The BeltLine connects more and more Atlantans while furthering our place on the global stage. Of course a gay man is all up in it.

By Dustin Shrader

In a relatively short time, the Atlanta BeltLine has become a renowned tourist attraction for visitors and a lifestyle staple for residents. It already ranks as one of the country’s leading urban redevelopment programs, and it’s not even finished yet.

The project provides a link between public parks, multifunctional trails and transportation, as well as a sweeping railroad corridor encircling midtown and downtown. It directly connects an increasing number of neighborhoods to each other, and the continued progression would not be possible without Atlanta BeltLine Program Director Lee Harrop.

Long before becoming the BeltLine’s Head Gay, Harrop became part of the fabric of gay Atlanta. In 1991, he moved here from South Carolina to attend Georgia Tech. After graduating with a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering, he worked in private consulting for 15 years.

“It was then I decided to go back to school at Georgia State to get my MBA,” he recalls. “Shortly before graduating with my MBA, I was hired by Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. as their Program Director.”

Since then, Harrop has been honored as the 2013 Engineer of the Year by the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers, and he was named one of Georgia Trend magazine’s 50 Most Notable Georgians in 2015.

“In both of those cases, I fully recognize that the honor really goes to the work ABI is doing and not me specifically – I just happen to be the technical face of a great project.”

Humble about the recognition, Harrop is much more than the face of the BeltLine when local news outlets – and gay media – come calling. His role touches on almost every aspect of the project.

“I’m responsible for coordinating everything technical about the implementation of the Atlanta BeltLine. I work with partner organizations – PATH Foundation, Trees Atlanta, City Departments – while coordinating all of our real estate acquisition, design and construction activities.”

Not an easy to-do list, to say the least. Yet Harrop’s passion and respect for his job manifests in a gift to Atlanta, and he is grateful for his role, as well as the lasting impact the BeltLine will have.

“Every day is different, and I can see the difference we’re making in the city,” he says. “Opening a new trail segment or park is much more fulfilling than designing a water treatment plant or fuel farm.”

Harrop is currently knee-deep in monitoring multiple projects, all due to be unveiled within the next year. It begins with the design of the four-mile Southside Trail, from Memorial Drive to Murphy Avenue. He’s also overseeing construction updates on the three-mile Westside Trail (University Avenue to Washington Park), set to open in 2017. On top of all that, construction of the Eastside Trail Extension later this winter has to stay at the top of his radar.

“We’re also wrapping up land acquisitions for a couple of the next park projects, so I’m hopeful that in the next year or so we’ll be announcing some major park design initiatives.”

So what is it about the BeltLine that makes it such a big deal? Atlanta will continue to benefit from the BeltLine’s potential for consumers, businesses, residents and tourists indefinitely, Harrop says.

“I think there’s been a pent-up need for the Atlanta BeltLine for a while in the city, both from the standpoint of recreational amenities and neighborhood revitalization,” he says. “I think our community is able to see potential where others may not.”

Yet, it is not all hard work in Lee Harrop’s world. The busy engineer is single and takes time to recuperate and enjoy the amenities he helped create. With his beloved Boston terrier by his side and a fantastic network of friends, he and his gays kick back on the trails, people watching and frequenting the restaurants scattered up and down the BeltLine. It’s a luxury that gay Atlanta may not realize exists thanks to one gay man’s determined diligence.

When asked if there is anything about the BeltLine that gay Atlantans may not know, he is exuberant to offer his insider tips. The gays may be currently gravitating toward Eastside Trail shops and restaurants, but that’s just the beginning, Harrop says.

“There’s so much more to the Atlanta BeltLine than the Eastside Trail,” he says. “We have 7 miles of completed trails, and the Eastside only accounts for 2.25 miles. The Northside Trail (Ardmore Park to Bobby Jones Golf Course) is amazing, and the Southwest Connector Trail (Lionel Hampton Trail to Westwood Avenue) is gorgeous.

“As the weather warms up, I’d strongly encourage folks to check these trail segments out.”

Thanks for the tip! Happy trails, Gay-TL.

 

Photo by Russ Youngblood