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Jamie Allen


Rat-lanta: On the front lines of Atlanta’s rodent invasion

Illustration by Oliver Burtson
Illustration by Oliver Burtson

Jason Field spied the problem as soon as he pulled into the driveway. The vents to the crawlspace of the 1950s Avondale Estates bungalow were covered by old metal grates with holes as round as his thumb. Then he ambled closer. There, on the green ledge beneath the vent—dark rub marks. This is where the rats got in. He was sure of it.

The bungalow’s owner had called Field’s company, Zone Pest Solutions, after hearing scratching noises from the attic at night. Now, as Field entered the crawlspace, he found half-eaten acorns on the water heater. More evidence: Tic-Tac-shaped droppings in the attic and even under the kitchen sink.

Rats in metro Atlanta are as ubiquitous as kudzu, only they’ve been here longer. But if the conventional wisdom is true—for every rat you see, there are six others you’re not seeing—then we’re under siege. You can see them on power lines. Crossing streets. Darting out from dumpsters. Heck, they’ll even eat your garden tomatoes right off the vine. This fall, Orkin, the Atlanta-based extermination giant, ranked the metro area 14th in the country for rats, based on the number of calls it gets. A 2009 study conducted by academic rat experts (yes, that’s a thing) and commissioned by the rat poison manufacturer d-Con put the city of Atlanta second in the nation for “rat risk” based on foreclosure filings, unemployment data, extermination spending, infrastructure status, and climate conditions. In 2010, a d-Con follow-up survey found that 47 percent of Atlantans had spotted rodents in their homes. The rattiest neighborhoods: College Park, East Atlanta, and downtown.

Why the onslaught? No one knows for sure, but it’s probably a combination of the following:

  • Our recent mild winters (Snowmageddon notwithstanding) have not thinned the rodent population.
  • Atlanta’s becoming denser. “As cities grow and people have more waste, it allows rats to thrive,” says Dr. Ron Harrison, director of technical services at Orkin. Got a full dumpster near your house? Or a neighbor who leaves his dog outside, along with the dog’s food? It’s this kind of activity that attracts rats to humans. In 2012, an East Atlanta apartment complex was so overrun with rats that a resident took to vigilante patrols with a BB gun.
  • The recession didn’t help. With a foreclosure rate that at one point was five times the national average, vacant structures became havens for rodents. This past spring, a rat infestation at a government office in DeKalb County was suspected to be the result of the demolition of a public housing complex; the rats lived in the flattened former apartments and scrounged for meals in the bureaucrats’ breakrooms.

For his part, Field, the exterminator, thinks our rat problem also has something to do with the way we handle rat problems. In years past, humans employed a scorched earth policy when it came to rats: Poison whole colonies; trap the rest. Now the focus is on safety and humaneness. Field’s first move on the Avondale Estates bungalow was to seal off the home, placing wire mesh over the crawlspace vents and plugging holes in the roofline to seal the animals inside. Then he set snap traps baited with birdseed and strawberry icing (Field’s unique touch) to lure the rats to their deaths. The problem is that while the pack of five to 10 rats (he’s seen as many as 40 in a single family home, hundreds in some commercial properties) in this bungalow is dealt with, the cousins who are locked out just move on to the next house.

That’s why rats thrive in dense urban areas; rodent overpopulation truly is a city issue. New York spends millions dealing with its epic rat problems. But in metro Atlanta, no agency “owns” rats, making it confusing to know whom to call. (The city of Atlanta once employed a “Rat Attack” team that was phased out in the early 1990s.)

If the complaint involves a restaurant, county health departments are alerted. But residential properties involve code compliance departments of city and county police forces. The city of Atlanta’s Office of Code Compliance deals with more than 20,000 complaints a year and has only 26 inspectors, according to Major James Shaw. Not all calls are rat-related; many have to do with building code issues (which can also signal conditions in which rodents thrive). When it comes to places overrun with rats, Code Compliance gives the property owner up to two weeks to hire an exterminator and get rid of the pests.

Meanwhile, the owner of the Avondale Estates bungalow was optimistic she had finally evicted her unwelcome tenants. In the weeks after Field first set his traps, they caught several rats—including one the size of a small Guinea pig. The traps are now turning up empty and the scratching noises have stopped. But even if this case is closed, no exterminator worthy of the name would guarantee that the rodents will never return. Rats are survivors that will squeeze and gnaw their way through anything to seek shelter from the cold, wet, and heat. And even though there is stigma attached to infestation, Field says it is rarely ever the homeowner’s fault. It’s just their turn. “In Atlanta, there are two kinds of people: Those who have rats, and those who will.”

Rat sheet
Atlanta is home to two types of rats: Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) and roof rats (Rattus rattus). Norways are known for their larger size, burrowing talents, and lighter coloring. Roof rats can be black in color and are climbers, as their name suggests, often seen in trees, on power lines, and in attics. The Southeast is one of only two regions in the U.S. that is home to both Norway and roof rats. (The West Coast also appeals to both species.)

This article originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

3 local albums you should listen to this summer

Pool music. Midnight music. Road trip music. Summer’s sultry activities need a soundtrack, and these Atlanta acts are ready for courting.

Their 2010 full-length debut Strange Veins was a complex journey through a pop-synth-rock genre. Four years (and one scrapped album) later, bandmates Jason Travis, Joey Patino, Keith Edmiston, and John Craig joined forces with producer Jason Kingsland (Band of Horses) to hone the advanced sounds of the EP Number One Lover. The five Cure-meets-MGMT tracks offer gratifying, danceable hooks; fuzzy power; blissful synths; and outlying vocals to romance your sweatiest nights.

Marian Mereba
Like all of us, Mereba is a product of her upbringing. Hers just happens to include Montgomery, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; Pittsburgh and Philly; and—oh yeah—Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, her father’s home. “I want to sell out the only arena [in Addis Ababa],” says the Spelman grad. “Moving around a lot as a kid, music became my homie I could take everywhere.” The influences are evident on her EP Room for Living and her new full-length album The Radio Flyer (dropping July 29). Mereba sings and raps like a hybrid of Dylan, Sade, Joni Mitchell, and Lauryn Hill.

Every summer needs a rainbow. In Atlanta’s scene, Adron is just that. On her sophomore album Organismo—chosen best of 2011 by Creative Loafing—guitars softly chunked and rose up into Brazilian Tropicalia, while Adron songbirded with slightly explicit faux earnestness. This summer she’s touring and readying the release of her follow-up, Water Music. She says it’s “a little less Brazil” and a much more squarely “1975 soul.”

This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue under the headline, “Take a Listen.”

7 slightly random, mostly Atlanta-centric facts to help you enjoy the World Cup final

Drinking beer, singing songs, spilling said beer while shouting “Gooooal!,” and singing more songs, it all comes to an end with Sunday’s World Cup 2014 final between Germany and Argentina. Will Germany score seven goals again, as they did against tear-stained Brazil? Will Messi turn all the pressure into diamonds with seven goals of his own? In what has been a zany World Cup, not even Nate Silver has the answers.

But to make the most of the finale, we’ve come up with seven facts and suggestions to help you better appreciate and enjoy the match here in Atlanta, 4,757 miles away from the action in Rio de Janeiro.

  1. If you can leave by Saturday, it’s not too late to fly to Rio for
    the final. You’ll just need $6,000 for the round trip plane ticket,
    returning on Monday, according to our Expedia research. Good luck
    getting a game ticket!
  2. Looking for a non-bar, slightly nerdy, definitely pro-German spot to
    catch the game? The Goethe Institute in Atlanta will show the final
    on Sunday. Also, did you know? Goethe himself once declared, “Knowing is
    not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
    Later, some say Nike shortened this to, “Just do it.”
  3. Hey, Argentina has a club futbol team named after Atlanta.
  4. Want to eat to a World Cup theme? For German cuisine, visit Kurt’s Bistro in Duluth. For Argentinean flavors, hit Sabores del Plato on Buford Highway.
  5. In honor of this World Cup and Atlanta’s reputation as an international city, let’s convince tipsy friends to start a campaign to bring exotic South American animals like Patagonian Maras and Maned Wolves to Zoo Atlanta! Or maybe some Alpine Ibex to the wildlife center at Stone Mountain?
  6. Does it seem like Germany has more fans at the bar? The 2010 Census recorded 224,952 Argentineans living in the U.S. In the same count, more than 49 million people identified themselves as German-American.
  7. Another connection between Argentina and Atlanta: The last time Argentina played in the World Cup final was 1990. That’s the same year Atlanta won the 1996 Summer Olympics. And this is really just a reason for us to watch this video again and jump up and down. Atlanta!

Video of the Day: Adron’s homage to Monty Python

Fans of Monty Python — bitter and humorless as you are — we have some Earth Day news for you. One of your favorite songs has gotten a refreshing update from a pair of popular Atlanta performers.

Why, you might ask in your best bitter-humorless tone, before learning anything else, would anyone anywhere or anytime update any song having to do with anything Monty Python? And of course what you mean by that is: Who would dare update anything that is the scripture and all-knowing, undeniable, un-mess-around-with-able genius of Monty Python?

Here’s the thing: It’s Earth Day, and the song is “Galaxy Song.” Singer-songwriter Adron, taking a break from production on a new album, and her Dixieland-playing pal Blair Crimmins of Blair Crimmins & the Hookers, decided the video would be the perfect way to celebrate.

Again, why, you bitterly and humorlessly ask? Well, it’s a happy song, of course, and it gives the listener a range of nearly reliable facts that lead to a startling perspective: We’re just a very tiny part of the universe! And really, we mean nothing at all!

Also, Adron explains the idea for the remake thusly:

“I’ve always been a loyal Python fan since I can possibly remember,” she says. “I knew all the words to ‘Every Sperm Is Sacred’ as far back as age seven … And so a month or so ago it occurred to me how it might be a ton of fun to do a cover of a Python song, and then the idea to involve Blair seemed obvious because the style of music he plays would be so well suited to such an adaptation.”

“Galaxy Song,” as any Monty Python fan knows, was written by Eric Idle and originally performed in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Idle’s pink-tuxedo’d character hops out of a refrigerator and sings it to Mrs. Brown (Terry Jones) as a way to convince her to donate her liver in a live organ transplant. It’s all very scientific.

“If I could put Python in a time capsule for future alien overlords,” Adron says, “I would do it.”

Want to join the Atlanta tennis scene? A quick primer


For proof that tennis is a game of “love,” look no further than Kathy Berthelette, who met her husband, Dan Bradley, when she picked up the game in 1986. Their first date was buying her a decent racket. Now Berthelette is president of the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, the self-proclaimed “largest local tennis league in the country.” Originally formed eighty years ago to promote the sport in Atlanta, ALTA opened to league play in 1971. Today it has 65,000 members.

In Atlanta, tennis is a bustling and competitive year-round scene that also offers play through half a dozen organizations, not to mention those free courts near your neighborhood. “Atlanta is the tennis capital of the world,” says Scott Laakso, tennis supervisor for the City of Roswell.

If you’re a novice, however, courting the sport in the tennis capital can be intimidating. So we’ve come up with the basics to get you started. Follow through, and maybe you’ll fall in love too.

Beginner Tennis FAQs
Q: Should I screech when I hit the ball, like the pros do?
A: Generally, no. Not unless you want to be known as “the Screecher.”

Q: Should I dress in official “tennis whites”?
A: It depends on the dress code where you’re playing. But on free courts, tennis is the people’s game. That means you can wear your Coors tank top, jorts, and black socks. (But we like the way you look in tennis whites, FYI.)

Q: What should I do if I suspect my opponent of deliberately calling fair balls “out”?
A: Be diplomatic. Only John McEnroe can get away with standing at the net and yelling, “You cannot be serious!”

Country club not required
Atlanta, the “city of a hundred hills,” is also the city with well over a thousand tennis facilities, by some estimates. Visit tennismaps.com and pull up Atlanta to search for facilities near you.
Note: Most public courts are free. At public tennis centers, expect to pay $2 to $5 to reserve court time.

The racket racket
There’s no need to invest in a $200 NASA-approved racket. But you should be choosy, says Laakso. “Get a racket that is right for you. If you buy one online or used and it’s not designed for your skill level, you’re going to find yourself discouraged.” Laakso advises testing a lot of rackets. Stores like Your Serve Tennis and Serious Tennis will let you try out a few at a time at your local court.

Shoe don’ts
Tennis pro Ne’ko Browder says the construction of running shoes or cross trainers makes it hard for players to move on the court. “In fact, you can trip up much easier. Find some tennis-specific shoes that fit you and protect you from falling on your face.

A league of your own
First, determine your skill level. Hit with an instructor at a tennis center, and he or she can advise you on where your game fits best. One caveat: Jumping into an ALTA league is not just a matter of signing up. Many teams are filled long before seasons begin. “It’s kind of a closed society,” says Laakso. “But you probably know someone who knows someone. Ask around.”

The Big Leagues
Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA)
Doubles matches, many leagues to fit your schedule
$25 for an annual membership

United States Tennis Association
League play, singles and doubles, tournaments, official ranking system, and more
$44 for annual membership

Ultimate Tennis
“Flex tennis” league: Challenge someone, initial schedule for a time to play
$30-$35 to participate in a league

Another popular flex-schedule league
$30 for adult league; $24 for junior’s league.

Wall ball
Don’t have a tennis partner? Hit against a wall. The simple exercise is invaluable. “Tennis is a game of sending and receiving,” says Ne’ko Browder, a tennis pro at Emory and Piedmont Park. “Sometimes people think too much on the tennis court.”

Take lessons
Call tennis centers to arrange private or group lessons, or take a clinic. Public clinics cost only $15 to $20.

Ball brands
Use Penn tennis balls. Use them until they are only appropriate for a dog’s mouth.

Epicenters of Tennis
We can’t name every major tennis facility in Atlanta, but you can’t go wrong with a visit to these:

Bitsy Grant Tennis Center

Blackburn Tennis Center
Beginners’ lessons: $90 for five one-hour classes

Sharon E. Lester Tennis Center (Piedmont Park)
Clinics: $15

Chastain Park Tennis Center
“Adult Academy”: $25 for 90 minutes

Sandy Springs Tennis Center

Roswell Area Park

Laurel Park Tennis Center

Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis

Peachtree City Tennis Center

This story originally appeared in our April 2014 issue under the headline “You got served.”

Go North: See Rock City


The northwest Georgia mountains and the towns that dot them are less commercial than their relatives to the north and northeast of Atlanta. From the sunset side of Interstate 75 to the Alabama border—“Historic High Country,” famed for its Cherokee and Civil War history—you won’t spot a municipality themed to an Alpine village or wine trails with slick marketing campaigns. What you will find are nearly limitless views from mountaintops, fenceless fields on backcountry roads, charming historic B&Bs, slow and friendly Southern accents, barbecue joints, working tractors, horses and cows, almost-forgotten cemeteries, crumbling gas stations with “closed” signs, churches (and signs that point you to churches), half-abandoned business districts, and Victorian homes that would cost an impressive penny in Atlanta itself.

The area is not untouched. In fact, it contains sections of the Old Dixie Highway, a 5,000-plus-mile route that connected Michigan to Miami during the days before interstates. Like Route 66, the road carries cult status, and every June the Georgia stretch hosts the Ninety-Mile Yard Sale, where you might score one of the peacock chenille bedspreads made famous by the local seamstresses whose tufting techniques inspired Dalton’s carpet industry.

But northwest Georgia towns never had the moneyed pedigree of northeastern destinations like Tallulah Gorge—which nineteenth-century travelogues billed as the “Niagara of the South”—or even the panache of today’s lakeside communities in Rabun County. This corner of the state is less sophisticated, but also less sullied.

Lookout Mountain (population 1,602)

Admittedly, if you’re hoping to avoid tourist traps, you can do better than Lookout Mountain, home of the legendary Rock City. The Depression-era attraction features politically incorrect sights like Fat Man’s Squeeze and Lover’s Leap, not to mention the black-light dioramas of Fairyland Caverns. Still, the walking tour past 200-million-year-old rock formations has dramatic seven-state vistas, and the souvenirs are pure camp.

Cozy Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast is a convenient drive from Rock City as well as the underground Ruby Falls—another 1930s attraction, just across the line into Tennessee, which features the nation’s largest and deepest waterfalls—and Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, which contains the largest and oldest Civil War park in the country. The inn’s main house was built in 1927, and as more tourists arrived, cottages and a pool were added—all built from rock carved right out of the mountain.

Recommended drive: from the top of the mountain in Tennessee down into Georgia on Lookout Mountain Parkway. Country-road charms vie for your attention with glorious views, and you’ll see hang gliders diving off cliffs into oblivion. When you reach the bottom, dine at upscale Canyon Grill, which draws diners from as far away as Atlanta. Note: It’s BYOB.

Trenton (population 2,301)

To the west of Cloudland Canyon State Park (where you can camp in scenic glory and, if you’re lucky, reserve one of the cottages or brand-new yurts), a winding mountain road leads into Trenton. The town is as American as a John Mellencamp song, idyllic views mixing with hardware stores, churches, Hardee’s, and the requisite Mexican restaurant.

The main draw is north of town, past lumberyards. Pass the turnoff for the KOA campground and follow signs to the Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater. With two movie screens larger than the Fox Theatre’s and more than forty acres of parking and greenspace, this is the largest outdoor movie theater in the U.S. It might also be the cleanest and family-friendliest: Before the movie, guests toss Frisbees and baseballs, the music varies between pop and country, and the concession stand glows quaintly in the dusk.

Rising Fawn (population 3,900)

Cue the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? Norman Blake, whose music appears in that film, is said to reside in Rising Fawn, a dot on the map close to the Alabama border. Take Highway 11 through the heart of town (whiffing the sweet-fire smell of nearby Lazy Bones BBQ), past a few churches and cemeteries, a hardware store, and a cabin rental office. The country excursion really begins, however, when you veer onto Mason Road in the center of town. This takes you over a little creek and then loops out into farmland. Mind your speed; the road narrows considerably, and there is a dog that lies in wait at one of the houses to dart at your car. Farther down, after crossing another small bridge and coming around a turn, you might have to slow again when guinea fowl step across the road.

Summerville (population 4,534)

Most people visit Summerville, smack-dab in the heart of Chattooga County, to tour Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden; camp at James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park; see one of the nation’s few remaining train turntables; or meet Bobby Lee Cook, the local defense attorney who inspired Andy Griffith’s Matlock. You might catch Cook at Armstrong’s Barbecue. With its red vinyl booths, white marble laminate tables and walls, and plates heaping with sliced pork and slaw, this third-generation business could well be located in Mayberry.

For a more curious experience, I struck out to find Corpsewood Manor. It’s a decaying mansion built by a retired professor named Charles Scudder on top of Taylor Ridge outside of town. Scudder inspired small-town gossip of pornography, drugs, and Satan worship. In 1982, he and his supposed lover Joseph Odom were murdered there, along with their two bullmastiffs. Since then, the castle in the woods has fallen into disrepair—and drawn sightseers with a dark streak. Ask a gas station attendant how to get there. Warning: Don’t take anything from the mansion grounds. It is said that evil befalls all who do.

LaFayette (population 7,121)

LaFayette bills itself as “Queen City of the Highlands” and boasts a rich history—French American, Native American, African American—dating back to the 1830s. Today it is well known to rock climbers, who flock here to scale Rocktown and Lost Wall at nearby Pigeon Mountain. The town has a refined feel, particularly in LaFayette Square, which is home to an upscale fitness club and a restaurant called One-Eleven. Owned by Michael Lovelady, who also runs Chattanooga Street Tavern here, this trendy spot is set in a former hardware store and auto dealership. When you walk in and see the original heart pine floors, an elevator that once lifted Model Ts to the second story, redbrick walls hung with local art, and an espresso and wine bar, you’ll think you’re back in Inman Park.

Rome (population 36,303)

Nestled proudly in the nooks and seven hills created by the convergence of three rivers (the Etowah, Oostanaula, and Coosa), small-town Rome has many sights familiar to its big-city neighbor, including retail chains, Braves hats, and traffic.

Catch a Rome Braves game. Go antiquing and sightseeing on Broad Street, one of the most extensive Victorian-era national historic districts in the state. Check out the town’s version of Big Ben, the 100-foot-tall Tower Clock built in 1871. In the evenings, Brewhouse Music & Grill fills up with families dining and listening to live music. In November, buy tickets for the annual Underground Rome tours to wander beneath those historic buildings.

A short drive from downtown is the Chieftains Museum, located in the former home of Cherokee leader Major Ridge, who is notable for his attempts (and ultimate failure) to negotiate a fair property settlement with the federal government and Andrew Jackson. The Cherokee branded him a traitor, and a mob murdered him in Oklahoma.

For a less politically haunted experience, stroll the stunning campus of Berry College or hike Johns Mountain Trail, which leads to Keown Falls. Then check into the Claremont House on Second Avenue, a rambling bed-and-breakfast built in 1882. Popular with writers, it’s owned and operated by Chris and Holly McHagge, who are experts on area tours and history. They live in the house with their young daughter, two cats, and a Great Dane (the latter keeps out of sight). Your stay there includes a hot breakfast and friendly chats with the McHagges and fellow travelers.

Cave Spring (population 1,200)

In the middle of Cave Spring, sixteen miles southwest of Rome along the Trail of Tears, you will find exactly that: a cave with a spring. Pay $1 to climb around the misty, decently lit hollow. While you’re there, wander the town’s Rolater Park. Among the historic sights, including a 200-year-old log cabin, you’ll come across Rolater Lake, which is actually a giant swimming pool in the shape of Georgia, dug by hand by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s drained and filled weekly with more than a million gallons of cold, fresh water from Cave Spring. But Mack Abbott, owner of nearby Two Pop’s BBQ on Broad Street, warned me, “When you jump in, it’ll take away your manhood.”

The small downtown bustles with commerce and activity, including antique shops, Martha Jane’s Fudge, Linda Marie’s Steakhouse on the Square, a hardware store that sells mule plows, and a bandstand where one might begin a run for office. Check flyers on windows for upcoming festivals: Cave Spring is a place that likes to throw a party.

This article originally appeared in our August 2013 issue.

Open Water

pools spread

In his short story “The Swimmer,” author John Cheever uses the suburban pool to invoke the cruel passage of time in one man’s mistake-riddled life. Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate comically avoids adulthood in the depths of his parents’ pool. It’s no secret that swimming pools—and exposed skin, and wet hair, and crowds, and summer’s transformative qualities—have fired the romantic imagination since their invention 5,000 years ago, in what is now Pakistan.

Of course, the first purpose of any outdoor public pool is not to spark book ideas but to cool the sun’s searing blaze. In Atlanta, in July, swimming pools are survival.

Here’s a sweaty person’s guide to some of the best public-access outdoor pools in metro Atlanta.

Emory University Pool

1946 Starvine Way, Decatur, 404-712-2430, Website
The main attraction is the Olympic-sized (fifty-meter) pool with ten lap lanes, a shallow end the size of most community pools, and a deep end with one-meter and three-meter diving boards. There’s also a four-lane teaching pool, a kiddie pool, grills for parties, umbrellas and chairs, and loads of hot cement. Buy a fourteen-visit pass or membership and you’ll also have access to eight tennis courts (including two clay), a beach volleyball pit, outdoor basketball, a fitness center, locker rooms, and a snack bar. Park in the visitor section of the deck south of the entrance.
The Scene
Weekdays Camp kids. Bored students and parents with children. Swim lessons and swim team in late afternoons.
Weekends Kids, college students, and adults conquering high-dive fears. Lap lanes full. All lounge chairs taken. College students in skimpy swimsuits discussing “last night in the Highlands” while mothers cover their children’s ears.
Plan Ahead
Monday through Thursday nights, the
lap lanes are reserved for Emory’s children’s swim team. If you visit during the weekdays before
4 p.m., you’ll need to buy a parking pass
at the front desk or pay for the visitor
section of the deck.
Hours and Cost
Through September 2: Monday–Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Friday noon–9 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–8 p.m. $100 for 14 visits. Kids 2 and under are free. Summer memberships start at $330 for individuals and $615 for families.

Chastain Park Pool

235 West Wieuca Road, 404-841-9196,

When you visit Chastain Park Pool, you visit more than just a clubhouse and body of water; you enter a slice of north Atlanta devoted to outdoor play. You’ll find all the sports of the country-club set (swim, golf, tennis, equestrian), but the area, and in particular the pool, sports a rustic, laid-back ambiance. The pool was built around 1940, but the past ten years have seen many upgrades, including new lounge chairs, an updated dressing room, and a landscaped play area. The pool layout is divided into a generous shallow end, ten lap lanes, and a deep end with a half-meter diving board. Grandstand seating is great for swim meets or creative lounging. Ask about the killer Fourth of July party.
The Scene
Crowded during weekends. Teens lying
by the pool. Grade-school boys throwing balls. Adults quietly reading. Classic rock from the sound system. The earthy smell of horses from the nearby stables.
Hours and Cost
Monday–Friday 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. (free swim) and 12:30–5 p.m. (paid swim), Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Adults $4, ages 6–16 $2, ages 5 and under $1, seniors (65 and over) $2. Memberships available.

Grant Park Pool

625 Park Avenue, 404-817-6757, Website
The Grant Park Pool, operated by a private company hired by the City of Atlanta, opens up like a blue mirage in the middle of this creative-class neighborhood’s lumbering green hills and trees. The fifty-meter chlorinated pool plays it simple: four and a half feet deep from end to end, custom-made for splashing, chicken fights, and more splashing. A long wave mural on the far wall is the spot to take pictures of young ones.
The Scene
Weekdays What’s known in the industry as “chill”—at least until word gets out.
Weekends A diverse mix of pool worshippers—Grant Park families, singles, and those who can’t get in to their friend’s loft pool.
Hours and Cost
Monday–Friday 1:30–4 p.m. (free swim) and 4:30–8 p.m. (paid swim), Saturday–Sunday noon–8 p.m. Adults $4, ages 6–16 $2, ages 5 and under $1, seniors (50 and over) $2. Buy an annual pass and you can get in to other City of Atlanta pools. Resident annual pass: Adults $110, youth and seniors $65, families $245. Nonresident annual pass: Adults $185, youth and seniors $85, families $470.

Mountain Park Aquatic Center

1063 Rockbridge Road, Stone Mountain, 678-277-0870, Website
Gwinnett County is serious about its public-access, county-run pools. It offers nine aquatic centers, most of them with both indoor competitive-swim pools and outdoor “leisure pools” molded from the same family-friendly architectural theme. Mountain Park Aquatic Center accommodates the Stone Mountain crowd. The leisure pool features a shallow beach entry, dueling two-story curvy slides, a lazy river and whirlpool, and play areas for young kids (including a smaller tube slide). The setup at this pool and other Gwinnett aquatic centers is generally loungeable and not the place for serious swimmers (the main indoor pool seems built for that).
The Scene
Weekends are sort of like a restaurant with a patio on a pretty day. Which is to say, you might find the outdoor leisure pool a bit crowded and stressful, leading you to the massive indoor pool experience.
Hours and Cost
Monday–Saturday noon–6 p.m., Sunday 1–6 p.m. See the website for daily costs.

Glenlake Bathhouse and Pool

1121 Church Street, Decatur, 404-378-7671, Website
In the last decade, Decatur has evolved into an urban-centric, walkable “city within a city.” Municipal planners are paying attention to the public pools, too. Glenlake Bathhouse and Pool was renovated in 2009 (the pool has been around since the seventies), with the kind of shiny blue-yellow-white angles that could match any modern loft-o-minium in Atlanta. It caps the northern end of seventeen-acre Glenlake Park and neighboring Decatur Cemetery, providing the area with the summer sounds of kid squeals and lifeguard whistles. The fifty-meter pool includes a roped-off, one-and-a-half-feet-deep kiddie area, a substantial shallow area for basking families, lap lanes, a quiet deep end (no diving), a picnic nook, lounge and deck chairs, and man-made shade. Park in the Glenlake lot, or along Church Street.
The Scene
Weekends Chairs taken. Towels spread on the cement. Packed shallows. Splash fights. Beach balls. Little kids in floaties and sunscreen. The occasional deep-end cannonballer. The occasional teen in Urban Outfitters sunglasses.
Hours and Cost
May 26–July 31: Monday–Friday 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–6 p.m.August 1–September 3: Monday–Friday 4–8 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–6 p.m. City of Decatur residents: 14 and over $3, children $2. Nonresidents: 14 and over $5, children $3. Check the site for costs on summer swim passes.

Piedmont Park Aquatic Center

400 Park Drive, 404-875-7275, ext. 324, Website
Part of a $41 million park expansion and renovation campaign, the new Piedmont Park pool opened in 2009. Renovated from its 1973 design, the pool reflects the aesthetic of a modern public pool: Give a little something for everyone in a contemporary setting. Overlooking Lake Clara Meer and curled into a nook created by the commanding presence of Greystone, the pool features a beach entry, four lap lanes, a current channel that carries swimmers through refreshing fountains, lounge chairs on a landscaped deck, and a small lawn for sunbathers and their towels. But “a little something for everyone” means everyone goes: Midafternoon on a sunny weekend day, you’ll be lucky to find a spot.
The Scene
Diverse crowd from all over the city. Summer camp kids. Families with small children. Kids with nannies. Teens without parents. Single people wondering why they have to hang out with so many children.
Hours and Cost
Monday–Friday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday–Sunday noon–5 p.m. Adults $4, ages 6–16 $2, ages 5 and under $1, seniors (55 and over) $2. Season pass (with access to extended hours): Individuals $165, couples $280, families $365, seniors (55 and over) $120.

Garden Hills Pool

335 Pine Tree Drive, 404-848-7220, Website
The beauty of Garden Hills is, well—it’s just beautiful, shining like a yuppie oasis amid leafy Garden Hills Park in south Buckhead. And true, the heated L-shaped pool, a City of Atlanta property run by the Garden Hills Pool and Park Association, offers all the accoutrements of a privileged summer day: splashy blue shallows, lap lanes, a ten-foot deep end, a one-meter diving board, and a kiddie pool, as well as teen staff in white shirts and red shorts patrolling the decks, navy blue umbrellas with the Garden Hills logo on them, lounge chairs five-deep in some areas, picnic tables, tall pines and oaks, a rec center up the hill, and fresh mulch. Jeff Clark, the president of the association, points out that the pool keeps open hours and has inexpensive day rates, and it hosts summer camps and swim lessons for kids who live in areas where pool access is limited. “It’s the people’s pool,” he says.
The Scene
Moms reading trendy novels and dads holding babies. Kids taking turns off the diving board. Preppy swim trunks and collared shirts.
Plan Ahead
Go on Tuesday afternoon and “you’ll own the place,” says Clark. Sunday afternoons are also, surprisingly, often not busy.
Hours and Cost
Open to public 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m. most summer days; free swim Monday–Friday 10:30 a.m.–1:15 p.m. Adults $4, children and seniors $2. There’s a waiting list for memberships to the pool.

Tolleson Pool

3590 King Springs Road, Smyrna, 770-431-2844, Website
If you take a jog or bike ride on the Silver Comet Trail in Smyrna this summer—or just feel yourself sticking to your car seat while driving on the west side of the Perimeter—Tolleson Pool is a refuge. Tucked away in suburban Smyrna, the city-run neighborhood pool (part of Tolleson Park) boasts the expected family-friendly vibe, complete with purple-and-white bunting for its swim team, the Smyrna Sharks. There are shallows for the casual swimmers, seven lap lanes, and a flower fountain for kids eight and under. Note to old-school thrill seekers: The water beneath the high dive goes down twelve and a half feet.
Plan Ahead
Call to make sure the Smyrna Sharks aren’t taking over the pool.
Hours and Cost
Sunday–Friday 1–6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Adults $5, ages 16 and under $3. Season passes: Individuals $50 (resident) or $75 (nonresident), families $100 (resident) or $130 (nonresident).

Murphey Candler Pool

1526 West Nancy Creek Drive, 770-936-5468, Website
Just off Ashford Dunwoody, barely inside the Perimeter, you can drive down West Nancy Creek Drive and suddenly you’re crossing over a small lake. It feels like you’re no longer in metro Atlanta. Murphey Candler Park includes in its 135 acres of ball fields, nature, and hiking trails a sizable pool that might make you think you’ve gone back to summer camp. The pool and kiddie pool are situated beneath towering pines. Beach-entry shallows lead to an interactive fountain, lap lanes, and a deep end with a one-meter board. A large deck allows
for plenty of bathers, though chairs are at a premium, and there’s little shade except a small covered area. Picnic spots are also available.
Hours and Cost
Tuesday–Saturday noon–6 p.m., Sunday 1–6 p.m. Adults $3, ages 3–17 $2, ages 2 and under free.

Wills Park Pool

1815 Old Milton Parkway, Alpharetta, 678-297-6107, Website
Try not to confuse Wills Park Pool with Lake Lanier. The Alpharetta city pool—all 473,000 gallons of it, including a thirteen-foot deep end—seems to offer enough room for all of Alpharetta (or at least those without personal pools) to cannonball, splash, raft, and lounge. Need a splash pad for kiddies? Check. Need a diving board? The pool has three sizes, including a three-meter board that gets crowded with dads during adult swim. Need snacks? The concession stand offers ice cream sandwiches, snow cones, MoonPies, and more. Need lap lanes? The pool’s Gulf-like shallows can be configured to accommodate. Need shade? Well, that seems to be the only thing at a minimum, but if you get there early you can secure a spot under the blue awnings. Wills Park itself is worth a look around, so feel free to stroll over to the equestrian area. And don’t hide your tattoos! No one else does.
Hours and Cost
Through August 11: Monday 1–6 p.m. (pool pass holders and residents only), Tuesday–Friday noon–5 p.m. and 7:30–9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sunday noon–8 p.m. August 12–September 2: Saturday–Sunday noon–6 p.m. Ages 3 and over $3, children under 3 free, seniors (50 and over) $1. Season family pass: $150 for residents, $225 for nonresidents.

Q&As with some local lifeguards

Sierra Saumenig

Age 21
Lifeguard at Piedmont Park Aquatic Center
Time as a lifeguard 5 years
Graduating from Georgia State University, 2014

What basic pool etiquette should everyone follow?
1. No running.
2. No rough play.
3. No breath-holding games or underwater lap swimming.
4. No diving in shallow water.

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen? I saw a fourteen-year-old boy do a backflip into three and a half feet of water and end up breaking his leg.

“I can’t stand it when kids at the pool . . .” Run!

“I can’t stand it when adults at the pool . . .”
Think I am a babysitter and don’t watch their children!

Have you ever had to jump in the pool and save someone? Several times. The boy mentioned above was my worst situation. Mostly it is just children who are struggling to get to the side of the pool, and I assist them. It usually is nothing too serious, but at any moment it could be a life-or-death situation.

Have you ever gotten a date because you are a lifeguard? Actually, I have not. But I have been hit on by high school boys numerous times.

How far can you swim? Definitely far enough to save someone.

What’s one valuable thing you’ve learned as a lifeguard that will serve you well in life? Responsibility. Lifeguarding is a pretty simple job. I go, I clean, I sit and watch, and I go home. But I must be prepared for an emergency. Anything can happen at a pool, and I always have to be on my toes. I like to think of it as the easiest, most stressful job I have ever had.

Christopher King

Age 22
Lifeguard at Chastain Park Pool
Time as a lifeguard 6 years
Graduated from University of West Georgia

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen someone do at a pool? Someone tried to ride their bike off the diving board. Pretty mind-boggling.

“I can’t stand it when . . .” Kids at the pool ask when adult swim will be over.

Have you ever had to jump in the pool and save someone? A few years back, I had to save another lifeguard’s girlfriend. She fell in the pool. Originally I thought she was kidding, and then I realized she couldn’t swim. Note to all lifeguards: Teach your significant other to swim or don’t invite them to the pool!

What kind of sunscreen do you wear? Banana Boat Sport Performance Coolzone SPF 50.

Have you ever gotten a date because you are a lifeguard? While I haven’t directly gotten a date from being a lifeguard, I would say that women appreciate guys who play with the kids that they nanny for. That has led to a few dates.

How far can you swim? As long as it will take to save someone.

Grace Alexander

Age 21
Lifeguard at Garden Hills Pool
Time as a lifeguard/pool manager 7 years (1 as a manager)
Graduating from Rollins College, 2014

What does a pool manager do? We manage the pool chemicals, inventory, and payroll. We have around sixty people on staff, so we manage the staff each day.

Tell us about your family’s legacy as pool managers for Garden Hills. Now that I’m manager, four people in my family have been managers. I have three older brothers—Sandy (twenty-eight), Tom (twenty-six), and Nick (twenty-four)—and each of them have been pool managers. For the past decade, there has been an Alexander as manager, except for one year.

Is it safe to say you rule the pool? Absolutely. We’re like a dynasty.

What’s your favorite thing about your job? The people that work here and go here. I’ve met so many different people and gotten to know the members. There’s always a chance to meet a new family or kid that makes your summer worthwhile.

What do you like least? When I came in, I was warned that this job tends to be 80 percent relaxed but 20 percent stressful. For an hour out of the day, everything happens at once. Problem with chemicals, someone is injured, someone has a question—it seems to all come at the same time.

Have you ever had to jump in the pool and save someone? I am one of the few guards that has not had to make a save. I like to say I prevent the saves from happening before they happen.

How far can you swim? I swim distance in college, so pretty far. The longest I’ve ever done is a four-mile swim.

More info on pools

Eww Coli

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave Atlanta swimmers a fright just before summer when it released a report detailing the rather icky amounts of fecal matter found in Atlanta-area public pools during a 2012 study. While no specific pools were named, ninety-three out of 161—or 58 percent—of the sampled pool filters tested positive for E. coli, a marker for fecal contamination.

While some might blame pool management, Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, says it’s time for swimmers to take at least part of the responsibility for the quality of water in which they swim. (And no, chlorine doesn’t kill everything.)

She offers these simple tips for anyone who uses a pool:

  • Shower before getting into the water—yes, that means you.
  • Minimize the amount of water you swallow when swimming.
  • Take kids on bathroom breaks every sixty minutes. If children are in diapers, they should be checked every thirty to sixty minutes.
  • Change children’s diapers in the bathroom area, away from the poolside.

You can also visit the CDC’s Healthy Swimming website and get a free pool test strip to measure water chemistry at your favorite swimming hole.

Fountain Favorites

Used to be, if you jumped into a city fountain to cool off, police would ask you in no uncertain terms to leave. Times have changed. These days, fountains and splash pads are actually built with the specific intention of luring you in. Some of us have become true fans of this communal interaction with water, even preferring it over swimming pools.

The grand dame of splash pads, of course, is the Fountain of Rings at Centennial Olympic Park, created to cool the international masses during the 1996 Summer Games. In the years since, the fountain has become one of those rare gathering spots popular with both tourists and residents.

Perhaps recognizing this civic value, neighborhood planners on the Atlanta BeltLine and beyond are setting up splashy play spaces designed to promote running through cold water, screaming, and Instagramming.

Here are some of our favorite spots around town:

This article originally appeared in our July 2013 issue.


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