Big Trees Forest Preserve
Backcountry Trail System
Download our trail map
The Big Trees Forest Preserve initially focused on developing its first 10 acre acquisition fronting Roswell Road with approximately 2/3 mile of footpaths and a handicapped-accessible trail. Later, 20 additional acres across Powers Branch on the back of the preserve was purchased and subsequently developed with a trail system to provide more opportunities for forest education and scenic, recreational walks.
The "Backcountry Trail System" consists of three trails: (1) Backcountry Trail; (2) Spring Hollow Trial; (3) the Jackson Overlook Trail. These trails total slightly less than one mile in distance. They are for foot travel only and are easy to walk with no steep grades.
The Backcountry Trail is the longest trail (3/4 mile), forming an elongated oval around the back 20 acres of the preserve. This scenic trail features a cliff above cascading Powers Branch gorge. It also passes the fern-lined banks of Trowbridge Branch. The trail is fully canopied with a middle-aged hardwood and softwood forest amidst an under story of dogwoods, sourwoods, large colonies of native azaleas, blueberries, sparkleberries and various wildflowers.
The Backcountry Trail topography is hilly with interesting trail features, such as large trees, small rock outcrops, springs and streams. The trail gradually gains a total elevation of 120' from a low of 920' to a high of 1,040' above sea level. This is equivalent to gradually climbing a twelve story building.
The Backcountry Trail also passes near two historical features on the Trowbridge Branch side of the preserve. One of these is the long-abandoned "Bull Sluice railroad" bed. Constructed in 1902, it was used for only two years exclusively for hauling material to construct the Morgan Falls hydroelectric dam on the nearby Chattahoochee River. The Trail also passes near the former "Roswell Road", a wagon trail used in the 1800s before the present Roswell Road was build in approximately 1902.
The Spring Hollow Trail connects the Backcountry Trail to the Powers Branch Trail, passing a small spring. The Jackson Overlook Trail connects the Backcountry Trail to a large observation deck overlooking Trowbridge Branch and follows the "old Roswell Road" a short distance before climbing onto a section of the Bull Sluice R/R bed at a former trestle site.
It then continues switch backing up the hill to the overlook deck overlooking Trowbridge Branch. This deck was provided by Frank Jackson for the benefit of his customers and Forest users.
The fundamental purpose of the Backcountry Trail System is to provide a scenic pathway of opportunity to understanding forest dynamics. Learning about flood control, watershed protection, aquifer recharging, water and air purification, soil retention, temperature moderation, habitat enrichment, passive recreation, visual, mental and spiritual decompression, natural succession, forest resource management, and other compelling reasons for appreciating forests values are well exemplified in this convenient and beautiful, woodland setting.
The construction of the Backcountry Trail system was provided through a grant from the USDI National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program in 1997.
Use the self-guided brochure for a trail description of the front 10 acres and its relation to the Powers Branch Watershed.
Nature Trail Guide
The following information is from the NATURE TRAIL GUIDE brochure available at the information box near the entrance of Big Trees Forest.
As you walk along the nature trails, you can use this brochure to explain the 15-stop, self-guided watershed education tour which reads as follows:
This nature trail shows you how human impact can have postive and negative effects on water quality and the forest community.
You may be surprised at how your actions can change nature. Enjoy a pleasurable walk along Powers Branch, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River. This urban forest full of beauty and wonder is your backyard.
Stop #1. RETURN THE FOREST TO HEALTH.
You are standing at the site of a former cotton farm that was originally settled in 1866. Notice the terraces that were created on the land in the 1920's to help control soil erosion. Farming caused the disapperance of many native plants in this area. In an effort to restore and heal the watershed that supplies the Chattahoochee River, Big Trees Forest Preserve carefully manages this forest, assisting it in returning to its original health.
Stop #2. REGENERATION IMPROVES WATER QUALITY.
The Depression in front of you is the site of the original Roswell Road, abandoned in 1902 when the present day road was built. Dirt roads erode, continually depositing unnatural levels of silt and soil in nearby streams. Because the forest has been allowed to evolve naturally, this former dirt road is covered with leaves and humus, which hold soil in place and halt erosion.
Stop #3. NATIVE PLANTS STABILIZE THE SOIL.
This is a native plant and wildflower educational meadow developed and maintained by the Huntcliff Garden Club and the North Fulton Master Gardners, Big Trees Forest volunteers. A natural opening in the canopy allows light to shine through, nourishing these plants that stabilize soil and keep streams clear. Gardening with native plants is a great way to have a positive impact on water quality.
Stop #4. MANY STREAMS MAKE UP A WATERSHED.
A watershed is an area bordered by ridges and drained by a stream or river. The stream below you is Powers Branch, which drains the local watershed. Rainfall from the surrounding neighborhood flows into it, feeding the Chattahoochee River. Along with that rain comes a number of unwanted human impacts - litter, chemicals, and eroded soil - that lower water quality.
Stop #5. EXOTIC PLANTS THREATEN FOREST HEALTH.
This is the original homestead. To your right is the largest white oak in the forest. The early owners planted a variety of invasive, exotic plants such as English Ivy, vinca, Chinese privet, and Japanese honeysuckle. They have since crowded out native plants that provided biodiversity and food for wildlife. In order to help protect watershed health and forest habitat, native plants should be maintained and replanted if possible.
Stop #6. A STREAM IS HEALTHIER THAN A CULVERT.
Roswell Road once forded the creek here, and a railroad ran on the terrace on the opposite side of the stream. As recently as 1989, this forest was slated for development, with this stream being scheduled to be diverted through a culvert under 20 feet of dirt and asphalt. John Ripley Forbes, founder of the Southeast Land Preservation Trust, started a drive to save this forest that same year. As a result, rainfall now drips off trees and is absorbed into the surrounding soil, so that a peaceful forest survives damaging impacts.
Stop #7. FISH NEED CLEAN WATER.
Look closely for small bream at the water's edge. In the early 1990's, this stream showed no signs of life. In 1997, when construction upstream concluded, the stream slowly flushed itself of eroded soil and poisons and returned to life. Eventually, the fish you see, as well as salamanders, crayfish, insects, and snails made their way upstream into the cleaner, healthier water.
You may wonder why the water has a blue cast in some places. The discoloration is a result of petroleum residues that collect on pavement and flow into the stream with rainwater. This runoff pollutes the water that animals, fish, and people drink.
Stop #8. FALLEN TREES HELP SLOW THE STREAM.
The two trees stretching across the stream here are victims of unnaturally fast rain runoff from parking lots and roads upstream. The rushing floodwaters eroded the streambank, causing it to collapse. Leaving the trees in the stream helps slow storm runoff, which can help prevent further bank erosion downstream.
Stop #9. STRONG BANKS PREVENT EROSION.
Across the stream, an Eagle Scout built this rock "retaining" wall that saved the trees and bank from further erosion. This is a positive human impact. As you walk the next 150 feet of stream, note how the unprotected banks have been worn away by floodwaters. They are scoured free of plants that provide soil protection.
Stop #10. RESTORING STREAM BANKS BENEFITS WILDLIFE TOO.
Volunteers have planted the native azaleas in front of you to help strengthen and restore the streambanks. Additonally, this vegetated area and the brush piles behind you serve as homes for wildlife like small birds and rodents. They also control recreational traffic, keeping the trail narrow and helping prevent further erosion.
Stop #11. TREES HOLD THE WATERSHED TOGETHER.
Across the stream, tree roots are working hard at holding rocks and dirt in place. Without these roots, this section of bank would fall prey to the same runoff that scoured the banks downstream. Trees and plants are important throughout the forest in helping prevent soil erosion.
Stop #12. PARKING LOTS DON'T ABSORB WATER OR LITTER.
This spillway drains a parking lot. When rain comes, it rushes down like a whitewater stream instead of being absorbed by the ground and gradually released. This action flushes debris on the parking lot into Powers Branch. Look closely and you may notice bits of trash and cigarette butts about to enter the stream. Consider the effect that hundreds of watersheds with hundreds of parking lots have on the water quality of the Chattahoochee River.
Stop #13. HIGH WATER NEEDS A PLACE TO GO.
These massive rocks rolled into the streambed as a result of developing the parking lot and sewer line on the terrace above you. They narrow the stream channel causing floodwaters to back up and overflow during heavy rain. This further erodes the banks and path you are standing on, which fills the stream with additional soil and silt, ruining aquatic habitat and lowering water quality. A rock retainer wall is built upstream to help deflect floodwaters from the trail.
Stop #14. NATURAL RUNOFF IS SLOW AND GRADUAL.
Below you is a natural spring. Look downstream and notice the plants growing in its path. Water absorbed into the soil above the hillside is gradually being released into the stream, the way nature intended. This provides stream plants and creatures with plenty of water during dry spells and involves minimal erosion.
Stop #15. PASSIVE RECREATION MAKES NO IMPACT.
Have a seat on this natural rock bench and admire the large native azalea in front of you. Listen to the water and the birds around you. Feel the spirit of the forest as you relax and reflect. This is the peaceful atmosphere that Big Trees Forest Preserve seeks to preserve; a visual, mental, and spiritual refuge. This type of relaxed recreation is good for the soul of the individual and promotes a high-quality watershed and forest environment.
We hope you've enjoyed the Big Trees Forest Preserve Nature Trail. In essence, you've seen that your backyard is a big as the watershed that your personal actions influence. You've seen how human impacts like development, recreation, and pollution can hurt water quality. You've also seen how people can have a beneficial impact on water quality through proper stewardship and management. Continue following the trail and return to your backyard.
This brochure was written and designed by Rob Porter, University of Georgia, and developed and provided by the USFS Chattahoochee National Forest through a grant from the USDA Forest Service Southern Region.