So many things shut down in 2020. But the Atlanta BeltLine – offering fresh air, exercise and open space – mostly thrived. It also became a reflection of our community, of politics, of our suffering through COVID and racial injustice, and sometimes, a place to stretch and breathe.
Here is a look back at the year.
The Atlanta BeltLine is bustling. A musician performs outside the newly renovated Kroger. People flock to the trail for exercise, social activity, restaurants, shops and people watching.
Skaters perform to music as a crowd forms under the Freedom Pkwy bridge
The O4W Skate Park floods from heavy rains. Within a week, things will shut down.
As businesses and schools shut down, these signs appear on the BeltLine, encouraging people to stay home and off the trail.
A rare sight - not a soul at Krog Street Market. But the 'shroom shire cheesesteaks from Fred's Meat & Bread are just as good to go.
Food trucks set up daily at Historic Fourth Ward Park, part of the BeltLine's park system. If we can't go to the restaurants, they come to us.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms imposes guidelines for BeltLine usage to minimize crowds. It doesn't seem to work, as people respond that they are seeing scores of 20 and 30 year olds crowding the trail in the mornings, when it is supposed to be limited to seniors. Few people keep a distance of 6 feet. Joggers fly by, nearly clipping walkers, their mouths open and slinging saliva and breath. Hardly anyone wears a mask. For many of us, the BeltLine does not feel safe.
There are numerous calls to close the BeltLine, but it remains open.
Renowned chef Kevin Rathbun closes 2 of his 3 restaurants on the BeltLine, Krog Bar and Rathbun's, which have been there longer than the trail. He has been one of the BeltLine's biggest supporters. Below, an empty patio at Kevin Rathbun Steak, which is still open.
One good thing that comes of the pandemic is the reduction in scooter traffic on the BeltLine. Before the shutdown, the scooters became such a nuisance and a danger that the Atlanta City Council passed multiple restrictions on them. Even tighter rules were about to go into place, but the pandemic seemed to solve that. Nobody is riding scooters when they're not leaving their homes.
In 2019, there were at least 4 scooter companies on the BeltLine, with hundreds of scooters littering and damaging the trail. A walk on the BeltLine meant dodging dozens of hazardous scooters.
A year later, the scooter population is vastly diminished.
Restaurants attempt to reopen, only to be swarmed with people aching to shake off quarantine. Nina & Rafi, offered on BiteLines food tours, has a line and a wait. They stop seating people by 8 p.m. because with tables blocked off to social distance, they cannot accommodate any more. But if you can get in, the pizza is well worth the wait! Next door, Guac y Margys, another restaurant on BiteLines food tours, also reopens. With outdoor seating, people are again enjoying Guac y Margys' amazing margaritas, tacos, guacamole, salsa and cheese dip.
Below, a line and a sign at Nina & Rafi; Lingering Shade Social Club advertises its reopening; COVID signs at Krog Street Market; Recess at Krog Street Market switches to sidewalk ordering; outdoor seating in a tent at Parish Cafe; Guac y Margys reopens; a sign at Bell Street Burritos.
As America melts down over race, and we experience the deaths of the esteemed John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as actor Chadwick Boseman, the BeltLine becomes a reflection of the community around us. More than a walking trail, the street art expresses the grief and suffering of many of us.
The Lantern Parade, which has been held on the Atlanta BeltLine every year for 10 years, is not held in person this year. It is one of the funnest events in Atlanta and drew 70,000 people in 2019. This year, people are asked to hold their own private parades at their homes. It's incredibly disappointing but is the safe thing to do.
Below, the Lantern Parade from years past.
As we turn the corner into fall, and election season heats up, the BeltLine becomes yet another place to encourage people to vote.
Below, a Vote mural under the John Lewis Freedom Pkwy. bridge; street art under the North Highland bridge; a Go Vote sign outside Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall.
With a subdued holiday season underway, some businesses, such as Krog Street Market, Ponce City Market and Ladybird, bring us some cheer.
Below, street art under the John Lewis Freedom Pkwy. bridge; Ladybird's patio; Ponce City Market; Krog Street Market
Throughout the lows of 2020, the BeltLine has been a steadfast presence. It has held the energy and desperation of many of us, whether we felt safe there or anxious. At times, it has given us hope. It has been a place for us to congregate, move and connect with each other - maybe in ways we didn't anticipate. But then who among us anticipated any of the events of 2020?
I support the Atlanta BeltLine as much as I can. I figure it's worth a few dollars for something that brings me so much joy. If you want to donate, too, you can do so here. If you're not in a position to do that, no worries, the trail is still there for you.
Wishing you and your loved ones a safe New Year's Celebration, and much health and happiness in the coming year.
Hope to see you (safely) on the BeltLine in 2021!
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the Founder & CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking food tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. The BiteLines blog features art, restaurants, happenings and weirdness on the Atlanta BeltLine. Share story ideas and pics at: email@example.com. Or follow on Instagram @bitelinesatl.
Note: We have paused our tours during the pandemic, but will ramp up again as soon as it’s safe.