Dave Butler has the calmest tone of anybody I know. Even, soothing, unflappable. Perfect for the green space restoration expert that he is, accustomed to working with deadlines measured in seasons and years. Nothing hasty. So I knew something was up when a voicemail came through recently.
He was almost breathless. I heard "amazing" and "fantastic." Dave? Was he smoking something? I played the message again.
"I am out here at Zonolite...saw the folks working on the pollinator garden up front. First time I've actually seen it. Looks great. Nice to see that vision actually come out looking good."
He had run into the Floataway volunteers tending the six-month-old garden at the trailhead. After years of talking about attracting birds and bees, the blossoms in just six months were a bright bouquet. And carefully tended and watered by people who love the new park. For an experienced project manager like Dave, having volunteers actually performing what we all too easily promise to do, and don't, can be surprising. Maintaining something? Wow!
Then he kept talking.
"But also, more amazing is the number of birds out here in the wetland and field, because of the grasses and plants that have grown up over here. Literally hundreds of birds are out here this morning. Flocks flying over, some in the trees, but a lot in that growth."
Dave loves birds. I first saw him with binoculars in both hands, on a DeKalb County public school trip to Ossabaw Island. He really knows birds. Here he is, former Audubon Board member, cooing over the bird habitat Zonolite's restoration created. "That growth" means the waist high wild grasses going to seed along the trail through the meadow. Some might see an un-mowed rough. I saw an orange band of broom sedge. Dave saw the homes and dining tables for birds.
"Which is the perfect situation... I mean this is just a perfect example of what we are trying to accomplish."
I stared happily at my phone. Was this really Dave? Saying "Perfect example?" Then he topped himself.
"Fantastic to see this!"
It is fantastic these days when projects take forever to get approval, and cleaning up $2 million worth of asbestos pollution requires a bankruptcy judge to say yes. Then agreeing with neighbors on a best plan for a wildlife corridor that includes people. Of course, how often do volunteers consistently show up? How carefully does the county actually mow the meadow? Dave Butler and dozens of other wildlife lovers from Trees Atlanta, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Audubon and Park Pride are steering the rare creekside woodlands in metro Atlanta back to a safe harbor. Even more rare is an urban floodplain meadow. Keeping it a meadow, and not letting kudzu and privet return? That requires persistence.
"I just spoke to Adam from Audubon, and we had discussed before the cutting that may need to be done to keep the woody vegetation down. And when best to do that."
As the South Fork trails mature and connect, we will all have ideas about maintenance. When to mow? When to leave for seed production? How to keep sight lines open? Who will pay? These are the conversations we are beginning with all our partners. The answers will allow us to grow with grace and respect for our vision of connected corridors for people and wildlife, laying lightly on the land. All of that is ahead. Now, the thrill in Dave Butler's voice reminds me to pause and enjoy what we are already doing.
"Fantastic to see this!"