Marcia Bansley. Credit: Trees Atlanta.
It took some hundred years for anyone to think of Atlanta as “The City in a Forest.” But today, beyond the downtown skyline, trees dominate the landscape, making it easy to see how Atlanta has the most tree cover of any major city in the United States. However, this beautiful distinction is not easily maintained. Constantly growing suburbs and pressure for more streamlined construction have threatened the presence of the abundant dogwoods, oaks and southern pines that pervade the city.
Marcia Bansley is among the city’s chief defenders of the canopy. An Atlanta native, Marcia worked to protect the metro area’s natural resources with various organizations before helping create the area’s largest urban forestry nonprofit, Trees Atlanta, which has grown to significant distinction. As the founding executive director, she spent 26 years growing the organization.
Marcia’s infectious enthusiasm for local activism started long before Trees Atlanta. In the early-1970s, she joined Friends of the River, an organization started through the Junior League of Atlanta to protect the Chattahoochee River. Marcia saw the importance of the river and growing public awareness, because “people don’t realize it, but the watershed isn’t very big and we are dependent on it.” Atlanta was experiencing astounding growth, and, after several studies showed the need for action, Marcia worked tirelessly with lawmakers to create the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Marcia managed a law firm for some time while with Friends of the River, and she then went on to protect the Chattahoochee with the Legacy Foundation before returning to Emory University to finish her law degree. While pursuing her law degree, she interned with Senator Samuel Nunn in Washington, D.C., for almost a year, an experience she found invaluable in her later efforts to rally political support.
Founded in 1985, Trees Atlanta is dedicated to protecting Atlanta’s forests, creating new green space and fighting tree loss. For eight years she was the only employee, and jokes that “people said Trees Atlanta was an answering machine.” The office space was donated, and her entire salary was covered for two years by Georgia-Pacific. Despite these challenges, she managed to initiate change through great volunteers and her breadth of experience in nonprofit management.
“I knew how to persuade talented people to volunteer their professional talents and skills to help with our work,” she says, pointing out that this was made easier by showing them the change they could make in their own community.