Blue Heron Nature Preserve has opened a new solar-powered research center — including beehives, an amphibian farm and more — tucked away between houses on Land O’ Lakes Road.
Blue Heron plans to have the organizations housed at the preserve use the property to work on various research projects, including bird surveying by Atlanta Audubon and amphibian breeding by the Amphibian Foundation. The preserve celebrated the opening at an Aug. 11 event.
Ten solar panels will be used to power the facility. The panels were donated by several solar companies and volunteers will install them in the coming months when the remaining materials arrive, said Miranda Swaim, the communications coordinator, on a recent tour.
The new Field Research Center is a former garage structure that previously shared its lot with another garage and single-family home at 3931 Land O’ Lakes Road.
The single-family house and an additional garage were demolished in 2015 after being purchased by the city from a developer. The developer initially bought the property to redevelop it, but later learned flood plain regulations prevented him from doing so, Swain said.
The idea to restore the property into a research center came from the founding executive director, Nancy Jones, who has since retired. Jones closely watches property sales around Blue Heron in an effort to piece together properties and grow the preserve, Swaim said. Jones originally founded the preserve in 2000 to protect the area from development.
Blue Heron began restorations on the property in early 2016, including removing invasive plants and replacing them with native grasses and flowers. Much of the work has been led by Brooke Vacovsky, the project and operations manager.
Volunteers have helped with restoration work, including removing a quarter-acre of bamboo, Vacovsky said.
“It’s been done with a lot of volunteer power,” she said.
Blue Heron has also installed a bee apiary, a facility to grow amphibians and renovated the garage to be used for research.
“We’ll use the apiary to help teach about native bees and their role in our environment,” Vacovsky said.
Several large containers are set up to allow amphibians bred by the Amphibian Foundation to finish growing. The foundation is working to restore the populations of endangered species, including the flatwoods salamander and Carolina gopher frog.
Tanks that will eventually be filled with younger amphibians are lined up along one of the walls in the building.
One of the preserve’s four education centers is located on the site. This one focuses on woodlands and is used for Blue Heron’s various youth education classes, Swaim said.
During the tour, local artist Alison Hamil was at work painting a large mural of a blue heron along the wall of the garage.
The property can’t be seen from the street, and is hidden at the bottom of a steep driveway. Like Blue Heron itself, the property is unexpected, tucked away in the middle of Buckhead.
The research center connects to Blue Heron’s Emma Wetlands and is planned to be connected to the rest of Blue Heron’s property with the completion of its Blueway Trail Initiative. The first phase plans to bring three miles of low-impact trails and boardwalks to the preserve and is halfway funded, Swaim said.