Restoring the Forest, Removing Kudzu in South Bend Park

before and after photos of South Bend Park kudzu field

South Bend Park is a 76.6-acre City of Atlanta park located in the Lakewood Heights neighborhood in Southeast Atlanta. The park is large and portions are activated with amenities, including a playground, public swimming pool, and tennis courts. The park is notable for the beautiful South River tributary stream that flows through its center. This waterway features beautiful cascades that are a rare gem within the City and a delightful reward for intrepid hikers to discover in this city park.

However, for the nearby neighbors what was also present in the park was less desirable: a large portion of the park was overgrown with kudzu. The overgrowth encouraged dumping, nuisances, and further neglect.

The access point for many hikers begins in this western portion of the park and removing the thick overgrowth would help increase safety by opening up sight lines. Improving the land ecologically and restoring the area with native plants and trees could help bring the park back for the community, improve urban tree canopy cover, and is beneficial for many users, as well as the environment.

With the collaboration of the Friends of South Bend Park and the City of Atlanta, Trees Atlanta has made tremendous progress in the restoration of South Bend Park. The restoration of South Bend Park is part of a larger Lakewood Livable Centers Initiative plan which outlines the restoration of parks, including eradication of invasive plants, reforesting with native plantings, walking/biking trails, and programming for all age groups as a neighborhood priority.

This year, thanks to a 5-Star Grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Fund, another year of work was completed in our multiphase, multi-year restoration project in the park.

This year’s funding was used to improve five acres of forest through invasive species removal, native replanting, protective fencing installation, onsite education, and community engagement. During the past year, Trees Atlanta crews and volunteers, along with the Friends of South Bend Park and Eco-Addendum, have been able to:

  • Remove 9.9 acres heavily overgrown with kudzu and other invasive plants
  • Plant 260 trees, including native fruit trees
  • Plant 200 ground layer perennials that will thrive in the forest
  • Improve and expand fencing that will protect restored natural areas and help prevent streambank erosion
  • Promote volunteerism by engaging 273 volunteers who contributed 980 hours of service this past year
  • Teach 112 members of the Lakewood community through hands-on Forest Stewardship classes to provide on-going community-based care of the forest

This restoration project will increase biodiversity in the park, improve the health of the tree canopy, and increase access to and enjoyment of this neighborhood greenspace for the entire Lakewood Heights and surrounding communities.


Images below show the open areas overgrown with kudzu and other non-native plant species.

Trees Atlanta’s commitment to South Bend Park goes back over a decade when we started planting trees in the park, including trees near the community pavilion, play ground, as well as paths near the swimming pool.  We then began working to remove invasive plants and restore the areas by planting native wildflowers, grasses, and trees.

We are now in our third year of removal and continued control of the invasive plant species. A critical step in the restoration process is to replant native plant species to mitigate the return of a healthy ecosystem. This includes immediate steps such as seeding native wildflowers that will thrive while newly planted trees typical of early succession get established and grow. Other plants were selected and installed based on feedback from the community, such as planting native fruiting trees. Species like serviceberry, pawpaw and persimmon were chosen and they are typical in early succession forest as they would appear in forest edges with access to sunlight.

As the plantings and trees matures, the greenspace and canopy will evolve completing the transition from a kudzu-dominated landscape to a forest-dominated landscape.

Our work in South Bend Park was made possible through the generous support of individuals who give to our organization. Early grants from Southern Company and Patagonia enabled us to invest in the the long process of restoring the neglected areas of this park. This year, the National Fish and Wildlife Fund 5-Star grant along with support from the City of Atlanta allowed us to build on this work and engage other local conservation partners.

To lend a hand and learn more about our Forest Restoration efforts, come volunteer with us or sign up for our upcoming Forest Stewardship training program. Register for class, starts October 9.

Photo credits:
Row 1 (L-R): 1 Ron Racer, Google Maps; 2 Friends of South Bend Park, Facebook; 3 Friends of South Bend Park, Facebook
Row 2 (L-R): 1 Trees Atlanta and 2 & 3 Thomasina Siniard
Row 3 (L-R): 1 – 3 Trees Atlanta, 4 Eco-Addendum


Posted: 8/31/21