Dear Decaturish – Park more than a place for dogs

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 8, 2014
The location of the Oakhurst Dog Park. Source: Google Maps

The location of the Oakhurst Dog Park. Source: Google Maps

We accept letters to the editor. All letters must be signed and are typically 400 to 800 words in length. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and content. To send your letter to the editor, email it to This letter is in response to a plan to develop some of the Oakhurst Dog Park into single family homes. For more on this story, click here

Dear Decaturish and Dear Mayor Jim Baskett:

We ask that you join us in the effort to preserve the Oakhurst Dog Park forest, which has been a labor of love for many in the Oakhurst neighborhood and the City of Decatur.  This half-acre is Oakhurst’s most breathtaking green space. It is a vibrant, diverse, dynamic, and evolving natural forest whose destruction affects the entire community.

This area of the park is more than simply a place for dogs. The Oakhurst Dog Park forest is home to old growth, medium growth, and hundreds of juvenile trees.  It is a habitat for owls and other woodland creatures.  The health of the forest also has a direct impact on the entire park, as soil and rainwater drainage maintenance are critical for keeping the lower area of the park from becoming unusable.

As a green space, it is inherently valuable to the community.  Weekly traffic at the park is high:  easily more than 600 visitors (even greater numbers during the summer months), and not only dog owners.  Park visitors from the larger community use the forest on a daily basis.  People come to do yoga, hike with their children, create art, and enjoy its beauty.  Because of its tranquil atmosphere, the wooded area is a popular space for meditation.  It is an outdoor workspace as well: laptop users are a regular sighting in the forest, as this section of the park is a refreshing alternative to working in a café or at home. In all, the forest is a genuine neighborhood sanctuary.

Recently, this neighborhood dog park has become high profile:  Curbed Atlanta listed the Oakhurst Dog Park as the #3 dog park in Atlanta, specifically citing its wooded trails. Yelp Atlanta calls it a “hidden gem.”  But this hidden gem is not just the next hip discovery on the hot lists.  The forest is the result of community relationships and years of daily work.  Its transformation into the thriving forest it is today happened because of the strong partnership between Oakhurst residents and the City of Decatur.  It is a testament to the spectacular things that can happen when city government and individuals work together to build their community.

The Oakhurst Dog Park is a 100 percent community-maintained little neighborhood park.  We have established an excellent relationship with The City of Decatur.  The city provides the resources:  bags of wood chips, the park message board, a wheel barrow and rakes, poop bags, trash removal.  It’s the park-goers who keep the grounds clear of trash and dog waste, and spread mulch over mud holes and around the bases of forest trees.  This is a clean and well-cared for space, reflective of the value residents place on it.  Nowhere is the level of attention more apparent than in the forest area, where we have cleared trails, placed fiber and rock art along the paths, and arranged natural seating areas among the forest trees.

Forest vitality has been brought about in large part by our long history of cultivating this green space.  We have been committed to revitalizing the natural forest area for nearly four years.  In that time, we have managed to rebuild the soil, which both saves trees and helps to mitigate flooding problems on the lower side of the park.  We have created drainage paths so that rain runoff does not destroy the soil we have spent so many years building up.  On a daily basis, we spend hours on vine removal and forest upkeep.  We have organized monthly “Work Days” to keep the park clean and complete large park projects.  One such project was incorporating trees lost in last year’s winter storms into the beauty of the forest by lining the paths with logs and creating seating areas out of large stumps.

Just last year, we were honored with the Hometown Heroes Award for our work in this section of the Oakhurst Dog Park.  We were hailed by the City of Decatur as “watchmen and champions” for our efforts to control invasive plant species and contain the park-wide drainage problems that jeopardize the lower part of the park.  This recognition not only speaks to our abiding commitment to the forest, but also to the relationship we have built with the City of Decatur.

On the strength of the city’s relationship with this park community, and the recognition the City of Decatur has so recently shown us, we ask that you support our efforts to preserve this natural environment.  Our investment has made this forest area arguably the loveliest green space in the City of Decatur.

The loss of this green space is a quality of life issue affecting the entire community.  Green spaces are vital, non-renewable assets to the community.  Once lost, we can never get it back.  The destruction of the forest area after all our investment and community building, especially a year after the city highlighted our efforts, makes our work feel all for naught.

We invite you to visit our neighborhood park before the meeting on December 15th.  Come and see the beauty built by citizens and city.   Walk with us through the living organism that is the Oakhurst Dog Park forest.  We are happy to meet you there, at any time.

Thank you.


Lee Goldsmith and Richard Backwell

2013 Hometown Heroes

About Dan Whisenhunt

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  • Chris Billingsley

    Interesting. I always assumed that the Oakhurst dog park property was owned by the City of Decatur. Reading the letter reinforced this belief but a previous article states that the Sam Jones Boys and Girls Club owns the property. Their mission has always been to provide a safe place for the children of Oakhurst to develop to their full potential. Now it’s been a long time since I visited the club but back in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when I was coaching boys b-team basketball at DHS, I would visit, play ball with the high school guys, and sometimes chill and hang out. This was kind of wierd because I was usually the only white guy there*. But with the help of the high school players, Melvin Howard, Johnny and Royce Toombs, Travis Benton and others, all DHS sports heroes back in the day, I was slowly accepted. One thing I became aware of was that the Boys Club (llater the Boys and Girls club) requires a great deal of money to pay for the many services it provides to the kids. Some of this money may come from the City of Decatur but most of it comes from private donations. With this in mind, it makes good sense for the owners of the property to sell part of the land. More families will move into Oakhurst and the children of these households will benefit from a close association with the club. I hope the windfall will be used to improve the facilities and services in such a way that the children of Oakhurst and the surrounding communities will reach their full potential.
    *Writing this, I am reminded of a little bit of sad history. When I was spending time at the club, most of the high school kids knew me but the younger ones would often look at me as if I were from Mars. One afternoon, a younger kid, maybe six or seven, was eyeball-in’ me. So I kinda went all big eyed and leaned towards him and said “boo”. Terrified, he ran screaming and crying to Mr. Chisem (?), the head of the club. Confused, I looked at Mr. Chisem and he told me that the kid thought I was “The Monster”. The little black children were being told that a monster, probably a KKK guy, was kidnapping and murdering black boys. Mr. Chisem told the boy, “That’s Coach B from the high school. You don’t have to be scared of him.” A few months later, one of my former students who had dropped out of DHS in the 9th grade was found murdered near I20. Decatur and the entire Atlanta region was on edge until a man was convicted of one of the murders but suspected in all the others. Many people still believe that the KKK was behind most of the murders and not Wayne Williams.

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