Stone Mountain: Atlanta’s Granite Outcrops, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 3-Part series on Atlanta’s Granite Outcrops. To learn more about Atlanta’s Granite Outcrops and the unique ecosystems they support, please consider attending our upcoming Speaker Series event with experts from Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, Panola Mountain State Park, and Stone Mountain.

Speaker Series: Granite Outcrops in Georgia’s Piedmont Region
Thu Feb 24 | 7pm-8:30pm | Trees Atlanta Kendeda Center


Written and photographs by Rosemary Cox, Trees Atlanta certified volunteer TreeSpeaker

Sunrise streaked the cold January sky orange and gold as my friend Michele and I set out on our usual Friday morning ramble on the loop trail around the lake at Stone Mountain Park. Walking sticks in hand, we set out, hoping to catch traces of activity at the beaver lodge or perhaps see the first spring ephemerals poking through the leafy hardwood forest floor.

The Park maintains fifteen miles of hiking trails, all with varying levels of difficulty, some traversing through diverse forest habitats (such as the Songbird Habitat Trail) and others, like the one-mile trail to the mountain summit, crossing expansive granite outcrops that host endemic, threatened and endangered plant and animal communities. Each year, millions of hikers, joggers, cyclists and eco-tourists visit Stone Mountain to use these trails, and the Park has made great strides towards balancing community access with conservation: the Natural District (which comprises two thirds of the Park, including the mountain) restricts traffic to one-way, and through dedicated sidewalks, cycling lanes, well-defined trails, quality monitoring, signage and education, human impact on the natural environment is minimized.

In partnership with the Georgia Native Plant Society, the Park actively promotes the rescue, propagation and planting of native flora, and removal of invasive species, especially in the Nature Garden area, named for my father, Harold Cox, who was Director of Horticulture at the Park from 1961 until he retired in 1983. Many Park visitors are familiar with the more visible indigenous plants—such as the Diamorpha smalli which carpets granite depression pools in scarlet from March through April, or the Helianthus porteri which illuminates the granite in the fall with brilliant rivers of golden blooms and is the mascot for the annual Yellow Daisy Festival. But fewer people know that the Park is a member of the Georgia Tree Council and has a program to protect its landmark trees, including the native Georgia Oak (Quercus georgiana), the state co-champion Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) growing at the site of the cottage by the greenhouses where I grew up, and the grove of endangered American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata) at the mountain’s base. Every season brings new perspectives, making Stone Mountain a unique natural destination within Atlanta’s urban forest


Posted on: February 22, 2022