Above, Evie Hoffman and Debbie Tinsley, both of Lilburn, run on the Camp Creek Greenway Trail in Lilburn on Tuesday. The trail was recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as a certified wildlife habitat because it provides, food, water and places for animals to take cover and to raise their young. Top left, the entry to the Camp Creek Greenway Trail in Lilburn is pictured. Top middle, birdhouses are seen along the Camp Creek Greenway Trail in Lilburn. (Staff Photos: Brendan Sullivan) Top right, a squirrel rests on a fencepost at the Camp Creek Greenway in Lilburn. (Staff Photo: Camie Young)
Debbie Tkac remembers the moment.
Walking along the Camp Creek Greenway in Lilburn, she looked up and stopped, caught between awe and fear.
Tkac saw three deer — one a buck with horns big enough to make her wonder if she should find a place a hide.
“I just froze. It was like a stand-off,” she said, before the trio walked away, leaving Tkac with a new appreciation and wonder at nature’s treasures.
“It’s really delightful,” Tkac said of the greenway, which stretches beside the railroad tracks and creek in a place once forgotten behind neighborhoods and businesses. “You feel like you are in a wildlife preserve.”
Now, visitors to the Camp Creek Greenway really are in an animal sanctuary, after the trail was recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as a certified wildlife habitat.
Susan Hendricks, a member of the Lilburn Woman’s Club whose own Lake Lucerne home has the distinction, said she knew that the city’s hidden gem deserved the certification.
“This is just a really nice trail,” Hendricks said. “This was easy to do because it’s so natural like this.”
The NWF guidelines say anything from a balcony to a park could be a wildlife habitat, as long as it provides, food, water, and places for animals to take cover and to raise their young. Of the 150,000 certified wildlife habitats in the country, more than 500 are in Gwinnett and 75 are in Lilburn.
As evidenced by the myriad squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, birds and other critters often spotted at the greenway, nature has provided most of those amenities.
Local Boy Scouts have added bird houses and bat boxes, and the Ladybug Garden Club has taken care to make sure that the vegetation is maintained.
Jo Pell Holbrook of the Ladybugs said their job maintaining 16 gardens along the trail isn’t just about beautification but providing food for the wildlife.
“It’s so quiet out here,” Holbrook said, adding an exception for the chorus of frogs and screech of hawks. “You would think you were 50 miles from a city.”
Hendricks, a retired middle school science teacher, said she likes to take field guides out to the trail to identify the species she sees. While some people make a point to keep their heart rates up exercising on the trail, Hendricks likes to go slower, pointing out the wildlife to children.
“If you can, come here at different times of the day,” she said. “Walk quietly and slowly, watch the edges of the woods along the path and you will see and hear all kinds of wildlife. The greenway trail is alive with wildlife.”
Mayor Johnny Crist, who runs along the greenway four times a week, said he appreciates the Woman’s Club’s work on the designation.
“People ride on bikes, they in-line skate, they run,” Crist said. “People aren’t dealing with stop lights. You don’t deal with exhaust. … Within a quarter mile, you’re in another world.
“This is going to be preserved,” Crist said. “We are interested in the environment as well as the advancement of the city.”
That’s what matters to Hendricks, who said the designation shouldn’t be the ultimate goal.
“We know these great places are there out, but to have them registered makes citizens more aware,” she said. “Recognition like that brings attention to it.
“The interest is not just to make the habitat but to maintain it,” she said, looking into the trees. “I think it’ll be like this forever.”
Gena Lavigne and Anthony Washington have lived in Lilburn for years but they just discovered the greenway a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s lovely. I’m kind of mad we waited so long to try this out,” Lavigne said of a trip back to the trail just days after their first.
The couple said the wildlife designation is so appropriate, as they spent much of their walk admiring the music of the frogs and the songs of the birds.
“We’ve heard a lot of nature,” Washington said. “I can’t wait until spring, when it all fills in.”