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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?

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.”

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.

Recap: Piedmont Park Dog of the Year Contest

With an abundance of wagging tails and adorable faces, the first ever Piedmont Park Dog of the Year Contest was a ‘bone’ified hit! Leading up to the in-park contest, almost 80 dogs competed in a photo-based contest online to rack up the most votes on their photo by the July 29 deadline. From dogs in bow ties and sweaters to pups exploring all areas of Piedmont Park, the voting page was so cute that it racked up a total of more than 50,000 votes over the course of one month of voting.

On Saturday, July 29 at 11:00am, the top 12 finalists with the most votes on their photograph that also met the contest requirements (including proof of rabies vaccination and a Piedmont Park Conservancy membership) went into an in-park competition at the Piedmont Park Dog Parks. The Piedmont Park Conservancy in-park competition was hosted by Conservancy volunteer Fred McFarlin,  and guests enjoyed free giveaways including cold water, dog treats, and one free drink for every contestant and viewer at Park Tavern after the show!

The top 12 contestants were all able to earn over 1300 votes on their photographs, ultimately earning them a spot in the finals. Finalists included:

  • Addison, also known as Addie – an 18-month-old Sheepadoodle from Sandy Springs “Oliver Row”
  • Django – a four-year-old Goldendoodle from Midtown
  • Harlow – an one-year-old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel from Midtown
  • Callie – an 11-year-old Goldendoodle from Midtown
  • Kooper – a nine-year-old Vizsla from Virginia Highlands
  • Ponce – a two-year-old Doberman from Midtown
  • Duke – a three-year-old miniature Pinscher (Min Pin) from Midtown Garden District
  • Rocky – a two-year-old Beagle/Blue Tick Coonhound from College Park
  • Rocket – a five-year-old Terrier mix from Reynoldstown/Cabbagetown line
  • Porter – a two-year-old mini-Australian Shepherd from East Lake
  • Sarah – a 10-year-old Golden Retriever from OTP Atlanta
  • Tank – a 14-year-old mini-Pomeranian from Peachtree Battle

At 11:00am, these top 12 finalists found out they were going into the in-park portion of the competition and lined up in the contestant waiting area. Amy Han Dietrich from the Piedmont Park Conservancy then made remarks about how over 700,000 visitors enjoy the Piedmont Park Dog Parks each year, and how the Conservancy thought that was a great reason to host a Dog of the Year competition. Also, Dietrich reminded the viewers that each of the finalists are members of the Conservancy, and how they were all good dogs of the park. The Conservancy utilized this competition to celebrate the frequent use of the dog parks as well as raise awareness that the dog parks are 100% maintained by the Conservancy and relies on private donations from users and corporate sponsors.

Dietrich then introduced the judges:

  • Bridget Matheson from Dog Days Atlanta who donated 3 free days of doggie day care for any of their 3 locations, treats, a toy, and a doogie poop bag to the winner.
  • Bryan Kolton from Bark ATL who donated a food scoop and water bottle to ALL the top 12 contestants, a free day of daycare to the top 11 runner ups, and a Day of Bliss coupon for the winner that’s good a free day of day care as well as a free bath and nail trim.
  • Liz Rupp from Dancing Dogs Yoga Atlanta who donated one month of yoga and a manduka yoga mat to the winner— as well as one week of yoga to each participant.
  • Kalia Edmonds from the Piedmont Park Conservancy
  • Mark Nelson from the Piedmont Park Conservancy

The competition then began with a mini-dog parade that allowed viewers to take their first look at the finalists, and for the judges to rate their behavior.

Harlow

Kooper

Porter

Sarah

Tank

Then each dog was directed by their owner to “sit,” and then had 30 seconds to “free-style” and win over the judges. Free-style acts included laying down, turning, jumping, just being absolutely lovable, and so much more.

Rocky

Rocket

Ponce

Duke

Django

Callie

Addie

Finally after each pup had a moment in the spotlight, the contestants were released in their respectively-sized dog park, and judges watched as they rated friendliness with other dogs.

Finally after much anticipation, Ponce was named the Piedmont Park Dog of the Year! Ponce came up to the stage and briefly held a pose for pictures, but then laid down after his amazing performance in the competition, allowing onlookers to continue taking his picture.

As Piedmont Park Dog of Year, Ponce will hold the status from August 1, 2017 through July 31, 2018. Ponce and her owner Chris Beauregard will help announce the opening of this year’s Splish Splash Doggie Bash on October 7-8, 2017 as well as announce take-off at the Conservancy’s Doggie Dash 5k in the spring of 2018. Ponce will also receive a photo shoot and be featured as the Dog of the Year on Piedmont Park’s social media, dog newsletter and more!

The contest wrapped us with appreciation extended to the contestants, judges, Park Tavern for the post-Yappy Hour, and the Piedmont Park Conservancy volunteers and staff.

Replacement of Piedmont Park’s Beloved Climbing Magnolia

The Vasser Woolley Foundation donates $20,000 for tree and care

In spring of last year, Piedmont Park was highlighted in the AJC for being home to the most recognizable and most photographed tree in Atlanta – the “Climbing Magnolia.” If you grew up in Atlanta, or are a frequent park visitor, chances are you have either climbed on this tree yourself or taken a picture in front it. Its sweeping limbs made the perfect perch for that keepsake photo or unique vantage point of Atlanta’s historic park.

But in July 2016, the Climbing Magnolia sadly toppled over succumbing to a column of rot that had weakened its core. Based on its rings, many believe the magnolia dates back to the Cotton States Exhibition in 1895 -an important milestone in Atlanta’s history.

Fortunately, a 20’ magnolia, with a 70” root ball, weighing over 8,000 lbs has been successfully installed in Piedmont Park. The Piedmont Park Conservancy extends great appreciation to the Vasser Woolley Foundation for donating $20,000 towards the replacement, installation and ongoing care of this iconic Atlanta landmark. The Conservancy looks forward to the many years ahead of the new Magnolia.

Moments before the new Magnolia Tree is planted.

Jennifer Rudder places her hand on the 70″ root ball.

Piedmont Park Conservancy staff members Krystal Collier, Amy Han Dietrich, Jennifer Rudder and Terrell Henderson posing by the new magnolia tree.

Wedding Flair Runs through Piedmont Park

If you were in Piedmont Park on Sunday, May 21 and thought you saw a bride running away from you, your eyes did not trick you!

Whether you saw a white tutu, bright dresses or tuxedo-like attire, you were spotting participants of the Piedmont Park Conservancy’s first Run Away Bride 5K. Atlantans came together to raise money for the Conservancy and to show off their creative running costumes. Thank you to the vendors and race participants for making this event a success!

Congratulations to the top winners!
Top Male: Thomas Geeker 23:48.41
Top Female: Meave Kelly 24:12.43
Top Couple: Meg and Doug Brooks 22:55.42

 

See more photos in our Facebook Album!

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