Buford Highway advocates say they are excited about the recent grand opening of the first mile of the Peachtree Creek Greenway in Brookhaven, but add they will be watching to see its impact on those currently living and working along the corridor known for its cultural diversity.

A map of the Peachtree Creek Greenway’s proposed route, connecting Doraville and north of Mercer University in unincorporated DeKalb County to Buckhead via Chamblee and Brookhaven. (Peachtree Creek Greenway, Inc.)

The Dec. 12 grand opening of the first mile of the Peachtree Creek Greenway between North Druid Hills and Briarwood roads in Brookhaven marked a milestone in what is envisioned as a 12-mile linear park and multiuse trail that would connect the cities of Atlanta, Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville and parts of unincorporated DeKalb County. Brookhaven officials envision the trail becoming a regional attraction and sparking redevelopment along Buford Highway.

“All eyes are on the impact,” said Lily Pabian, the executive director of We Love BuHi, at the ceremony. We Love BuHi is the influential nonprofit founded by Brookhaven resident Marian Liou.

“This is opening [Buford Highway] up a little, but on the other side is the concern of what will that do to the community? There’s excitement and curiosity,” Pabian said.

A short distance away from the Greenway at the North Druid Hills Road and I-85 interchange, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is building out a 72-acre campus including at $1.5 billion new hospital. Emory University has started on its $1 billion redevelopment of Executive Park, across the street from CHOA. Both developments plan trails to connect to the Greenway.

Pabian said she and her organization are excited and cautious about how it may affect existing small business owners along Buford Highway. The Greenway could bring in much needed foot traffic to restaurants and other businesses, she said. But concerns about gentrification and the displacement of those currently living and working along Buford Highway are also being raised.

Brookhaven’s population is 27% Latino, according to city statistics, with much of that community living on Buford Highway. Aixa Pascual, who works at the Latin American Association on Buford Highway, said she hopes the Greenway brings together different communities.

“Some say Buford Highway is the heart of Atlanta, the unsung community … and to see [the Greenway] come alive on Buford Highway is wonderful,” she said at the ceremony. “I’m hoping it will be positive for the community.”

Cyclists and pedestrians on the Peachtree Creek Greenway at the Dec. 12 grand opening. (Dyana Bagby)

Visitors to the Dec. 12 grand opening included Vanessa Nolley of Covington, Ga. She came to the Greenway opening as part of a scouting trip for a new trail for her and her friends who are members of GirlTrek. GirlTrek is a national health movement that encourages black women to walk.

“We love the outdoors and walking on new trails, and I’m here checking it out to tell my ladies about it,” she said while standing at the Briarwood Road trail head. “I really like it. We usually walk 7 or 8 miles, but I like the water feature. We’ll probably come here and check out the Brookhaven area.”

The “model mile” between North Druid Hills and Briarwood roads cost $10 million, according to the city. Money to pay for construction came from the city hotel-motel tax. Future sections are planned from North Druid Hills Road to the Atlanta border and then from Briarwood Road to the Chamblee border.

“Hopefully this model mile and its success will show DeKalb that they have got to focus time and money and get it done and bring it out,” said Debbie Miller of DeKalb County as she walked along the trail with her friend, Nikki Vandergrinten of Chamblee.

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