Secrets of Chastain Park, Grant Park, and Piedmont Park

Trivia on three of Atlanta’s favorite parks
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Chastain Park
Chastain Park

Photograph by John E. McDonald

Witches Cave
Waiting in line at the “Witches Cave.”

Photograph courtesy of Ray Mock

Chastain Park
It has a long-buried “Witches Cave.”
For decades, the place to be on a sunny day in Chastain was an architectural wonder known as the “Witches Cave” off of West Wieuca Road. Built in the 1930s, the gathering spot consisted of a sunken plaza with enormous stone fireplaces, surrounded by steps winding uphill to benches, picnic tables, and cone-roofed pavilions. Children dared each other to run through the 100-foot horseshoe-shaped rock cave before the witch could grab them. In the 1970s, though, the area became overrun with vandals, and before the decade’s end, the Parks Department stopped up the cave with cement and filled in the plaza with dirt. Look for the tops of the stone chimneys and some of the steps and imagine the wonderland that once stood in its spot.

You can catch a fish in Hamburger Pond.
This pond, named after a small island in the middle that resembles—you guessed it—a hamburger, is fed by spring water that runs down from the park’s hills. Take a stroll around the encircling path, drop in a line, and listen for snippets of music wafting from the nearby amphitheater.

There’s a beach—sort of.
Six years ago, the land on the north bank of Nancy Creek was an impenetrable mass of overgrown trees and brush. Then in 2009 the park’s conservancy cleared it out to create an inviting grove called the Palisades, crosscut with a walking path. The shallow creek makes a tempting splash ground for even the smallest kids (and dogs), who can tiptoe in from a sandy embankment.

 

Lake Abana
Lake Abana in Grant Park

Photograph by Atlanta History Center

Grant Park
It once contained a six-acre lake.
From the 1880s through the mid-20th century, Lake Abana was the centerpiece of Grant Park and filled with boaters and swimmers. Sadly, the city chose to drain the lake in the early 1960s rather than integrate the public swimming hole, and gave the land over to the rapidly expanding Zoo Atlanta. By the 1980s the last vestiges of Abana—the pond by the petting zoo—had disappeared.

There’s a Civil War fort—with a view.
Located in the southeastern corner of the park, Fort Walker is Atlanta’s last remaining Civil War breastwork, or line of defense, and part of the Atlanta Campaign Heritage Trail. It’s also one of the highest points in the city, at 1,012 feet above sea level, and offers a great view of downtown.

You can cool off by an underground spring.
At one time, there were several springs that ran underground and filled creeks throughout Grant Park. Today just two or three are left. Constitution Spring, which is believed to still flow underground, is located near the zoo parking lot. Mature trees help keep the temperature down—even in summer—and you can spot a stone fence that dates to 1900 and a bridge featuring stone lion heads, which once marked a carriage entrance to the park. Salaam Spring was brought above ground in 2003 and now fills a pond that’s home to geese, herons, fish, and turtles.

 

Piedmont Park
The grand 1895 Cotton Expo in Piedmont Park.

Photograph by Atlanta History Center

Piedmont Park
Even during festival days, you can still take a walk in the woods.
The 10-acre Walker Woods is part of Piedmont’s 2013 expansion, and it’s one of the few places in the park where visitors can truly feel enveloped by nature. On the north side, near the Botanical Garden, the stroller- and grandma-friendly level path is lined with 150-year-old trees, and the woods are shot through with a stream, Clear Creek, where you can tumble all the way down to the water’s edge. It’s also a prime destination for spotting wildlife, including blue herons, peregrine falcons, and even coyotes.

There’s a surprisingly posh pool. The Piedmont Park Aquatic Center, which opened in 2009, is arguably one of the fanciest public pools in the country. There are lap lanes, a lazy river for floating, a softly sloping beach entry for little ones, and a shaded deck—not
to mention a scenic view overlooking Lake Clara Meer. Anybody can take a dip (entry is $4 for adults, $1 for kids 5 and under, $2 for kids 6 to 16), but season pool pass holders ($170 for an individual, $375 for families) get access during exclusive bonus hours.

The kids can play on sculptures from a world-renowned artist. Public sculpture brings art out of the museum and into the community, and the Noguchi Playscape, located just inside the 12th Street gate, goes a step further. Kids can slide, jump, and swing along pieces by Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi, one of the 20th century’s most important sculptors. Installed in 1976, the Playscape, which looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, was restored and repainted in 2009.

You can spot century-old relics. Scattered throughout the park are a series of steps and balustrades—often flanked by large, ornate stone pillars—that seem to lead nowhere. These are the only leftovers from the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition, a massive World’s Fair–like event designed to promote the South and its products. Afterward nearly all of the expo’s buildings were torn down, their construction materials sold or used for scrap.

Back to Atlanta Parks Guide

This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.

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