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Fernbank Forest: 
Planning for the Future!

For the past 48 years, Fernbank Museum of Natural History leased Fernbank Forest® to the DeKalb County School System. This year, the lease expired, and as planned for decades, stewardship of and programming in Fernbank Forest returned to the Museum.  Also starting this year, Fernbank Museum will develop a Stewardship and Master Plan for the Forest and Museum campus. This Master Plan will identify and direct new programs and improvements to Fernbank Forest for the future. Fernbank Forest, preserved by our founders nearly a century ago, is nothing short of a national treasure. It is our intention to fulfill the rich legacy they began in a noteworthy and environmentally sensitive manner.

Fernbank Forest is currently undergoing conservation work. As a safety precaution, Fernbank Museum is temporarily suspending self-guided tours while we make improvements to this natural area’s health. Please continue to check this page for information on guided tours and updates on public areas. While ecological restoration work is being completed, free self-guided tours are available in Fernbank Museum’s nearby Deepdene and Dellwood Parks along Ponce de Leon.

Thank you for your understanding and patience as we ensure these special woodlands remain protected and healthy for many generations to come.

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About Fernbank Forest

Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre undisturbed, old-growth hardwood forest centrally located in metropolitan Atlanta. Although Fernbank Forest is one of the largest assemblages of such land in the Piedmont region, it is a small remnant of the type of majestic forests that originally covered this region of the United States. Since the 1800s, nearly all of Atlanta's original vegetation has been lost to farming and development. Visitors to Fernbank Forest can see the primeval beauty of forestland as Native Americans and early explorers did hundreds of years ago. Trees, shrubs, wildflowers and ferns are labeled for visitors. Many birds, small mammals, turtles and snakes live year round undisturbed in their natural environment. Many species of protected migratory birds also thrive within the forest.   

History

Fernbank Museum of Natural History is one of the largest museums of natural history in the world to have emerged out of natural area. Growing up in the late 1800s, Emily Harrison spent countless hours in the forest surrounding her home just east of Atlanta. A naturalist from an early age, she loved the forest and thrived on learning about the plants and animals around her. One of Harrison's favorite spots was a creek bank covered by a variety of ferns.  Inspired by the profusion of ferns, she called the preserve "Fernbank," a name which was publicly recognized by the late 1930s as an educational treasure.

As an adult, Harrison dreamed of maintaining Fernbank as a "school in the woods" for future generations to study nature. In 1938, Harrison and Dr. Woolford Baker, a biologist at Emory University, led a group of 15 "conservation-minded environmentalists" to establish Fernbank, Inc. with the intent to purchase and preserve the 65 acres of old-growth woodland she was inspired by as a child. 

In the early 1960s, Fernbank trustees entered a partnership with the DeKalb County School System. DeKalb teachers could use the forest to teach biological sciences and supplement Fernbank's long-standing dedication to education. In return, the DeKalb School System would fence the forest and begin a conservation management program. In 1964, the Fernbank trustees deeded four acres of land adjoining the forest to the DeKalb County School System for the construction of a science center, which opened in 1967 to offer science programs to DeKalb school children. 

As planned for decades, the 48-year lease expired in 2012. At this time, stewardship of and programming in Fernbank Forest returned to the Museum. Fernbank Forest is one of the largest urban Piedmont forests in the world and continues to be a source of education for generations of children through nature hikes and educational programs.