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Atlanta's miracle worker.


Something in addition to the upcoming Olympics is firing up Atlanta these days. Thanks to 77-year-old naturalist John Ripley Forbes, a bit of primeval forest has been snatched from the path of the bulldozers that are destroying 30 acres of trees a day in this boom city.

Within earshot of traffic whizzing along one of the busiest roads in the metropolitan area, Big Trees Forest Preserve contains 10 acres of 200-year-old white oaks 45 inches in diameter and other prize hardwoods -hickory, black walnut, winged elm, black cherry-towering above mountain laurel and rare native orchids.

Were it not for the vision and persistence of John Forbes, this green gem would today be leveled for a pair of car dealerships.

Forbes pulled off a miracle, what an editorial in the Atlanta Constitution called "all-too-rare cooperation between nature preservationists and a developer.

Two years ago the owners, Grove Development, applied to Fulton County to rezone the property for commercial use. Forbes read of the impending loss and interceded. Grove cooperated and agreed to hold the property off the market to give the Southeast Land Preservation Trust, a nonprofit land trust founded by Forbes, and other private groups such as Trees Atlanta time to work out a deal.

The property was valued at $4 million, but after negotiations, the developer reduced the pricetag to $3 million. Forbes submitted a proposal to the county to put up two-thirds of the revised price, with his land trust kicking in the rest.

"The county wouldn't put up their money without us coming up with $1 million first," says Forbes. So in just three weeks he and his co-workers persuaded 11 guarantors to co-sign a bank loan. After that, the county commissioners waffled for several months but finally voted six to one to back Forbes' plan for a nature park, which will be owned by the county and operated by the land trust.

Given the tight times, the Constitution applauded the commissioners for a decision that "took some nerve.

This isn't the first time Forbes has pulled off a miracle. Originally from Boston, he once put together $600,000 in six days to save a threatened island on a New Hampshire lake. Over the past 45 years, he has helped 208 communities in 43 states establish nature centers for children.

"I'm one of those bird-watchers and snake charmers," he admits. "And I'm crazy about kids. Put kids and nature together, give them something worthwhile to do, and that will take care of drugs and problems like that.

He expects the Big Trees Forest Preserve to be ready to receive schoolchildren and adults by late spring or early summer. Nearby is a shopping center and a series of upscale car dealerships-Peugeot, BMW, and Lincoln/Mercury-but after traipsing a quarter-mile or so into the trees, visitors will find they can barely hear the traffic.

"You can't, in my opinion, criticize the developer -he's just a guy making a living," says Forbes. "I feel very strongly that development is going to come and that you can cooperate with developers and achieve great results. " John Ripley Forbes has been doing just that-achieving great results-all his life.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Forests
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Earthkeepers; profiles of people who make a difference for trees and forests; John Ripley Forbes
Author:Mabe, Logan D.
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Good Dirt: Confessions of a Conservationist.
Next Article:Trees that heal (and don't).

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