Her Happy Place

Leaning forward and lacing her shoes, Sylvia Russell feels the calm breeze of fall hit her face.

Looking around, she sees a child gazing at her father with arms wide open. A biker leaves a swell of wind when she dashes past on a winding path.

Tap. Tap. Tap. At the Active Oval, Sylvia’s shoes hit the gravel as she begins her run.

Ever since she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Sylvia has been faced with a choice: take medications or do high intensity workouts to tackle the increased chance of osteoporosis.

“It makes a difference that I have Piedmont Park,” Russell says as she explains her choice of working out. “I don’t even feel like I am exercising.”

Her heartbeat increasing, Sylvia’s busy mind begins to slow down and find focus.

“Whatever problem I am facing or stress I’m feeling when I enter the park, by the time I leave, the load seems lighter,” says Russell, “that’s why I call Piedmont Park my happy place.”
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As Sylvia finishes her final lap around the Active Oval, she looks around at all the people in the Park. “As I frequent this park, I see all walks of life come through here,” she says, “and it makes me feel good; it’s how I want the world to be.”

Like thousands of other Atlantans, Sylvia has found a place in beautiful Piedmont Park that makes health and exercise an enjoyable experience.

It’s because of the work of the Piedmont Park Conservancy that Sylvia and others have access to a 208 acre park that is beautiful, clean, safe and active. The Piedmont Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, raises and invests $3 million annually to enhance and program this historic green space.  Many do not realize that the Conservancy relies heavily on philanthropic donations as it does not receive direct funding from events or festivals.

Though, “to remain beautiful, the park needs help,” Russell says. “It depends on the contributions of the community. It feels free because you don’t have to pay to get in here, but it’s costly to run a park. And it’s worth it. It’s an investment for Midtown and Atlanta.”

Take pride and give promise to Piedmont Park by making a donation to the Piedmont Park Conservancy.

Something to Be Proud Of

Across the Table with President/CEO Mark Banta
By Annierra Matthews

Shuffling in my seat, I prepare to meet the face of the Piedmont Park Conservancy: President and CEO Mark Banta. He walks in with his typical jolly smile, and his token bottle of water. This month, the Conservancy is celebrating all of the pride for beautiful Piedmont Park. So this week, we wanted to hear it from the top: what is there to be proud of Piedmont Park?
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President and CEO Mark Banta

I start by asking “Why should neighbors and friends be proud of Piedmont Park?”

“Piedmont Park attracts over 4 million diverse visitors every year deriving from 134 zip codes,” says Banta, “The Park is neck and neck with Stone Mountain for the number one free place to visit in Georgia.” The park offers free access to over 200 acres to the Atlanta community and its tourists.

Also, Banta tells us that 88% of those visitors agree that Piedmont Park has enriched their life. “That is a statistic we should be very proud of,” he says.

Then I was curious and asked “How do you show your pride in Piedmont Park through your role as President and CEO?”

“[Being proud] is all encompassing in the job itself,” Banta says. “The role of the CEO is to make sure all the parts of the team work together to create the environment that we want: the customer service experience, the physical beauty of the park, and the programming. These are the elements that touch the public.”

I ask him what his favorite part of Piedmont Park is, and Banta gave me a direct answer. “I am proud that there is something for everyone,” says Banta, “the park is so big and active that different people with different interests all have something to find in Piedmont Park.”

“In what ways have your seen the local community show they’re proud of Piedmont Park?” I ask.

“When we have individuals who are willing to take their time—reducing their free time, exercise time or dog-walking time—and they instead come and invest it in Piedmont Park, then they are giving back to us,” he says. “They are being proud of this being their park, and they take ownership.”

“You’ll see people walk by and pick up and piece of trash, and you’ll see people say, ‘Hey, you have to clean up after your dog,’” Banta answers, “or they’ll tell the staff, ‘Thank you for what you do.’”

In addition, Banta shares another way the community expresses their pride for Piedmont Park. They recount memories and describe passion for the Park to the people in their lives. Fans “share their experiences with people through social media by posting pictures and sharing their stories,” he says.

I express to Banta that being the CEO to such a big park seems challenging. Banta responds that he “doesn’t look at being the CEO as a challenge, but rather an opportunity.” He describes the immense amount of possibilities for Piedmont Park and how the Conservancy is working every day to fulfill those dreams. “We just need to keep working on communication, be true to ourselves, and tell people who we are…then it gives them the opportunity to understand the importance of the Conservancy, appreciate that and support us.”

Seven Men. 208 Acres. One Big Impact.

Every morning around 7:30am, seven men wearing “Piedmont Park Conservancy” imprinted on their chest set out on golf carts, trucks and mowers to tackle the 200 plus acres of beautiful Piedmont Park. With the sun slowly rising, the smell of morning dew and a small collection of people seen jogging through the Park, each man starts the day on his own mission. Some will pick up rakes and blowers. Others will count out screws and wires. A few will check systems and computers, hoping no new surprises popped up overnight.

Amongst trees, flowers and open fields of grass, you will typically find Landscaper John Frazier. Being with the Piedmont Park Conservancy for over 14 years, John says that he loves his job because he can work with his hands and enjoy the outdoors, all while watching the fruits of his labor grow. John is usually paired with contract worker Chris who likes “making the Park look pretty for people to enjoy.”

“The atmosphere is great,” John says. “The people I work with have great attitudes. It’s a great learning process. Making the Park better each year is great.”
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John Frazier

Peek between buildings and spot a red golf cart to find Operations Manager Todd Williard. Todd began working at the Conservancy because of his interest in the preservation of Piedmont Park.

“I demonstrate my love for the park by showing up every day,” Todd says. “I enjoy working outside, and I love being involved in the Conservancy.”

Todd, often found wearing his cowboy hat and a button down shirt, is the go-to man for detailed projects, broken machines, and handy work that the average person looks at with a blank stare.

Wind around the corner and find Stanley Lofton, another landscaper with a friendly personality and often a wave. Stanley spends his days blowing an immense amount of leaves, mowing large acres of grass, budding flowers to promote their growth and so much more. Ask Stanley how his day is going, and you are always met with enthusiasm and passion.

“I love the Park people,” Stanley says. Working in Piedmont Park has “a sense of freedom. Piedmont Park has history, you know? I’m from Atlanta, and Piedmont Park is the crown jewel of the city. I’m part of Piedmont Park, and Piedmont Park is part of me.”

Stanley Lofton

Keep walking through the Park, and find a man standing on a ladder tinkering away: Maintenance Engineer Michael Paul. Usually surrounded by an immense amount of tools and measuring tape, Michael performs multiple roles from technical projects to IT functions for the Conservancy. Michael expresses the same passion and dedication in his work as the other team members.

“I support the mission of the Conservancy,” Michael says. “It makes me proud because when people stop, ask me questions and say that they enjoy the Park, I know how much work goes into it. I get the opportunity to interact with the public which opens the door to talk about the Conservancy.”

Michael Paul testing Legacy Fountain under ground

Hop over to the Active Oval to see Landscaper Alan Wise, continuously mowing or raking the fields in systematic lines and patterns to beautifully curate the sport fields. Alan works hard to care for the fields which attract over 68,000 reserved players each year.

Alan loves Piedmont Park “because it’s the heart of the city [and] it connects people with nature.”

Some of Alan’s other duties include checking reservation permits, managing signage, and prepping bases, nets and other recreational items. When he isn’t working on the Oval, Alan aids the other team members to further beautify the Park such as mulching the Dog Parks, supporting volunteers and trash pickup.

Alan Wise raking the fields

Need to take a bathroom break? You might run into Landscaper Lorenzo Marshall. Toting buckets, cleaning supplies and a friendly spirit, Lorenzo is charged with taking care of all of the bathrooms in Piedmont Park. With an increased visitation of Piedmont Park, this job gets harder and harder every day. Yet, Lorenzo always shows up and gets the job done. After cleaning bathrooms, Lorenzo might be found clearing pathways, caring for plants and other landscape projects.

Lorenzo Marshall

Lastly, you might see Mark Nelson driving by checking on various projects or sitting in a meeting to strategize the next move. Mark, the Director of Operations, impressively manages the team and the countless projects that pop up all over Piedmont Park. He determines which projects are delegated to the Conservancy team or the City of Atlanta. He communicates with the rest of the staff to update them on projects and field incoming questions. Mark also gets his hands dirty, using his horticultural and landscape expertise to complete specialized projects with the Park.

Mark Nelson

Standing from any Piedmont Park gate looking in, anywhere your eyes can see is likely to be impacted by the Piedmont Park Conservancy operations staff. Whether you love to visit the Dog Parks, play in the playgrounds, shop at the Green Market, attend camp, splash in the Legacy Fountain, or jog around the running track, you can see the efforts of this hardworking team.  The Conservancy is lucky to have such a dedicated and self-motivated team that also hold personal passions for the work that they do. The next time you are out in the Park, give a wave hello and strike up a conversation. They’re friendly guys, and are definitely Piedmont Park Proud.