Preserving Trees and Bringing People Together
In Atlanta, “The BeltLine” will connect almost every city neighborhood to walking trails, trolleys, and parkland. It will add 1,400 acres of parks on thirteen sites along transit lines. Construction of the Tanyard Creek Trail section of the BeltLine was a joint venture between the Beltline, Inc. and the PATH Foundation. Over a mile in length, the section was designed to pass through two large areas of native woodlands, a City park and playground, and the floodplain of Tanyard Creek. It required the installation of three large prefabricated steel and concrete bridges, a tunnel, and hundreds of tons of concrete for the twelve-foot wide trail surface.
Construction activity, as originally planned, would have potentially impacted over a hundred mature canopy trees. Finding a way to successfully construct the section while preserving specimen native trees presented an almost insurmountable challenge.
The project became even more complex because it involved a multitude of diverse interest groups, including the City of Atlanta Parks Department, the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta Tree Commission, the EPA, the Georgia DOT, the Collier Hills Neighborhood Association, the Brookwood Alliance, Friends of Tanyard Creek, Trust for Public Land, Ecos Environmental Design, Trees Atlanta, and the BeltlLine Partnership. Being the initial section, the Tanyard Creek Trail’s success or failure formed the basis for a public opinion about any construction of other BeltLine sections. It was crucial that the project be successful.
At a critical point during the final stages of planning, the project became gridlocked and its progress threatened by a lawsuit involving the potential impact to the Tanyard Creek trees. Spence Rosenfeld, the founder and President of Arborguard, was asked to review the construction drawings to look for possible solutions. He proposed an alternative method of construction which involved “root bridging”, similar to that utilized to build trails at the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s new Canopy Walk project. From there, he developed a detailed set of specifications that met all necessary requirements, plus offered a cost neutral solution that could be implemented with only field adjustments. No additional drawings were required and construction was able to begin on schedule. The impact was reduced or eliminated on nearly every significant tree, and tree removal was reduced by over 80%. In fact, root bridging and other field modifications not only resulted in saving nearly every tree along the route, it also saved an estimated $133,000 in tree recompense.
Spence remained closely involved in the project during the eight months of construction and was on site providing inspections and advice almost weekly. His monthly updates appeared regularly on the PATH Foundation website to keep all parties informed of current tree-related issues. In total, Spence donated over 200 hours of his time as a neutral arboricultural consultant, to assure the survival of the site’s irreplaceable native trees.
One of the greatest successes of the project was the installation of the playground bridge. This 100-foot long steel bridge originally required the removal of at least a dozen large trees during installation, using a 200-ton overhead crane. Instead, the bridge was installed by being slid under the canopies of these same trees, and not a single tree or even a limb required removal in the process.
The Tanyard Creek Trail stands today as an outstanding example of how trees and people can be brought closer together by proper planning, effort, and cooperation. In the future, the construction modifications introduced by Arborguard can be utilized to reduce the environmental impact of the BeltLine’s expansion.