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Wolff family charges Milton with preserving 74-year history on Lackey Road

MILTON, Ga. — Kirsten Muzinich thanked the Milton City Council Nov. 1 for the wisdom, vision and stewardship they had in creating the Lackey Road greenspace.

“That is going to be the most amazing property and it’s going to be a legacy that Milton leaves for future generations,” Muzinich said. “… I can’t wait to go see it and visit it with my family.”

Years ago, Bernard Wolff approached the city hoping to preserve his family’s property, protect it from development and make it publicly accessible. Then in December 2018, the city purchased the site with funds from a voter-approved $25 million greenspace bond. The property was opened to the public for the first time on Nov. 1.

The greenspace bond allows the city to acquire land for parks, trails and greenspace. These areas are then set aside for passive use, meaning trails or walking areas are allowed on the property but no new buildings or active recreation programming.

The Lackey Road greenspace is a 106-acre natural preserve that sits in southwest Milton off a remote gravel road easily accessible from Arnold Mill Road. It features a 1.5-mile loop trail plus a roughly .3-mile trail that goes to Sweet Apple Road as well as a bubbling creek, flourishing flora and wildlife, and a picturesque lake. The Wolff family owned the property for over seven decades.

Lackey Road greenspace

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Wolff thanked the mayor and City Council for “saving” Lhakapani – a combination the family made up that translates in Urdu to abundance of water for the creeks, waterfalls and lake within it.

“Just real proud to be a citizen of Milton,” Wolff said. “This used to be owned by a couple of moonshiners. My dad was a doctor down in Atlanta, and one of his patients offered to sell him his farm.”

As Wolff tells it, Bernard Wolff Sr. purchased 160 acres in 1947 from two feuding moonshiners. Over time, his family added more property until it reached 231 acres in the 1960s. His grandfather, Joseph E. Brown, was in charge of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in North Georgia during the 1950s when he built the 3-acre lake on the property as well as other North Georgia farms.

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Soon afterward, the family built a cinderblock weekend house overlooking the lake where they spent most summers. Wolff said it was a character-building juxtaposition between affluent Buckhead versus life on a small farm with local farmers who were monetarily “poor” but rich in terms of homegrown food.

However, the area transitioned from a “sleepy farm town with a proud history” to an “increasingly upscale village to support the new, vibrant citizenry,” starting in the 1980s and speeding up after the 1996 Summer Olympics. Although the family had sold off 40 acres to developers, most of Lahkapani remained.

In 2004, Wolff said, the family sold another 79 acres on the western side of the property due to uncontrollable dumping of trash plus the occasional discovery of marijuana gardens hidden in the woods. The Wolff family later worked with the Georgia Forestry Commission to install at their expense a trail system for hiking, equestrian, bicycling and picnics.

When Milton was incorporated in 2006, the family chose to join it after seeing the push for natural areas where people could walk free from the confines of suburbia. Wolff said his family considered making Lahkapani a park or conservation development, but those options would either not provide the retirement income they needed or included high-density development.

“Milton’s leaders wisely established a greenspace bond initiative to purchase undeveloped properties that otherwise would become subdivisions,” Wolff said. “This enabled Lahkapani to become the natural park with trails that the Wolff family and majority of Milton citizens desire.”

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At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Wolff recalled Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Celestine Sibley who purchased an old school site on the property in the early 1960s and reconstructed it into a cabin that still exists today. Wolff said it provided an unending source for Sibley’s daily columns and published books describing her “life in the country,” and her hopes for it to endure.

“Celestine Sibley wrote this beautiful article about walking back home from going up and down Lackey Road,” Wolff said. “In her last paragraph, she was talking about listening to the woodlarks and then smelling all the beautiful flowers and she said, ‘Please God, can you make this last even one or two more years. Please just make it last.’ Y’all have done it. Thank you.”

Councilman Paul Moore played a major role to ensure the property would not require much maintenance and instead would be used to “go out, get on the trail and enjoy nature,” Wolff said.

Moore said the greenspace will be a wonderful asset to the city.

“[Mayor Joe Lockwood], I think you said it best,” Moore said. “It was not really about what was happening today but the tremendous legacy that will live on for the community for everybody to enjoy going forward. It was wonderful to be able to honor the Wolff family this morning and see the joy in their faces for something that has long been in the works.”

The city plans to add more trails to the Lackey Road greenspace in the coming years. The property is located at 990 Lackey Road.

Milton opens greenspace off Lackey Road formerly belonging to Wolff family

Reach Chamian Cruz at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @xchamian.