Lullwater and the Greening of Emory

Catalyst for a New Environmental Commitment

By Nancy Seideman
Associate Vice President, University Communications
Executive Director, Office of University Media Relations


Lullwater Preserve, located a half-mile from the center of Emory's Druid Hills campus, is a constant, both for the humans who seek its restorative embrace and for its native inhabitants. Walking along its paths today, it's difficult to believe that in 1999 Lullwater represented a flash point for the Emory community, as a proposed road along its periphery threatened one of the few remaining natural areas on campus. The resulting controversy was a painful chapter in Emory's history, but the resolution led to a discovery and re-examination of the University's environmental legacy, and a renewed commitment to stewardship of Emory's environmental resources.

Campus "Breathing Room"

The proximate history of the preserve dates back to 1925, when Walter T. Candler (Emory College 1907), a son of Asa Candler, bought two hundred and fifty acres of the densely wooded land and named it Lullwater Farms. As Walter Candler went about breeding and racing horses and overseeing a farm of cattle, hogs, and chickens, the nearby university continued to raise marble buildings from the mud fields. Lullwater would remain Candler's property until 1958, when the Emory bought it for "breathing room" and to provide a home for Emory's presidents.

The University opened the gates of Lullwater for the public to enjoy the park-like setting, yet within a decade the Emory community began to express concern about the "deterioration" of the property unless protective measures were taken. In the 1970s, the Lullwater Study Committee -- a subcommittee of the Campus Development Committee of the University Senate -- issued specific recommendations to protect the land, including a prohibition against vehicular traffic and discouragement of adjacent property owners from polluting streams that flowed into Candler Lake. By this time the tremendous development along Clifton and Clairmont Roads, with accompanying increases in population, traffic, air pollution, and storm-water runoff, was placing greater stress on Lullwater's ecological health.

In the nineties, Emory embarked on yet another comprehensive campus master-planning process. With a renewed focus on environmental concerns, this plan would spark another shuttle road controversy, which itself would represent a turning point in the University's history and a challenge to the community to provide environmental stewardship in both word and action.

"Stop Construction Thru Lullwater"

The first sign of controversy was the chalked message that began to appear on sidewalks throughout campus and along Clifton Road in early 1999: "Stop Construction Thru Lullwater."

Students from the Emory chapter of the Student Environmental Action Coalition had organized a vigorous protest against a proposed road along the edge of Lullwater. The quarter-mile road, skirting the southern edge of Lullwater, was intended as a conduit for shuttle buses from a new parking deck on the Clairmont campus to the core campus. Highly visible protests to proposed construction rarely occurred in Emory's history, but this time was different. Lullwater was at risk.

The perceived threat to Lullwater galvanized the community in a way that the Committee on the Environment -- and the Campus Development Committee before it -- had not been able to do. Many students, alumni, faculty, and staff members felt that the community was on the verge of losing not only tangible forest and waterways, wildlife and rare vegetation, but also a vital part of Emory's identity -- perhaps even its heart.

The proposed road was part of a new campus master plan that had been rolled out in a series of town hall meetings the year before. The building program was ambitious, calling for a new cancer center, a performing arts center, a new building for the nursing school, a three-hundred-fifty-thousand-square-foot biomedical research building, and new classrooms and laboratories for physical sciences. The Clairmont campus itself would undergo a tremendous transformation, with the demolition of the decades-old University Apartments and construction of new student apartments, an athletics and activities center, a new day-care center, and a parking deck for eighteen-hundred cars.

An unprecedented community dialogue on the importance of Emory's natural areas got under way. President Bill Chace engaged with faculty, staff, and students in a public forum. Campus and local newspapers covered the debate. More than a thousand students, faculty, and staff signed petitions opposing the shuttle road. Those in favor of the road countered by noting that it would significantly reduce traffic on nearby roads and cut both commuting time and pollution.

Protecting Old-Growth Forest and a Rare Flower

After what Chace termed a thorough and "healthy debate," the University Cabinet recommended that the Board of Trustees approve construction of the shuttle road. The design was modified to help avoid old-growth forest and to mitigate fragmentation of the natural ecosystem.

The construction of the shuttle road -- now called Starvine Way, for a rare plant that grows in Lullwater -- and the campus conversation about Lullwater's future was the beginning of a recommitment to environmental stewardship and led directly to inclusion of ecological principles in Emory's current vision statement and strategic priorities.