Hiking alone in the woods can seem a bit scary. After all, you may have to deal with wild animals, heights, finding your way around — there are all sorts of unknowns involved. But just outside of Atlanta, Georgia’s city limits in Dekalb County, there’s a hiking trail that’s been made legitimately creepy by the addition of some unwanted items that’ll make your hair stand on end: doll heads.
Nestled inside Constitution Lakes Park, a 125-acre nature preserve of wetlands and wildlife, lies Doll’s Head Trail, a 1.5-mile loop trail that’s known for its found art installations. Hikers can complete this easy-to-moderate trail, which is popular for running, hiking and birding, in less than 30 minutes.
Here’s an image of the boardwalk at Doll’s Head Trail from its Facebook page. Looks nice, right? Looks can be deceiving!
The area known as Constitution Lakes was once the spot where South River Brick Company dug up Georgia clay to create its bricks. The clay pits were so deep, they were transformed into man-made ponds when filled with rainwater.
What originally began as the work of a local carpenter named Joel Slaton soon became a much broader project involving numerous artists. Slaton, who experienced a work lull after the Great Recession in 2008, started by creating art installations from discarded doll parts and other found trash on the site with his newfound time.
Here’s an image of an item added to the trail last year, from the Doll’s Head Trail account on Facebook:
“During my hikes at Constitution Lakes, I began finding doll, bicycle, automobile and appliance parts. These became the original displays,” Slaton told CNN. “The trail started as sort of a joke for the few regulars who ventured that far back to stumble upon them.”
His first art installations kept disappearing, so he made them more elaborate and started giving them titles. He also began leaving Sharpies so people could leave their own messages. His goal: to give the trail to have an air of mystery, and to make visitors think about the disposable lifestyle we lead.
Here’s one of the messages you can see on the trail:
Then he invited visitors to repurpose the trash into their own found art, which has become an ongoing project. As the artwork grew, so did Doll’s Head Trail’s popularity. While the installations found along the path are predominately constructed with doll’s heads, others include old bricks, dinosaur toys, truck parts, bottles and collages.
This one posted to Facebook, for example, looks like it’s mostly made of old tires.
Slaton said that he wasn’t sure DeKalb County would approve at first, but Dave Butler, greenspace environment manager for the DeKalb County Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs, loved the idea. He even formally “knighted” it in 2012.
Here’s another image of one of the installations along the Doll’s Head Trail.
Just as nature is always changing, the works have too evolved. Slaton says the trail is public art, built by the public, and that the displays have changed over time — although some of that is due to vandalism.
This fairly smooth, partially-paved path is relatively shaded by large surrounding trees and leads to a lake with a boardwalk. If you want to stay awhile, you can grab a book from the little free library.
Slaton believes the park is a combination of history, nature and art. Those visiting are asked to keep the area family-friendly and kid-safe and to respect what has already been assembled. The common thread among the art pieces is that every element of them has been found within the park itself. There’s even a trailhead sign that reads, “Litter makes the angels cry.”
Here’s another one of the many art installations that have been documented on the Doll’s Head Trail Facebook, where you can go to see many more curiosities.
If you’re a fan of nature and offbeat art and would like to experience Doll’s Head Trail for yourself, the best times to visit are between April and September. Bring a water bottle and bug spray during the summer.