A hidden oasis for nature lovers beckons dog walkers with its cool streams and shady trails, just off one of the busiest streets in the city of Atlanta. The Blue Heron Nature Preserve on Roswell Road covers nearly 30 acres of land bursting with native plant and animal species. In just one walk on the quiet, groomed trails a hiker can see turtles sunning near the pond, colorful birds flying overhead, little schools of fish swimming in the creek and small critters scurrying through the woods.

Visitors can explore the trails and learn as they go with signs that describe the native plant species and the various conservation efforts underway. The Woodland Loop and Painted Turtle trails are easily accessible from several points in the Preserve and nearby neighborhoods, a detail which has helped cultivate strong relationships with nearby homeowners. Dogs can enjoy the winding trails or splash in the cool, clear creek.

Not only can nature lovers walk the trails, but they can also attend any of the various events the Preserve hosts throughout the year, or enjoy the carefully curated art exhibits, both indoor and out. The annual Doggie Daze summer event is just one of many such social gatherings, this one specially planned for dogs and their owners. Many community events throughout the year, such as open houses and art gallery openings, invite Atlantans to learn more about the biodiversity in their own backyard. Experienced gardeners or those who want to test their green thumb can rent a plot in the community garden, which is bursting with colorful flowers and produce, all pollinated by the bees and butterflies buzzing around.

Education isn’t only in the informational trail signs around the preserve, it’s also incorporated into every event, be it a family firefly hike or an Atlanta Audubon bird walk. Oglethorpe University partners with Blue Heron to offer service learning and hands-on education to its biology and urban ecology students. Many elementary schools and community residences around the city have joined the Preserve in its Meadows for Monarchs program, which builds meadows and gardens specially designed to support the Monarch Butterfly population as it migrates south.

Founded in 2000 by a local school teacher and the North Buckhead Civic Association, the Preserve was created to save seven acres of floodplain along Nancy Creek from development. Tireless work by local residents, community groups, businesses and students to remove invasive plants and stabilize stream banks culminated in a peaceful place to enjoy the natural beauty of the Southeast.

After the success of the first seven acres, the City of Atlanta added three more pieces of land to the Preserve. These were the nine-acre wetland at the end of Emma Lane, the five-acre site of Nancy Creek Sewer Tunnel and the 5-acre site of THW Architects at 4055 Roswell Road. The area has a great deal of history, and local historical societies have helped the staff delve into the stories that built this area.

The Preserve’s trails are open from 6 am to 11 pm every day in accordance with City of Atlanta park hours. The building is only open by appointment or during special events. To learn more about Blue Heron or support its mission, go to bhnp.org.