Environment

The Woman Who Revived Her Neighborhood Park

Ruby Mitchell-Harrison led a charge to clean up a neighborhood park.
Ruby Mitchell-Harrison led a charge to clean up a neighborhood park.
Credit DUSTIN CHAMBERS

There are big things happening on the west side of Atlanta right now: investment, development, new greenspaces. A handful of the initiatives are part of the long-term cleanup of Proctor Creek, a troubled waterway that flows from downtown to the Chattahoochee River.

The city is creating large parks along the creek and a trail that will connect to the BeltLine.

There are smaller projects in the Proctor Creek area, too, for instance, the revitalization of a neighborhood park in the northwest corner of the city.

Lillian Cooper Shepherd Park is not super flashy – just a nice, neighborhood park. It’s just inside the Perimeter, and it’s a little bit hidden, down a dirt trail between houses, and then the park opens up behind them. There’s a basketball court, colorful play structures and a grassy field.

But it wasn’t always like this.

“Before we began to rebuild the park, this was used like a chop shop, that’s what they called it,” says Ruby Mitchell-Harrison, a retired scientist. “Stolen cars and park them and trash them. Oh god it was terrible.”

Ruby Mitchell-Harrison says the woman Lillian Cooper Shepherd Park was named after was a center of the community. (DUSTIN CHAMBERS)

Mitchell-Harrison grew up around here. Moved away for years, working as a contractor for NASA, and then, when she came back, she worked to get this park cleaned up. She pushed city council to pay attention and she helped secure grants to add playground equipment.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, about a dozen little kids are playing in the park.

“The older kids haven’t gotten off their bus yet, they’ll be coming around 4,” says Mitchell-Harrison.

Proctor Creek doesn’t run right through here, but it’s nearby, and a little tributary to the creek does flow through the park. Getting this park cleaned up means the tributary is in better shape, which means Proctor Creek is in better shape.

That’s basically gravy for Mitchell-Harrison.

“It’s more than just about the land and the water, it’s about the people,” she says.

Mitchell-Harrison says the woman this park was named after, Lillian Cooper Shepherd, was a center of this community.

“And she was a fireball. She would go down to City Hall and tell them what was needed,” she says.

Kind of like what Ruby Mitchell-Harrison has done here, transforming Lillian Cooper Shepherd Park.

This is part of a continuing series about Proctor Creek that airs on “Morning Edition” with WABE host Denis O’Hayer. Previous stories have covered the history of activism in the area, the root of the problems with the creek and public health