The John Ripley Forbes Big Tree Forest Preserve is a quiet oasis within a busy urban area. Located just four miles north of the Perimeter Mall area in the City of Sandy Springs, the preserve is the perfect place for a nature walk. The thirty acres of forest is one of the last of its kind in a growing area of metro Atlanta.
The forest was named after late Atlanta resident John Ripley Forbes, who led the way in promoting and developing the preserve in 1989. The land had been slated to be cleared and marketed for commercial development, but Forbes thought it should be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. Forbes was a well known authority on the development and organization of wildlife sanctuaries and natural science centers, having assisted in such developments in 31 states. His leadership helped facilitate the purchase of the acreage.
The ten acres fronting the road is owned by the state of Georgia. This area has been designated for more general use, and a short handicapped accessible trail provides access for people of all abilities. The back twenty acres is owned by the City of Sandy Springs and is preserved as undeveloped forest. The back acreage has three mulched trails that lead visitors through hardwoods, with an understory of dogwoods, sourwoods, and native azaleas. The topography of the land is hilly, and the trail follows along a ridge overlooking Powers Branch gorge, passes large white oaks between 100-200 years old, and crosses another creek, Trowbridge Branch. The trail passes near two historic features. One is the former Roswell Road, a wagon trail used in the 1800s. The other is the abandoned 1901 Bull Sluice railroad bed. The railroad was used for hauling construction materials during the building of Morgan Falls Dam on the nearby Chattahoochee River. A National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program grant made possible the construction of the backcountry trails.
The forest provides a habitat for numerous types of birds and animals. The trails are for walking only and are meant to provide opportunity for quiet reflection. Visitors are requested to stay on the paths to prevent soil erosion. Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash at all times.
The U.S. Forest Service has developed a self-guided tour of the forest, and a brochure is available at the preserve entrance. Another brochure emphasizes the Powers Branch watershed education program.
Forbes Big Tree Forest Preserve is located at 7645 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs, next to the North Fulton County Government Annex. It is open daily from sunrise to sunset. There is no admission fee, and plenty of free parking is available. This quiet natural area is one of Atlanta’s hidden gems.