Running parallel to MARTA’s East Line tracks, DeKalb Avenue connects Decatur with downtown Atlanta. Its route also follows a feature of great geological importance to Atlanta — the ridge known as the Eastern Sub-Continental Divide.
The divide’s significance is that it separates the two major river systems that drain most of Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River Basin and the Altamaha River Basin. That’s why you’ll this magnificent mural — the so-called Watershed Mural — gracing a concrete retaining wall along a stretch of DeKalb Avenue at the edge of the Lake Claire neighborhood in northeast Atlanta. On the map, the 350-foot-long painting, also known as the “Native Waters” mural, stands between DeKalb Avenue’s intersections with Arizona Avenue and Connecticut Avenue, near the Edgewood-Candler Park MARTA station.
Fifteen years ago, the Lake Claire Neighbors association commissioned nationally renowned muralist David Fichter to depict the two river basins in their entirety — from their beginnings in North Georgia to where they eventually enter either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
Because of the Eastern Sub-Continental Divide, if you held a bucket of water in each hand and stood in the middle of DeKalb Avenue facing west towards downtown Atlanta, the water you dumped to the right technically would end up in the Chattahoochee River, whose waters flow to the Gulf of Mexico. The water tossed to the left would end up in tributaries of the Altamaha and ultimately in the river itself, which empties into the Atlantic.
One half of the colorful Watershed Mural is devoted to the Chattahoochee basin, the other to the Altamaha. The mural shows the two basins beginning as small, sparkling streams — the Chattahoochee in Georgia’s mountains and the Altamaha in Georgia’s Piedmont — and their tributaries joining up as they wind to the sea. The 137-mile-long Altamaha River, for instance, is formed in south Georgia by the confluence of its main tributaries, the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers, which begin in the Piedmont. The Chattahoochee joins with the Flint River near the Florida line to form the Apalachicola River, which flows across the Florida Panhandle to the Gulf.
On their seaward journeys, the rivers pass through swamps, farmland, forests, rocky shoals, small communities, bustling cities — all portrayed in the mural. Native plants and animals that depend on the rivers appear in colorful settings. Finally, the mural shows the rivers flowing into great estuaries at the edge of the sea, represented by dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles and other marine life.
The murals help drive home a point — that even Atlanta, some 270 miles from the Atlantic and even farther from the Gulf, has a connection to the sea.
You can get a glimpse of the Watershed Mural simply by driving on DeKalb Avenue. Visiting it on foot requires more vigilance and safety precautions. For best views of the expansive mural, cross over DeKalb Avenue — but do so very carefully — to view it from a grassy strip next to the MARTA line.