Exploring Atlanta’s Most Interesting Trail
By Rachel Turner
Gather round, children.” I motioned for my kids to put down their tablets and game controllers and circle around me to fully comprehend what I was about to tell them.
“Tomorrow,” I continued once I had their attention, “we are doing something a little different.”
My ten year old raised a skeptic eyebrow as my five year old wandered back to his tablet, just as I expected. The curiosity and anticipation was torturing them. One of them yawned.
“Tomorrow, we are going for a hike.”
My oldest crinkled up his face in confusion, “A hike? Isn’t that like in the woods?”
You know those moments in parenthood when you nod with satisfaction and pat yourself on the back for the great job you are doing? Yes? Well, I had no business doing that here. To be completely honest, I was just relieved that they didn’t immediately ask me if “hiking” was a new app for the iPhone. We are not a great outdoors family. Obviously.
I explained to my children that we would be going south of the city to do a short hiking trail and see an urban art exhibit that exists on the trail. Their unimpressed reactions never wavered until I mentioned that the name of the trail was the Doll’s Head Trail. My zombie-loving oldest was immediately intrigued. Thus began a barrage of excited questions that would lead him (and me) down a winding side road that, when summarized, lead to, “This is not going to be what you expect.”
No, there were no zombies on the trail. No, the dolls don’t jump out at you. No, these are not the toys of murdered children. I feel like my answers should have just been “yes” to all of those. It would have been hard to watch his disappointment when he found out the truth but he might have put on his shoes and socks faster when I said it was time to go.
Here are two fun facts about Doll’s Head Trail. The first is that it is a small trail loop located in the bigger Constitution Lakes Park Trail. Second, it is the creepiest name of a place to take unarmed people, ever. Most of the people I talked to about it assumed it was just an unfortunate name given to an ordinary trail. Ordinary it is not.
Doll’s Head Trail is an urban art installation that was created and is kept up by visitors to the trail. As you walk this particular section of the path, you will happen upon junk turned into art. Several feature pieces of broken dolls from which the trail gets its name. You are encouraged to make art while you are there. The catch is that you can only add to the exhibit with things found along the trail and in the surrounding wood.
Due to flooding from the nearby river, trash and items wash ashore and are then picked up to be used within the park. Walkers (trail walkers, not zombie walkers) are encouraged to create art exhibits directly on the path. This has made for an interesting collection of whimsical, thought-provoking, and downright creepy art pieces.
No, there were no zombies on the trail. No, the dolls don’t jump out at you. No, these are not the toys of murdered children. I feel like my answers should have just been “yes” to all of those.
I loaded up my car with my two kids and my outdoor capable brother-in-law, Eric, and we headed down to Dekalb County in search of this great adventure. My brother-in-law has spent a lot of time in the woods. He is a rock climber, mountain biker, camper, and off-roading enthusiast. These words say a lot about how he is in the great outdoors. He’s capable, smart, and resourceful. They say more about me, however, that I begged a woods expert to come on a flat, barely 1.5-mile hike in a metro Atlanta park. All Trails marked it as easy. Apparently, I needed a sherpa-level guide to help me navigate a loop in the woods.
My kids were as excited to go as you’d expect. Used to spending their Saturdays running in and out of the house playing with electronics inside and sports outside, the prospect of hanging out in the woods with mom and art did not excite anyone. Uncle Eric’s participation brought the cool points up slightly, but the skepticism was as thick as the Atlanta traffic on the drive down.
The park was a little hard to find using GPS, but it’s basically off Moreland in an industrial section of town. Constitution Lakes Park was once a clay brick business, and the lakes are basically flooded clay pits. The hike was lovely and easy and fairly full of people. It was nice to not have to yell at anyone to stop running, screaming, or to “put that stick down”. We were outside. I let them behave as outside boys. This involved a lot of stick handling. What is the deal with sticks?
The Doll’s Head Trail itself was a fascinating sight to behold. Most of the exhibits had some funny little writing to explain what we were looking at. Some were puns. Others were more serious commentary on something greater in society or the world. It was insight into the mind of the art creator. It was like reading my smart friends’ statuses on Facebook, but without the ads or the funny cat videos immediately following.
I enjoyed seeing this trash-to-art exhibit, though it was unanimously thought to be creepy. If nothing else, it was a chance to go do something outside of our comfort zone and see things that are important to other people.
As a parent, one of the most important things I want my kids to learn is that the world is full of people who don’t necessarily think like they do. The world is made up of people who were raised differently, under different circumstances, and have formulated their worldview based off their own experiences. Mostly, I want them to learn it’s okay disagree. I feel like visiting this exhibit, discussing the different pieces, and just getting out in a part of town we aren’t usually in, is a great way to begin to tackle this topic with them.
By the end of the trail (the back half of the trail was incredibly muddy so, as it turns out, the brother-in-law sherpa was a good idea), my kids were having a pretty good time. They were running, laughing and interacting with us and each other. They got their hands and feet dirty, ran, laughed, and never once asked to play on my phone.
I don’t know that this experience alone has changed us into a full-fledged hiking family, but I do think it inspired us to get outside more. We learned that fun days can be simple and free. We also learned to give things that may not initially sound fun a chance.
You need to be able to tell people that you have visited the Doll’s Head Trail too. Go ahead and get that item checked off on your bucket list.
Rachel Turner is a freelance writer and humor blogger. She also runs a traveling murder mystery party business called Make it a Mystery. Georgia born and raised she lives in Woodstock with her husband and two sons. Drop by her blog, www.rachelshumor.com or email her at email@example.com.