Two and a half years ago Vinh Glover and his wife Martha Brown moved into a house directly behind Clarkston’s Friendship Forest.
“I remember walking behind the house and discovering these nature trails back there that looked like they hadn’t been used in years,” Brown said.
The trails Brown had discovered were, at one point, part of Friendship Park, which had become overgrown and had fallen into disrepair. Soon, Brown and Glover began working to revitalize the area.
“We started volunteering but it was more like the military coming in because we didn’t have the support of anyone else,” Glover said. He said the early cleanup projects consisted of him and a large group of volunteers “invading” the forest to spend hours cleaning trash and other debris.
Glover then decided to document one of those early cleanup efforts with a video camera.
“We made a movie and showed it at city hall and let everyone know that we would like to take care of our own backyard,” Glover said.
Clarkston City Manager Keith Barker said over the past years the city was sometimes at odds with residents’ volunteer efforts at the forest because they felt like taking care of the forest was the city’s responsibility, not theirs.
“There’s been a void of leadership and you’ve got the citizens like Vinh and other organizations who have sought to fill that void,” Barker said.
Barker was hired last year, and Glover said since then he’s seen the forest, and the neighborhood, get healthy. Glover attributed it to the city’s new willingness to work together with residents to revitalize the area.
“I feel like our city council has definitely gotten more progressive,” Glover said.
Last month, the Clarkston City Council passed a community gardens policy and ratified a memorandum of understanding to allow a community garden to be established at Friendship Forest and other locations throughout the city.
“We’ve also received a grant from the DeKalb Department of Health to hire a part-time employee to help us forward that effort,” Barker said.
The city also received a $25,000 grant from the DeKalb County Community Development Department to remove cement from an old parking lot, basketball court and tennis court from the forest grounds.
“Additionally, we’re going to apply some of our own funds and plant ground cover grass in those newly exposed areas, as well as trees and wildflowers,” Barker said. “Lastly, there’s a little stream down there backed up with debris and we’re probably going to use storm water utility funds to trench that out.”
Barker said having green space in Clarkston was a tremendous advantage for the city, and residents like Glover and Brown helped turn what was once an old park in disrepair into a beautiful forest and wildlife sanctuary.
“You could look at this as a potential headache, and it probably was at one time. But, with the proper attention and management it could turn from a headache into a tremendous benefit for the community,” Barker said.