Get out and get active as Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites celebrates its 85th anniversary with special programs, tours and treasure hunting challenges.
Almost any summer day is a good day to enjoy the outdoors. However, when the day also celebrates a milestone anniversary for the Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, it’s even better. The state park system is commemorating its 85th anniversary with ranger-led hikes, kayak tours, caving, geocaching and behind-the-scenes tours at the parks and historic sites on National Trails Day on Saturday, June 4, which also marks the start of Get Outdoors Georgia Month.
Founded in 1931, the Georgia park system has grown to more than 60 sites that protect the state’s natural resources. The system’s original parks, Indian Springs and Vogel, are two of the oldest state parks in the nation.
The public can get involved by sharing experiences and photos from the parks on facebook.com/GeorgiaStateParks as well.
All of Georgia’s state parks offer opportunities for outdoor fun, but there are some additional claims to fame that you might not know.
Where America’s Gold Rush Really Began
America’s rush to find gold actually began in Dahlonega, Georgia — not California, as commonly believed. Twenty years before the famed 1849 gold rush in California, thousands of prospectors flocked into the Cherokee Nation in north Georgia to seek their fortunes. Today, you can still pan for gold in Dahlonega and see coins minted in Georgia at the Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site.
Sherman’s March to the Sea
In 1864, General Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea ended in Georgia at what is now Fort McAllister State Historic Park, just south of Savannah on the bank of the Great Ogeechee River. The park contains a Civil War museum and is home of the best-preserved earthwork fortification of the Confederacy. The earthworks were attacked seven times by Union ironclads but did not fall until 1864, ending General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon
At first glance, you’ll think you’re in the Southwest, and technically, you are — southwest Georgia. Providence Canyon State Park is a network of gorges, chasms, plateaus and cliffs. Erosion from poor farming practices in the 1800s led to the massive gullies and canyons, some as deep as 150 feet.
A Mysterious Wall
One of Georgia’s archaeological mysteries is the 855-foot-long rock wall at Fort Mountain State Park in the Chattahoochee National Forest. No explanation for the wall has ever been found. It is speculated that Indians built the wall, which stands on the highest point of the mountain, for fortification against other more hostile Indians or for use in ancient ceremonies.
Longest Covered Bridge in Georgia
Known as one of the most picturesque state parks in Georgia, Watson Mill Bridge State Park in Comer contains the longest original-site covered bridge in the state. The bridge, built in 1885, spans 229 feet across the South Fork River and is supported by a town lattice truss system held together with wooden pins.
Tallest Waterfall in the South
At 729 feet, Amicalola (Cherokee for “tumbling waters”) Falls in Dawsonville is the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Visitors have choices on how to best view the tumbling waters, ranging from an accessible pathway to a challenging trail with staircases. The waterfall is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.
Oldest State Park in the Nation
Located in middle Georgia off I-75, Indian Springs is believed to be the oldest state park in the nation. It is named for its many springs, which the Creek Indians used for centuries to heal the sick. Today visitors still collect the water, which loses its sulfur taste after sitting a few hours.
Largest Swamp in North America
The Stephen C. Foster State Park (named after the songwriter) is a primary entrance to the famed Okefenokee Swamp, a primitive wetland refuge. The 438,000-acre swamp, formed about 7,000 years ago, spills across 700 square miles in the southeastern corner of Georgia.
One of the Rarest Trees in the World
The tongue-twister name of Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park in southeast Georgia comes from the once-rare Gordonia tree — a member of the bay family that grew in the park — and the original spelling of the nearby Altamaha River. This native Georgia plant was once thought extinct, but is now commonly grown in gardens, especially in the South.
A President’s Home
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Southern getaway — the Little White House in Warm Springs — was the only home the president purchased for himself. He first came to Warm Springs in 1924 to swim in the warm, buoyant spring waters, hoping to find a cure for the polio that struck him in 1921. Visitors can tour his home, which has been carefully preserved much as he left it.
Silver Screen Success
Through the years, many movies and scenes have been filmed in Georgia, including Sweet Home Alabama, My Cousin Vinny, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Legend of Baggar Vance, Driving Miss Daisy, Remember the Titans, Smokey and the Bandit, Cobb, The Gingerbread Man, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Dumb and Dumber, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Forrest Gump, The Blind Side, Trouble With the Curve, Anchorman 2 and The Hunger Games. Georgia’s state parks and historic sites also have played host to Hollywood filmmakers, resulting in additional films such as The General’s Daughter (Wormsloe Historic Site), Warm Springs (Roosevelt’s Little White House) and Deliverance (Tallulah Gorge State Park).
Hidden Gems Challenge
As part of its 85th anniversary celebration, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites is launching its Hidden Gems series to encourage visitors to explore the undiscovered side of its venues. Hidden Gems programs range from guided hikes and lake paddles to behind-the-scenes tours. Some of the secret treasures include:
- Rare Silky Camellia – Mistletoe State Park, Appling
- 400-Year-Old Red Cedar Tree – Elijah Clark State Park, Lincolnton
- Tabby Ruins and Shell Rings of the Chocolate Plantation – Sapelo Island
- Crashed Prohibition Era Moonshine Truck – Amicalola Falls State Park, Dawsonville
- Bald Eagle’s Nest – Chattahoochee Bend State Park, Newnan
- Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid – Don Carter State Park, Gainesville
- Etowah Indian Mounds – Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site, Cartersville
- Hidden Sherdly Noticeable Pottery Pieces – General Coffee State Park, Nicholls
- Greasy Creek Falls - Black Rock Mountain State Park, Mountain City
- B-29 Superfortress Plane – Georgia Veterans State Park, Cordele
- St. Catherine’s Sound – Fort Morris Historic Site, Midway
- Pitcher Plant Bog Habitat – Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park, Reidsville
- Magneto Phone – Hardman Farm Historic Site, Sautee Nacoochee
- Gopher Tortoises – Kolomoki Mounds State Park, Blakely
- Marble Mine – James H. (Sloppy) Floyd State Park, Summerville
- Boardwalk to Cypress Swamp – Little Ocmulgee State Park and Lodge, Helena
- Homestead Trail – Red Top Mountain State Park, Acworth
- Vulture Venues – Reed Bingham State Park, Adel
- Honey Bee Hives – Smithgall Woods State Park, Helen
Other state parks such as Tallulah Gorge and Sweetwater Creek are home to multiple hidden gems. For more information, visit gastateparks.org.
By Morgan Davis
Photos courtesy of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites