Deepdene: A Peek at Mountain Wilderness inside Atlanta

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The crunch of leaf litter underfoot and the gurgling of a stream tucked in a steep valley distract from the whir of traffic on Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue on a mild spring morning.  Dappled light breaking through the mostly cloudy sky makes the water sparkle and adolescent blooms glow.  A strolling breeze makes young leaves chatter.  It’s not a rush, just light chatter, but the lightness of the dialogue should not be taken as an indicator of what this place has to offer.

Atlanta’s Deepdene is the largest and most natural segment of the Olmsted Linear Park, a collection of bucolic snippets of green space meandering along Ponce through the Druid Hills neighborhood between Atlanta’s city limits and the city of Decatur.

The park was first laid out as part of a preliminary plan for Druid Hills drafted by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr in 1893, according to the Olmsted Linear Park Alliance.  Olmsted’s sons remained involved with the project after Olmsted’s death and until the property was acquired by the Druid Hills Corporation in 1908.

A restoration of the park began in the late 1990s, revitalizing the in-town treasure that charms many a visitor and motorist today.

I took a ramble through Deepdene earlier this month, snapping the photos here as new spring growth was just beginning break out.  From the oak-leaf hydrangeas looking out over the park like a regal stag surveying his realm to the fervid forsythia already in full glory and numerous ephemeral wildflowers in between, early spring is certainly an exciting time to visit, but Deepdene has much to offer any day of the year.

Deepdene is a wooded gulch carved by a small stream.  Moss covered slopes are dressed with large, rounded stones and fallen trees, giving the impression that this segment of the park was lifted from the North Georgia mountains and dropped beside one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city, but in reality, it is a remnant and a reminder of what used to be here.  Atlanta was a forest, and Atlanta is one of the few cities that still has stands of old growth within its boundaries.  Some of that old growth is in Deepdene.

The tallest tree in the park, a 185 1/2-foot-tall tulip poplar, and one of the tallest trees in the city stands near the western end of Deepdene.

A massive white oak with roots like a bull elephant’s foot holds the center.  Witness to all of Atlanta’s history, it predates the American Revolution.  It survived Sherman and two world wars.  It outlived slavery and Jim Crow.  It saw Indian removal and the Olympics, and so that light chatter among the leaves shouldn’t be taken as the totality of all Deepdene has to offer.  This land is old, but it does not suffer the weight of history.  It simply watches and persists.


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