If you’ve lived in Atlanta for years but have never heard of the Flint River, you’re probably not alone.

And that’s understandable, given that the Flint—albeit Georgia’s second longest river—has seen most of its headwaters buried and piped underground to allow for urban development in metro Atlanta, leaving it all but forgotten.

But now MARTA, of all agencies, is teaming with conservationists in hopes of changing that.

The transit authority’s Board of Directors Planning and Capital Programs Committee voted today to sell a 7.25-acre parcel at the Flint’s headwaters to the City of College Park.

The city plans to use the land to create its first nature preserve and outdoor classroom—a key part of a broader initiative called “Finding the Flint.”

Looking south, the acreage in relation to the airport, downtown College Park, Woodward Academy, and other area landmarks. MARTA's red and gold lines run about two blocks from the site. Google Maps

Development over the river dates back to the early 1900s, when Coca-Cola magnate Asa Candler transformed the rare flat, but swampy acreage into a racetrack that later became Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Today, the Flint’s headwaters flow along Willingham Drive from MARTA’s East Point and College Park rail stations into the airport property.

The triangular 7 acres in question will be turned into a “lush greenspace” a few blocks from Woodward Academy and downtown College Park, according to Mayor Bianca Motley Bloom.  “It’s a win not only for College Park but for the entire region,” the mayor noted in a prepared statement.

Redevelopment plans for the 7.25 acres in question. Courtesy of MARTA

The Headwaters Nature Preserve, as the project will be called, is the northernmost site identified by The Conservation Fund to help bring the Flint River to the forefront of metro Atlanta’s consciousness.  

Stacy Funderburke, The Conservation Fund’s Georgia/Alabama associate state director, called the College Park site critical for raising interest and visibility. “We believe that the hidden headwaters of the Flint River can be restored ecologically and transformed into a community amenity,” said Funderburke.

The Headwaters Nature Preserve is the northernmost of priority projects illustrated here near Atlanta's airport. Courtesy of MARTA

Added MARTA general manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker: “From reducing flooded streets, which can sometimes impact the reliability of our bus service, to helping people have additional routes for walking and cycling in the area, MARTA is pleased to be able to contribute in this way.”

MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher said the agency is asking $218,000 for the land, noting, "[That's] a lower valuation than might be expected for that much acreage, but it is wetland."

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