Behind the scenes at Bellwood Quarry, where Atlanta's largest park is under construction

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Travel the equivalent of 20 city blocks due west of Georgia Tech, swoop around the bike-lane-lined thoroughfare that is Johnson Road, stand at the dusty gates of an abandoned street called Grove Park Place, and you’ll hear something more than a decade in the making: the growl of heavy construction equipment in the woods around Bellwood Quarry.

Long before it was a captivating filming location for The Walking DeadHunger Games, and Stranger Things, the massive, beautiful pit supplied granite and other materials that were pulverized to create many of Atlanta’s streets. Way back in 2005, during Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration, an initiative was announced to buy the land, transform the quarry into a needed fresh water reservoir, and ring the water with Beltline-connected parks on a scale Atlanta’s never seen.

As of two weeks ago, the latter component is officially, visibly happening—at least in part.

A splashy groundbreaking ceremony held in September for Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry was something of a misnomer, as several months of permitting work and other administrative matters precluded construction. Permits were issued April 10, and work to clear the land and remove debris, invasive species, and derelict infrastructure began in earnest April 22.

It’s part of a 25-acre initial phase, a sort of kickoff park that will finally open the property to the public and showcase the land’s topography, towering trees, and a meadow with views of Mercedes-Benz Stadium—all meant to whet the appetite of Atlantans (and deep-pocketed donors) for more.

The initial phase is just a fraction of what’s planned to be Atlanta’s largest park at 280 acres, which would dwarf the city’s marquee green space, Piedmont Park. But John Dargle, City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner, predicts the $26.5 million section alone could produce a “waterfall effect” for investment in the area.

In conjunction with the Proctor Creek Greenway Trail, which opened last year around the corner from Bellwood’s future entrance, the quarry’s northwest section stands to be an immediate amenity for nearby neighborhoods, Dargle said.

As construction finally launched, we went behind the locked gates for a tour, as highlighted below.

Off Johnson Road, what’s described as a “notable gateway entrance” is in the works. It’ll serve as the main entry after the initial phase wraps, though it’s possible neighbors may be able to access the park at other points.

Just beyond that, the existing Grove Park Place roadway is being converted for pedestrian and bike use only. Security cameras and new lighting will be included.

Other spurs of busted asphalt lead to what will be passive park space, allowing for various patron uses in a meadow setting, similar to expanses at Piedmont Park, officials said.

To the right of the entry, clearing is underway for a 250-space parking area that aims to incorporate green elements.

Lauren Standish, a principal with design firm HGOR, said the parking lot is designed so that stormwater will drain through bio swales, instead of traditional curbs and gutters.

The center of the parking area, Standish noted, will see a series of weirs, allowing rainwater to percolate into the ground and water plants attractive to wildlife.

Throughout the initial phase, expect about one mile of ADA-accessible trails, some of them with city views.

One section is being designed to provide a pedestrian connection to and from the Proctor Creek Greenway, officials said.

Deeper into the site, linked to the trail system, the initial phase’s likely star attraction is the “grand overlook”—an ADA accessible platform meant to maximize views of the quarry reservoir and manmade city landmarks beyond.

An updated rendering wasn’t available. But Standish described the initial phase’s overlook as being on grade with the rest of the site, with a guardrail. The eastern edge would align with the quarry’s uppermost rocks, and it would slope upward, away from the city, for elevated viewing.

Meanwhile, six months after Driller Mike—a Goliath tunnel-boring machine named in honor of homegrown rapper Killer Mike—completed its five-mile journey between the Chattahoochee River, Hemphill Water Treatment Plant, and the quarry, work continues at the pit’s base and deeper underground.

The $300 million investment will eventually create 2.4 billion gallons of reserve drinking water for Atlantans.

Department of Watershed officials said this week that crews are still busy lining the tunnel bore by Driller Mile with concrete—about 500 feet per week—as work on a new pump station at the quarry’s rim continues.

Watershed officials weren’t able to provide an estimated timeline for filling the quarry with diverted Chattahoochee River waters once the tunneling project finishes.

But the city’s Water Supply Program is expected to increase Atlanta’s H2O reserves from less than a week’s worth to at least 30 days—and up to as much as 90 days. That’s in addition to creating a scenic, cliff-lined park amenity.

The expected completion date—February next year—could roughly coincide with the debut of the first park section. Officials are confident the initial phase will open to the public next spring.

As the quarry project progresses, and the initial phase comes to fruition, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation is fielding surveys and hosting community visioning meetings with Atlantans spanning a wide swath of town, from Underwood Hills to Southwest Atlanta and beyond, officials noted.

Parks commissioner Dargle wouldn’t venture a guess as to how many phases of construction might be required for the park to reach its 280-acre potential. When it might be completed is anyone’s guess, he said, depending on funding from both private and public sources.

But after a decade of nebulous Bellwood plans and hype, the ruckus of construction is a welcome sight.

“The goal is to make it a regional park,” Dargle said. “It’s exciting to be involved with this.”