined to be demolished along with homes, buildings, shops, etc. The park was in need of trees in the 15-20 year age group - toddlers in the tree world. So, why not marry need with supply and move trees from the construction area to the park? There were a few issues to overcome - approvals, funds, logistics, selection, timeframe for moving trees and maximizing transplanting success. The clock was ticking as bulldozers were already beginning the demolition process.
Board member Rick Jones, President of Jones/Ellas (Landscape) Design visited the 5th Runway area with Cuthbertson to check out the stock. Were there trees that fit the approved list of trees from the master plan? Could the trees be accessed with the heavy equipment needed to dig and move them? Was there reasonable access in the park for the equipment to install the trees? Many questions had to be answered. Although hesitant at first, when Jones saw the trees in a small office park just inside I-285, he spotted trees with landscape value and saw the potential for the project.
Work began on obtaiining all needed approvals from Hartsfield management, construction crews, parks officials and other city officials. And, of course, funding was a critical issue. The project began with zero dollars.
The first call went to Conservancy supporter Richard "Dick" Perles. "Dick had approached us at least a year earlier about making a donation to the Conservancy. I asked him to wait until the right opportunity came along," said Cuthbertson. "When I called and told him the time might be right and described the project he immediately pledged $5000. (Editor's note: Dick Perles is since deceased but is remembered and honored with an endowment fund, established at the time of his death, to grow and support the on-going operations of the Conservancy) Cuthbertson continued,"With this first pledge we were able to leverage additional contributions - $20,000 from the City of Atlanta, Bureau of Parks - Design Office and then $35,000 from the Georgia Forestry Commission. Local media got wind of the effort and afilliates from CBS, NBC and ABC covered the story. One newscast featured an aerial view of trees being trucked to the park on I-75/85. The media attention brought more interest and resulted in a local foundation providing an additional $25,000 to support the project. Over a five month period we raised enough to move 77 trees to the park. Plus, we planted several hundred smaller trees."
Today, these trees blend well into the overall green fabric of the park. The oaks, magnolias, maples, hollies, and deodore cedar once destined for destruction, now live full happy lives in Grant Park.