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After decades of pollution, South River activists are hoping to find a sustainable solution for the waterway
Through a slim gap in the chain-link fence, Jacqueline Echols leads me down a short, steep embankment and across a wide sand beach toward the banks of the South River. Deer tracks and footprints pepper the sand at our feet; ahead of us, water rushes dramatically beneath the Snapfinger Road bridge and tumbles over shoals, where Echols tells me she’s seen river otters play. With its sprawling stretch of beach and sounds of rushing water, the Panola Shoals trailhead feels like an urban enclave of natural beauty—idyllic, almost, if not for the signage on the fence warning visitors of the contaminated water.
Over the centuries, the South River Forest has been many things: Indigenous land, a prison farm, a dumping ground—and the keystone of an ambitious proposal to incorporate nature into Atlanta’s growth. But in 2021, people living nearby were surprised to learn that the city had different plans for it: a massive new police training facility.