Nov 30, 2021 - Things to Do

Visit Atlanta’s Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve

A wide trail shot close from the ground and looking up at a wooded forest during autumn
Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios

After months of cleanup and groundwork, the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve in southeast Atlanta is open to the public.

Why it matters: The 216-acre rustic woodland that’s home to shagbark hickories, white oaks and several towering beech trees is a key part of a big-picture vision to create a massive forest park along the South River.

  • Centered on the now-drained Lake Charlotte, the preserve is one of Atlanta’s largest mature forests and a home to wildlife that is pretty beautiful and special.

Big picture: Located near I-285 and Moreland Avenue, the preserve abuts the South River Gardens neighborhood and feels worlds away from the trucking companies and industrial uses nearby (not to mention the capped landfill next door).

  • That proximity to industry is part of the history of the area, itself a part of Atlanta’s larger post-World War II story about suburbanization, environmental racism, equity efforts and how development affects neighborhoods to this day.

Mini-tour: Roughly one quarter-mile after entering the main gate entrance on Forrest Park Road and through the woods, you’ll notice small stone walls. The walls (plus some foundations and a lone stone chimney) are remnants of the old lodges that stood on the property starting in the 1920s.

  • Like its sister preserves throughout the city, Lake Charlotte’s forest character is by design and is unlikely to change much from the current nature trail.
  • The thick tree canopy, tree stumps and drained lakebed help sustain the forest's ecosystem of deer, frogs, butterflies and other wildlife.

Getting there: On-street parking is allowed along Forrest Park Road. The Route 55 MARTA bus stops roughly one half-mile south of the preserve's signage and main entrance.

Trivia: The purchase of the woodland was the first paid for using funds collected by the city from developers and homeowners who cut down trees.

The city originally bought the property in the early 1980s, but sold it roughly six years later to a developer with larger plans for an industrial park, according to a deeply researched history by Atlanta writer Hannah Palmer.

  • The plans fell through, and Waste Management bought the property, leading neighbors to think the forest would become another landfill, WABE’s Molly Samuels reported.

In August 2020, the city bought the property from the Conservation Fund, a nonprofit that helps local governments protect land.

  • Prior to the acquisition, the Lake Charlotte property "was in danger of imminent destruction for development," Tim Keane, the city's planning commissioner, tells Axios.

Thomas’ thought bubble: If you enjoy isolated nature spots close to the city, grab some friends and go see a mellow mature forest that’s forming the foundation of a bold park vision.

A photo of a bright green sign marking the entrance to the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve
The preserve's signage and main entrance along Forrest Park Road. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios
Ferns dot the floor of a wooded forest
Ferns dot the property but fill the forest floor near the preserve's entrance. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios
The now-drained Lake Charlotte, which can become a marshland after heavy rains
The now-drained Lake Charlotte. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios
A photo of a short set of steps leading to what once was a lodge or house
Crews are working to remove invasive plants like English Ivy. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios
A lone stone chimney stands in a cleared section of the woods
A lone chimney and foundations are the only reminder of houses that once dotted the property. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios
Three old bottles stand on a short stone retaining or decorative wall
Stone walls line parts of the wide nature trail. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios
A photo of a relatively dense woodland in the autumn
The forest includes black cherry trees and several towering beech trees. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios
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