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Acworth: the little city that can.

Acworth Georgia, population 5,000, lies less than an hour north of Atlanta near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Bordered on three sides by Lake Allatoona, with the smaller Lake Acworth traversing its center, "The Lake City," as Acworth is known, blends a quaint downtown with shade-dappled streets. It's the sort of place where a sign on a merchant's door says: "If you've lost your dog, see cashier inside."

Originally part of the Cherokee Indian Nation, Acworth evolved into a busy railroad center, and briefly served as Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's headquarters during the Civil War. Today it's a safe haven for those seeking refuge from big-city life, and those shady streets are a testament to its environmentally active, tree-loving citizenry.

In Acworth, just about everybody gets into the tree act. It's a feat applauded by the Georgia Urban Forestry Council, which in 1990 awarded Acworth its Outstanding Small Community Award.

The acknowledged sparkplug of this ecological enthusiasm is the aptly named Temple Green, an entrepreneur who moved to town 18 years ago. She was galvanized into environmental action a few years ago when she saw the broom-sedge fields, pine trees, and tall oaks she loved slowly disappearing under Metro Atlanta's galloping development. (Cobb County alone, where Acworth is located, lost 26 percent of its tree canopy between 1975 and 1985).

Green found she had a committed ally in Richard Rosenberger, a local general practitioner. A native Californian, Rosenberger first came to Atlanta as an Army doctor, then settied in Acworth 20 years ago at the end of his military service. Originally drawn by visits to Lake Allatoona, he heeded the government's plea for doctors in what was then a rural area. "I

And so she began to lobby. The result: In 1988 Acworth mayor Michael Donahoo and the City Council passed a protective Tree Preservation and Replacement Ordinance (as did Cobb County). A five-member Tree Commission, to which Green and Rosenberger belong, has created and sponsored every tree project since.

The Tree Commission's earliest efforts involved removing all signs nailed to trees, then calling the perpetrators and educating them about the environmental damage. "Nobody would even think of doing that anymore," says Green. They also established the city's first Tree Reserve of specimens to be planted on city property.

The next step was to ensure a future of tree-conscious citizens by educating Acworth's children. The kickoff was the town's first Arbor Day program in 1988, when kindergartners from Acworth Elementary School planted a Green Mountain sugar maple on the school's grounds. "Each child dug and shoveled, then later 'adopted' the tree, hanging it with food for birds and watering it throughout the school year--a real learning experience," says Green.

That event helped to educate Acworth's citizens, and set the stage for a succession of imaginative Arbor Day celebrations that involve the whole city. Schoolchildren can participate in a yearly poster contest, with winning posters displayed in Acworth businesses. Merchants donate Arbor Day trees and put conservation messages on their street-front advertising signs for the week surrounding Arbor Day.

Help in greening Acworth has come from all quarters. The Tree Commission planted more than a mile of downtown trees, while a liquor-store owner, supervised by his 82-year-old dad, planted 12 dogwoods. The 31 members of the 100-year-old Carrie Dyer Women's Club--in addition to planting and maintaining a small park by the city's cemetery--plant at least one tree every year on their own. City and state officials landscaped exit and entrance ramps at the overpass of two main highways.

The largest project so far has been the conservation and replanting of the popular Lake Acworth Beach Area, which offers swimming, fishing, boating, and playgrounds as well as a recreation center, pavilion, and non-denominational chapel.

The area had had little upkeep since 1940, and it showed: Topsoil had eroded, dead trees had not been replaced, and there were no trees shading the children's playground.

Because no town money was available, businesses and individuals-including past and present city employees--bought trees themselves and planted them by the playground. Soon flowering crabapples blossomed behind each park bench, willows lined the water's edge, and a state representative happily shoveled into place a big maple to shade the jungle gym. Another planter, Congressman Buddy Darden, later donated 500 redbuds.

An America the Beautiful grant followed, with matching funds donated by

Georgia Pacific Corporation to establish a Tree Park at Lake Acworth Beach. The Women's Club beautified grounds near the chapel. And--two years before construction of a municipal golf course across the lake--the Tree Commission walked the land, tagging large, old oaks and other trees they insisted be saved.

By 1991, Acworth had hit its stride. The populace was tree-savvy; from 1989 on, one citizen or group was being recognized annually with a City/Tree Commission environmental Stewardship Award; Acworth had earned a Tree City, USA designation from the National Arbor Day Foundation; and Temple Green had been invited to Washington by Georgia Senator Wyche Fowler, to help plant a Georgia dogwood at the Third Congressional Arbor Day ceremony. That year, Green also received the Georgia Urban Forestry Council's statewide Outstanding Individual Achievement Award, both for her work in Acworth and for her ongoing efforts to preserve urban forests throughout Georgia.

Little Acworth continues to dream big. Green, a member of the Foundation Board of North Metro Technical Institute, hopes to see an urban forestry institute established at the school. An ambitious agenda has been developed by Green; Sanford Chandler, head of the school's Industrial Division; and other board members with the support of school president Kenneth R. Allen.

"We envision a major place where conservationists, arborists, horticulturists, municipal and utility employees, green-industry personnel, and urban foresters can come together for seminars, conferences, training sessions--a think tank for the entire industry," Green says.

"We already have the existing facilities here at North Metro Tech, including an adjoining 27 acres of land," says Chandler. The first goal will be a start-up Identification Garden, to which trees and nurseries will be added, and where native plants will be made available to the public.

One Foundation Board member has given the school a 180-acre parcel of land, located 15 minutes away. "It's an ideal laboratory," says Chandler, "total forest, except for a nine-acre vineyard, and a 14-acre lake.

"After securing funding, we will build a nature center there where we'll develop interpretive gardens, each year bringing in all the elementary- and middle-school kids from five surrounding counties," he says. "We'll teach them identification, geology, ecology; interested adults and civic and political leaders will learn what tree-protection plans are and how to implement them; and we'll have summer programs to teach teachers. There will even be a nature trail for the blind."

While Atlanta plans for its hosting of the 1996 Olympic Games, Acworth is busy making some Olympic-size plans of its own. Green says that if all their urban-forestry-institute work comes together in time, they'd like to hold an Environmental Olympics in 1996. Competitions for all ages, professional and amateur, would include events such as tree planting and scaling, pruning, and essay writing. It's a fitting goal for a city that remains a proud torch-bearer for the importance of urban forests.
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Title Annotation:Acworth, Georgia
Author:Dawe, Nancy Anne
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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