The South’s Central Park

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The 189 acres of green set in the middle of the city was built by the same architect that created New York’s park and the Biltmore Gardens in South Carolina. Since 1895 the park has been a place where you can go to forgot you’re living in the city, a slice of nature amid miles of concrete and asphalt. The park has been in Atlanta so long that the Piedmont Conservatory, which runs and maintains the park, even gives historical tours of the park, not that you’ll find many park-goers taking the tour. To many who live in the city, the park is a natural part of their life, it’s always been there and doesn’t take much consideration. Also, for the bird obsessed with lots of time on their hands, there’s the Bird Watching Tour which people have allegedly gone on. Walking through its trails you can find people setting up camp in the trees. They aren’t supposed to do this but the park is so big that security lets it slide, not wanting to search through the woods every night for people staying too late. After most of the city empties out, many of the cities homeless find a safe place in the park away from all the noise and people. The old bathhouse has been renovated into a swimming pool, offering apartment dwellers the feeling of swimming in their backyard pool. On the northern end of the park, you can run through a seventy jet splash pad reminds you of memorial parks’ fountains, but Piedmont’s is not a crowded tourist destination, and these jets reach 30 feet high. Little side trails behind the stone walls and sitting areas lead you down hills spotted with the litter of park explorers. Stone ledges over the trails and hidden clearings in the woods have become private hangouts for those of Atlanta who have been walking the park long enough to wander off and find them. Every Saturday from nine to one in the afternoon, farmers, bakers, chefs, and dietitians come to sell their wares at Piedmont’s Green Market. Located at the west entrance to the park, you can hear the live band for the weekend playing in the center of the market, then the smell of food hits you. Startups and old establishments buy food trucks and carts to advertise their business roll in and set up early in the morning to wake up Piedmont Avenue North East with the smell of a bakery. Like Central Park has its Tavern on the Green, Piedmont has a restaurant and several surrounding it such as Loca Luna. Park Tavern is an old looming stone building, having originally designed as a horse stable in 1905 since then it’s been a men’s club and a golf course clubhouse. It wasn’t until 1990 that it became a restaurant, it’s named a nod to Tavern on the Green in Central Park, it’s architectural father. The park looks made to bring your four-legged friend. Every water fountain has a separate dog bowl and faucet at the bottom, and every couple hundred yards is plastic bags to pick up after them. The park has two big fenced in areas to bring your dog and unleash them to meet canine friends, each segmented into two areas for large or small dogs. They don’t discriminate in this park, dogs of any size, even the much-maligned pit bull is welcome. It’s for good reason no one under the age of twelve is allowed in the enclosure, you don’t want your kid being run down in a stampede of German Shepards. You can find these 3 whole acres set aside for your dog at the north end of the park, just past the Park Road bridge. Dog owners are so ubiquitous in the park that vendors such as King of Pops have started selling dog pops. Developed in 1973, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens sits within Piedmont Park. While it is privately owned and didn’t belong to the Piedmont Conservatory, the botanical garden has woven itself into the roads, parking garages, and piedmont grounds. Ticket buyers can walk the six hundred foot long skywalk over the gardens and look down over the park, which is separated only by an iron write fence of stonework. The gardens have attracted eclectic artists over the years, creating the classical themed Holiday Lights each at Christmas time and during the warm seasons exhibits like the hallucinatory Alice and Wonder Land: Imaginary Worlds are set up, with bizarre mirror works, bright colors, and gigantic sets of the book’s characters turned into a sprawling garden. One popular artist Chihuly has his exhibit extended due to popularity, monopolizing the garden for eight months and drawing four hundred and twenty-five thousand visitors, some of which might have never come and visited piedmont park otherwise. Each year more than one hundred and sixty thousand people visit the gardens Holiday Lights exhibit, which is a dazzling array of a million and a half lights and titanic wooden soldiers. Piedmont leverages people’s interest in art and gardening by offering their community garden, an educational center encouraging people to grow their own food naturally. The program has made Piedmont a popular field trip destination, making the park a fond childhood memory for every kid in the surrounding area. With art, nature, venues for weddings, parties, and an international styled green market setting up each week, the park has made itself a unifying place for the people of Atlanta. If you haven’t seen this vital part of Atlanta’s culture, take a look and see if you’re missing out.

You can see an overview of the park’s main sites by watching my video of taking a walk in the park.

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