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Bird-Watching on the Fifth Runway?
Al Snedeker

Few things are more relaxing than retreating to nature with a pair of binoculars and listening to the melodious chirpings of Georgia’s native birds.

Sounds good, but on the fifth runway? Well, not exactly. But “The Most Important Runway in America” is in part responsible for helping create a place south of the Airport in Fayette County where a bird watcher’s wildest dreams can come true.

Reporter Bethany Conrad and videographer Anthony Edwards produced this video.
To meet federal requirements to replace wetlands disturbed by construction of the fifth runway, formally known as Runway 10/28, Hartsfield-Jackson planners and engineers have teamed with Georgia-based Southern Conservation Trust, Register Nelson Environmental Consultants, C.S. Britton, Inc. Environmental Contractors, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revitalize wetlands drained years ago on a 56.5-acre parcel of land known as Sams Lake.

The Best Made Plans
The Sams Lake project was almost complete in 2004 when a series of tropical storms wiped out most of the work. “After the storms, we had to start from scratch, which took several months to complete,” said Kathryn Masters, a senior Hartsfield-Jackson engineer.

However, a funny thing happened in the intervening 24 months or so. “We hadn’t seen the site for quite awhile, and when we got there and looked around we were amazed at what we saw!” said Masters. What happened was Mother Nature had taken matters into her own hands. The area was lush with vegetation and alive with the sounds of songbirds.

This changed the way Masters and her colleagues approached the renewed Sams Lake wetlands restoration projects.

Mother Knows Best
“Mother Nature has a way of knowing what’s best. We studied the way vegetation and habitat grew on its own during the period of time following the hurricane,” said Masters. “We then worked closely with Register Nelson and Q-B Engineering and Surveying to develop a restoration plan that would enhance what was already happening naturally.”

Although the official opening of the Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary, located off Senoia Road in Fayetteville, isn’t scheduled until September, the restoration is proceeding very well, according to Trust Executive Director Abby Jordan.

“The new plan for the site is much more natural than the original plan before the hurricane,” said Jordan. “It requires very little maintenance; it’s holding more water than we expected, and it is developing excellent habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including deer, snakes, turtles, heron and all sorts of other birds.”

Located in the Flint River Basin, the Sams Lake area is not only important to the local flora and fauna, it also plays a key role in controlling flood waters. “Wetlands act like a sponge and soak up excess rain water,” explained Jordan. She added that wetland areas also help improve overall water quality.

This is good news for birds and bird watchers alike. Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary features a half-mile mulched walking trail and three dams, which have created ponds that are ideal habitat for nesting and migrating birds. Three observation decks are also being built for bird watchers to get up close and personal with Georgia’s finest feathered friends. When the sanctuary is complete, it will be free and open to the public.

For more information about Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary and Southern Conservation Trust, visit www.sctlandtrust.org.


© 2008 Hartsfield-Jackson News. A Publication from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. All rights reserved.


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