Olympics Bring Environmental Battle to Stone Mountain
Jan. 01, 1994
STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. (AP) _ Rising 700 feet above the north Georgia woods, Stone Mountain may be the world's largest monument to a lost cause - a memorial honoring Confederate heroes of the Civil War.
A new cause unites environmentalists and residents opposed to further development of Stone Mountain Park, including plans for the 1996 Olympics.
So far, they have won some battles and lost some.
Plans were scrapped for Olympic rowing in the state park's lake and for an incline railway to carry visitors to the mountain's summit, although reasons other than environmental opposition were cited.
A group called Friends of Stone Mountain Park, which has about 100 members, then turned to a proposed $19.5 million Olympic tennis center. The project would bring 19 courts and seats for 20,000 people to the park, 16 miles east of Atlanta.
''I wish I could convey to you how ridiculous it is to try to put a tennis center in Stone Mountain Park,'' said Mary B. Owens, the group's president.
The group maintained the center would disturb the natural plant and animal habitat and increase traffic in the 3,200-acre park, which they consider already overdeveloped.
On Dec. 20, the park's board gave the go-ahead for the project after determining that the construction will not damage the park's environment.
Board chairman Walter Gordon said the facility would provide ''a lasting legacy for the Olympic games ... in keeping with the statutory mission of providing public recreation at Stone Mountain.''
Stone Mountain, with a base two miles long and a mile wide, is the largest granite outcropping in North America, if not the world.
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who later left to work on Mount Rushmore, began the Confederate memorial carving on the north side of the mountain in 1923, a huge depiction of Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis mounted on horseback.
In 1958, Georgia purchased land to establish the state park. Walker Kirtland Hancock resumed the sculpture in 1964. It was completed five years later.
The park, overseen by a board appointed by the governor, includes a lake at the base of the mountain, museums, a golf course, miniature golf, batting cages, a video game room, forested nature trails and a restored plantation.
The scenic setting so close to Atlanta was a draw for the Olympics, but Olympic plans have been scaled back.
The international rowing federation was ''very excited about the prospect of Stone Mountain,'' said Charlie Battle, ACOG's managing director of sports and international organizations.
But rowing was moved elsewhere after it turned out that two islands in the lake would have to be eliminated. So would the peninsula location of a carillon tower, a popular attraction.
''If there was going to be a project that would have some environmental problems, it would have been that one,'' Battle said.
''The scope of the work was a little more than we had anticipated,'' he said. ''We just weren't willing to spend the money that was involved in the rowing.''
Still, the rowing venue change gave the Friends of Stone Mountain Park a taste of victory.
The group focused on the incline railway, part of the park's 10-year master plan. The railway up the western slope, to be completed by 1996, would have carried 1,000 people an hour to the summit and replace a 30-year-old sky lift that has a view of the carving on the north face.
The Friends of Stone Mountain Park said the railway would disrupt the natural habitat, including two protected species of plants, and would be an eyesore.
The board voted in November to scrap the railway after Gov. Zell Miller asked it to reconsider environmental aspects of the plan. The board cited a report that the plan would be more costly than first believed.
Battle said two other Olympic facilities - an archery range and velodrome -are still planned for Stone Mountain Park, but they would be removed after the Games. The tennis center would remain, scaled down to hold other tournaments and serve park visitors.
Larry Winslett, the Friends' environmental chairman, said cycling and archery would be more destructive than the tennis center because they ''are supposed to be in the natural area.''
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