Ranger Robby celebrates Arabia Mountain turning 50
If you’ve ever been to Arabia Mountain in East Dekalb, you may have felt as if you were walking on the moon. The granite outcroppings called “monadnocks” cover the mountain’s surface, creating otherworldly landscapes. This year, the 2,500-acre nature preserve turns 50. The Arabia Preserve manager Robert Astrove joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about this remarkable local landmark and his role in celebrating Georgia ecology.
“We like to joke that the mountain has been here for 400 million years, but it didn’t become public until 1972,” said Astrove. Originally a rock quarry similar to Stone Mountain, the land was owned by the family owners of Davidson Granite Enterprises. But in 1972, the Davidsons released 550 acres to Dekalb County for ecological conservation.
To care for the newly demarcated preserve, volunteers, county government employees and community leaders joined to create the nonprofit Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance. Not just maintaining and managing the mountain itself, the Alliance keeps pristine lands stretching well out into what Astrove calls the “viewshed,” the regions visible from the peak of Arabia Mountain. “What you see is all green and very little influence of humans and homes. And so it’s one thing to have a vision to protect the place. It’s another thing to actually protect a literal vision,” he said.
Since the seventies, the acreage preserved in the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area has expanded to over 2,500. With the preserve’s expansion has come increased awareness of the Georgia gem. While Astrove considers Arabia Mountain a big success story, balancing public enthusiasm and protecting the delicate environment is important. “I’ve actually turned down awards to kind of keep the secret a little more hidden,” Astrove admitted. “Instead of promoting ourselves, we’re now promoting the use and practice of ‘leave no trace’ back-country ethics, which is essentially teaching the public how to tread lightly when they come to a park-like this, that has sensitive plants.”
Astrove, who worked for Trees Atlanta, has a passion for plants. He’s a dedicated forager and particularly enjoys the edible berries of serviceberry (a.k.a. Amelanchier, juneberry, or shadbush) trees and shrubs. During the pandemic, his love for the plant led him to create a brand new annual Serviceberry Festival near the East Atlanta Farmers Market to help sustain struggling restaurants and spread serviceberry appreciation.
“I called up some of my favorite chefs and mixologists to be a part of it,” said Astrove. “There was a serviceberry salsa. There was a serviceberry ice cream. There was a serviceberry waffle. We had serviceberry cocktails – serviceberry ten different ways.” The festival celebrates its second year on June 2.