This summer, take pleasure in strolling the Atlanta BeltLine, a former railway corridor behind the largest revitalization effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta. While it’s still in development, there are portions of its 22-mile corridor ring that are open and busy as multi-use trails. Whether walking, running, or biking, there’s art, performances, nature, food and exercise to be enjoyed by the whole family along the Atlanta BeltLine.
The Southern city of Atlanta, Georgia, is not traditionally known as a “walking town.” Folks who live here are used to driving and they love their cars. So it was certainly my pleasure to on a recent visit to Atlanta to have a chance to stroll down the work in progress known as the “Atlanta BeltLine.“
The BeltLine is one of a number of “rail-to-trail” projects gaining traction around the country and around the globe. What a great reinvention for shuttered train tracks; taking dormant track areas and turning them into interesting green space, walking trails and bike trails. It’s a trend to admire. We live in New York, home to the High Line, which runs along an old elevated platform on Manhattan’s west side and which has spawned a number of copycats here in the United States. (More on the High Line in another post- but it is considered to have been inspired by Paris’ Promenade Plantee.)
In Chicago, a 2.7-mile path has been created out of a defunct elevated line as well. And in Seattle, the Burke-Gilman Sammamish Trail (known as “The Burke”) took more than 27 miles of old track and turning it into multi-use (but heavily used by bikes) trails.
Atlanta’s BeltLine originated as part of a master’s thesis by Georgia Tech student, Ryan Gravel. The project, still in development, is expected to create 22 miles of pedestrian-friendly trail, 33 miles of multi-use trails and 1,300 acres of parks, among many other things. It’s using an historic rail corridor that circles the City of Atlanta. When it’s finished it’s also expected to “bring together 45 in-town neighborhoods and also link them to the entire metropolitan Atlanta region through a collection of transit offerings,” according to the project’s website. While there’s clearly more to be done before that becomes reality, there are plenty of wonderful things to see now.
Segments of the Atlanta BeltLine are spackled with temporary public art installations that enhance the various spaces they inhabit. (Some art may potentially become permanent in the future.) While there, I was able to see art ranging from iron-clad skeletal-type figurines, suspended large-scale mirror origami, miniature photo galleries, monster-sized Venus Flytraps, “tiny doors” and much more.
Overpasses are painted with dazzling murals and walls sporting deliberate, colorful graffiti are fun to look at. In addition to the visual arts, there are plenty of exhibits of musicians and performers depending on the day and the season.
Along the sides of the pathways, trees and plants are often marked with hanging signs or markers letting pedestrians passing by know what kind of plant or tree they are seeing, when to look out for blooms, facts about the various species (Where does the name come from? Why do the leaves smell like licorice?) and of course, reminders to please respect them for everyone to enjoy!
Because Atlanta tends to keep a more moderate climate in general, it’s likely you’ll see various plants in bloom all year long, but the spring and summer seasons are especially good for taking great flower photos, foliage and bird watching.
Ponce City Market, Shops and More
Easily accessible from the BeltLine are restaurants, stores and residential buildings. So if the weather isn’t picnic accommodating, there are plenty of places to stop as you make your way. One of the more notable stops is the Ponce City Market, which inhabits the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building. Within the building are shops, flats and the Central Food Hall which offers something to suit just about everyone’s taste buds. The market is also home to events, often involving food, such as pasta and pizza making classes or workshops on learning more about bitters and cocktails. It’s also home to Ponce City Nights (a spinoff of Chelsea Market’s “Chelsea Nights” in New York City) in which musical acts come to perform free concerts. They take place 6:30p-8:30pm every other Thursday and are typically good for all ages to attend.
The Views and the Tours
In addition to seeing plenty of views of Atlanta’s city skyline as you walk/run/bike, there are a number of tours now offered that will allow you to learn even more. The Aboretum Walking Tour, led by docents from Trees Atlanta, guides you through the horticulture found on the Eastside Trail. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and Atlanta Bicycle Coalition offer free, 3-hour guided tours of the BeltLine on Saturday mornings at 10am and Sundays at 2pm.
There are also narrated bus tours that run every Friday and Saturday morning in which you can see the BeltLine while learning about it’s history, project updates and plans for the future.
You can register for tours in advance through the Atlanta BeltLine website. And as the Atlanta BeltLine is more than just trails, the folks behind it want you to learn more about the parks you’ll encounter along what they’ve dubbed the, “city’s emerald necklace.” A “Park of the Month” series is aimed at helping travelers find and learn about greenspaces yet to be discovered along the BeltLine. The hope is that you may find you’ve got a new favorite park once you’ve been there.
Enjoy the trails this summer in the City of Atlanta!