This column may disgust you. You’ve been warned.
After a major rain event, the landscaping crews at the Atlanta History Center switch their Carhartts for hazmat suits.
That’s because of the bucolic stream running through the Buckhead campus. Its origin is believed to be a spring near pioneer farmer Henry Irby’s historic tavern. By its waters John Whitley allegedly shot the Buckhead buck.
That spring near the present-day St. Regis Atlanta hotel was covered and piped long ago. Its water surfaces west of Slaton Drive next to Tullie Smith Farm.
During rainstorms, the quiet babbling brook becomes a rushing torrent, thanks in large part to development and an abundance of impervious surfaces. All of the stormwater from the Buckhead Village and Peachtree and Paces Ferry roads drains into it.
Starting in the 1980s, to mitigate the impact of the suddenly rushing water, the local historical society built steep rock walls along the first 50 yards or so of its banks.
The unnamed tributary then descends a manmade waterfall, which also serves to slow it down, into the rock quarry garden. There, during the heavy rains, the stream often overwhelms its banks. It then passes the Kenan Research Center and in front of the Swan House before disappearing into a culvert beneath Andrews Drive.
Protecting the campus from the steadily eroding banks is constant. Workers are currently building new walls along the banks by the research center.
It’s equally important for the stream to tell the story of Atlanta. It is the Atlanta History Center, after all. There are several markers along the Swan Woods Trail to that end. One mentions the pesticides and fertilizers that enter the stream regularly.
A recent stroll along its banks points to a newer, troubling trend. Everywhere along the creek bed are blue, green and clear plastic bags.
Most of them contain dog poop. I warned you this was going to be a gross column, but it’s important.
It’s important because those gardeners, who do such a magnificent job of maintaining the 33 acres around the history center, including the Swan House and the Tullie Smith Farm, have to remove as many of those bags as they can after storms. There are so many, they are unable to remove them all.
The bags are a constant nuisance to the history center creek and creeks everywhere. They are just more visible at the history center.
There are hundreds of unnamed tributaries in and around Atlanta, and most of them are connected to the series of storm drains preventing roads from flooding during storms. Because we are not usually outside during these storms, we don’t see these non-biodegradable baggies floating down the street and into the open drains.
It’s unlikely we will see them in the creeks at the bottoms of the myriad ravines in and around Buckhead. I think about the creek along Habersham Road near West Wesley Road where I grew up, which is not seen by many people.
Take what is happening at the history center and multiply it by hundreds, and then thousands. Consider the fact that just about everyone with a dog picks up its waste with a free plastic bag.
That’s part of the problem.
We use the bag the newspaper comes in for our dogs, Margaret and Millie. We think we are recycling. We are not. We are taking something natural and wrapping it in something that isn’t and sending it to a landfill. At least we don’t leave our bags in our front yard.
That is the first step. Stop leaving these bags in yards or along the road. I didn’t think this was a problem, but the evidence is clear. The bags must go in the trash can. That’s just common sense.
The second step is to start spending money on pickup bags. Consider buying biodegradable ones. That doesn’t necessarily solve the issue the history center is experiencing, but it is a solution to our ever-growing plastic problem.
We can easily prevent much of this plastic from showing up in the stream and gardens at the history center. It is quietly and purposefully one of the most outstanding outdoor places in our city.
It just takes a little attention and some presence of mind.