Until I read the wonderful book by Jonah McDonald, Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests Intown and Out, I had no idea just how many trails, streams, forests and birding areas were hidden in the midst of this city’s neighborhoods. In fact, hiking and walking in these areas can provide great insight into how the city developed over time, revealing its roots. I highly recommend this book as a guide to Atlantans or visitors to Atlanta who want to get out and enjoy nature without traveling too far from home, and especially to those who wish to see some of the fine, old trees still standing. Who knows? You may even discover a trail in your own back yard.
One of these hidden forests lies in south DeKalb County, south of downtown Atlanta and I-20 and just off Moreland Avenue. Constitution Lakes is a wildlife preserve and part of the DeKalb County park system. The area is unique and has an interesting history.
Above: Our first visit to the area in Fall 2015 and the always changing Doll’s Head Trail.
Before the Civil War, this area was the site of the South River Brick Company, a major supplier of brick for Atlanta’s buildings from the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s. After the company was sold in 1915, the brickworks subsequently fell to ruin and the excavation pits filled with water to become what is now Constitution Lakes. Train tracks pass through one side of the area which provided materials and commerce for the brickworks in the past.
The next few decades found the area being used as a dumping site for old brick as well as refuse from people and trains passing through. In 2003 DeKalb County bought the land and added a parking lot, a paved walkway down to the lakes and boardwalks. A local carpenter who had often visited the area, became a driving force in helping to restore it to the interesting park that we see today. While doing extensive clean up work and trail blazing, he gathered a lot of the old terracotta brick, tiles and trash and repurposed them into “found art” pieces ranging from sculpture to poetry and historical markers. A dedicated section of the park called “The Doll’s Head Trail” now showcases this found art, and is always changing with recent additions. Visitors are encouraged to contribute their poems or creative works to the trail from found materials and debris within the park, as long as you follow the posted rules for doing so. At times you may even find Sharpie markers hanging along the trail to use for your contribution. This now infamous trail is definitely a “do not miss” part of any visit to Constitution Lakes.
Above: Different seasons, the aging of the old and addition of the latest artwork made our third visit to the area and The Doll’s Head Trail a new experience. Click on any image for captions and to see a slideshow.
The park as a whole consists of a series of paved trails, boardwalk trails and hard packed dirt trails, including the recently completed section connecting the boardwalks over the wetlands to a loop through forest and back to the parking lot. The lakes are a lively wetland habitat and host birds, fish, wildlife and a variety of plants which can be seen from the trails and viewing decks. Walking here at various times of the year we’ve seen deer, butterflies, turtles, fish, bullfrogs, tadpoles, blue dragonflies, heron, egret, geese, ducks, lily pads, cattails, wildflowers and various trees including willow oaks along the water’s edge—just to name a few things. And let’s not forget the artwork along the Doll’s Head Trail. Overall, Constitution Lakes Park is a unique and amazing place to see, and a favorite of ours.
Above is a view of the marsh flora on our second visit the summer of 2017, during a drought and while the water was very low.
Below are scenes of the trails and wetlands from last weekend, May 2018. What a difference rain and a year can make! Click any image below for captions and a slideshow.
The whole loop through the forest, wetlands and Doll’s Head Trail is around three miles of flat terrain, making it a perfect short hike for a busy Saturday. We recommend starting on the hard packed dirt trail accessed to the right of the concrete seating area in the parking lot, and finishing your loop by coming out on the paved trail. The Doll’s Head Trail is well marked on approach from any direction. However, for handicapped access or if you just want to see the lakes, viewing decks and the Doll’s Head Trail, you should enter from the paved trail.
To find out more about Constitution Lakes as well as directions by clicking on this link and visiting the Friends of Constitution Lakes Facebook page.
1305 South River Industrial Blvd SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30315
Additional Trail Tips:
• Because this is a wetland area and habitat, the dirt trails may be muddy after rain and the mosquitoes will be out during warm months. Bringing and using some mosquito repellant on yourself if you aren’t covered up, might not be a bad idea.