Beautiful hardwoods, plants and animals, trails and hikes, Wildcat Creek, children’s programs are just a few of the things you might enjoy about Dunwoody Nature Center. But do you know the history behind how it began? Last month’s Past Tense looked at the property up until the year 1974. This part of the story tells of the people who worked and fought so that this beautiful piece of nature would be available for all.

In 1974, DeKalb County was looking for property that could be part of bicentennial celebrations. In Dunwoody they purchased land along Roberts Drive from the Lane family. The Dunwoody Woman’s Club soon became involved in the planning of the bicentennial celebration, including activities at the new Dunwoody Park (today’s Dunwoody Nature Center.) The Dunwoody Bicentennial Celebration committee consisted of Gerry Spruill, Jim Cone, and Becky Kelly of DeKalb Parks and Recreation.

The Dunwoody Woman’s Club and Dunwoody Garden Club worked with DeKalb Parks and Recreation and the U. S. Forestry Service to build a trail system. Trees and plants were identified, and willows were planted to protect the wetlands. The group raised money for a gazebo bulletin board, playground and picnic tables. Volunteers began to lead tours for groups.

The North DeKalb Arts Center had been meeting in the basement of Dunwoody United Methodist Church for two years when they moved to the old Peters/Lane house at Dunwoody Park in January of 1978. Local businessmen and developers donated supplies and funds to prepare the house to open for classes. Because there wasn’t constant oversight of the park, vandalism was a problem. In 1989, North DeKalb Arts Center moved into a portion of the old Dunwoody Elementary School along with the Dunwoody Library.

When North DeKalb Arts Center moved, vandalism increased. The Dunwoody Woman’s Club selected Dunwoody Park as their CIP (Community Improvement Project). They knew that more oversight of the property was needed to deter vandals and they began a clean-up project on the property.

The property was on the verge of being developed as county tennis courts and the remaining property would be sold off and developed with houses. Kathy Hanna and Pat Adams felt there must be a better use for the beautiful piece of land. They conducted a survey and found that many nearby tennis courts were empty. There was not a need for more tennis courts.

Six women from Dunwoody Woman’s Club were founders of Dunwoody Nature Center. They are Pat Adams, Kathy Hanna, Marilyn Dalrymple, Eleanor Lehner, Rita Langley and Carolyn Jones. They asked for and received support right away from Spalding Garden Club and Dunwoody Garden Club.

Eleanor Lehner knew Dunwoody resident John Ripley Forbes, who suggested a nature center for the property. He had experience with over two hundred nature centers around the country. Director of DeKalb County Parks and Recreation at that time, Becky Kelly, was in favor of the nature center idea. Her support was crucial. Jean Williams, DeKalb County Commissioner, made a presentation to the DeKalb County Commission along with Gerry Spruill. Their proposal for the property and house to be used as a nature center was approved.

In 1990, fund-raising began with a request for $1000 donations in order to become part of the Trailblazers. John Ripley and Margaret Forbes hosted a party for the Trailblazers and the $10,000 raised became the first year’s budget.

Letters were sent to local organizations, such as garden clubs, PTAs, Scout leaders and homeowner’s associations, asking for their support. An individual from each non-profit was asked to be on the Board of Directors, so they could inform their organization of the efforts of DNC. Representatives from adjacent neighborhoods were also asked to sit on the new Board of Directors. Events were planned, beginning with a “Stroll in the Park” to introduce the nature center idea to the community. The Children’s Wall was an early project where children signed a white wall in the DNC building for a fee of $1.

Dunwoody Nature Center incorporated in Jan. 30, 1992. A director was hired to live on the property, although police monitoring was still necessary to keep out vandals.

Jerry Hightower, a naturalist/interpretive ranger from the National Park Service researched existing native plants, helping the park receive National Wildlife Habitat designation. One early project was the planting of a butterfly and bee garden. The first logo was an upright fern designed by Pat Adams.

Each year, the Dave Adams trophy award is given to a group or individual in the community that has made the greatest contribution to DNC. This award was established in 1999 by Marilyn and David Dalrymple and named in honor of Pat Adams husband, Dave Adams.

Kathy Hanna sums up the significance that her work at Dunwoody Nature Center has had for her, “I know at the end of my life one of the things I will be proud of after family and friendships will be my part in starting DNC.”

As for the “present tense” of Dunwoody Nature Center, the beauty of the land and the programs enjoyed by the community continue under the new leadership of Executive Director Michael Cowan.

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