For the seventh year, Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites’ Your State Parks Day will encourage patrons to “dig in” and take ownership of the state’s outdoor “treasures.”
In its latest offering, the initiative will provide Mother Nature a helping hand. Along with aesthetically enhancing the sites, the addition of pollinator gardens will attract threatened species, such as the monarch butterfly. Joining other venues across the state on Saturday, Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site and Red Top Mountain State Park will offer a variety of volunteer projects and waive parking and admission fees for participants.
“Originally, in 2009, Your State Parks Day began as a way for us to help the public understand the importance of the state parks and historic sites throughout Georgia,” said Damon Kirkpatrick, director of Operations & Development for Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites and president of Friends of Red Top Mountain State Park. “The system was facing drastic budget cuts and, at the time, we were worried about the potential closure of almost a quarter of the parks and historic sites in Georgia. Fortunately, through the efforts of the Friends, the local communities and a dedicated and tireless park staff, none were closed. We also saw communities rallying around their parks to help keep them protected, open and improving.
“Aligned with National Public Lands Day, Your State Parks Day has become so much more than the early days of helping just spread the word. Across the system, Your State Parks Day now represents an opportunity for guests to see and participate in some of the great efforts to keep parks improving and to make sure they are well maintained for future generations. We are humbled each year by the outpouring of support from thousands of volunteers statewide and the event really underscores how important these treasures are to all Georgians.”
Since its inception, Kirkpatrick said Your State Parks Day has helped spur volunteerism and visitation at Georgia’s state parks and historic sites.
“As the event has grown and Georgia’s economy has begun to rebound, we have seen a few very positive trends,” Kirkpatrick said. “First, as visitation has begun increasing, so has the overall awareness of all the great things our state parks and historic sites have to offer. From education to recreation, people are becoming more aware of the economic and intrinsic values of our great system of parks. We are also seeing a rebound in our volunteer numbers. Across the state, our chapters are reporting more volunteers getting involved on a more regular basis. At Red Top, we have seen our core group of volunteers grow from around five or six people to over 20.
“There [are] two important lessons we hope people take home with them on Your State Parks Day. We want people to walk away with a sense of how important parks are to our everyday lives. As we become an increasingly urban society, spaces to get outdoors and truly interact with nature are more important than ever. State parks offer a great value and amazing experiences in the outdoor world. The second important lesson we hope people will learn is how easy and rewarding it is to get involved and make a difference. Time is a scarce resource and volunteering at state parks is a great way to have some fun and give back to the community in the process. In the end, we hope people will walk away with a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to give back to their community in a meaningful way. There are so many great organizations throughout our community that need help and support. We certainly hope people will come back to volunteer with us, but at the very least, we hope they are inspired to volunteer somewhere.”
Etowah Indian Mounds
In honor of Your State Parks Day, Etowah Indian Mounds will conduct the Pollinators in Your Backyard program from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Along with presentations on pollinators, like honeybees and the Monarch butterfly, the offering will feature the refurbishing of native plant beds and the installation of a 4-by-8 pollinator garden.
“Pollinator habitat has been destroyed around the United States and earlier this year the federal government — [or it] may have been late last year — recognized that monarch butterflies’ ... habitat is about 80 percent gone,” said Keith Bailey, interpretive ranger for the Etowah Indian Mounds. “So the Friends group and the state have gotten together and they’re building 4-by-8 pollinator gardens everywhere as an example.
“... It will add to the beauty of the park, but all of these plants are supposed to also be native. For us, it’s keying back into the native plants that the Native Americans had. Some of them the Native Americans used for medicinal purposes. Hopefully, [the volunteers will] gain some experience or knowledge of how important the pollinators are, not just now but also in the past.”
Along with partaking in volunteer projects, patrons are invited to tour the 54-acre venue where several thousand American Indians lived from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1550. Regarded as the most intact Mississippian Culture site in the Southeast, the Etowah Indian Mounds — 813 Indian Mounds Road S.W. in Cartersville — features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and defensive ditch.
Hoping that Your State Parks Day will spark an increase in visitation, Bailey revealed, “There’s still a lot of people here in Cartersville that don’t really even know that the mounds are out here.”
Red Top Mountain
At Red Top, volunteers will be bustling with activity, embarking upon a pair of projects around the park office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to creating a pollinator garden, patrons also will help build the venue’s Dig In! outdoor classroom.
Officially set to open Dec. 12, Red Top’s Dig In! Outdoor Learning Experience area will provide youth the opportunity to connect with nature in safe environments. Presented by Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, the program’s goal is to expand the outdoor classrooms to every state park in Georgia. Along with Red Top, the offerings will be initially kicked off at Panola Mountain and Don Carter state parks.
Developed by Nature Explore, the Dig In! outdoor classroom design will feature seven learning stations: climbing, building, nature art, music and movement, dirt digging, pathways through plantings and messy materials. Located near the park office, the outdoor classroom will be geared toward youth ages 3 to 13. Once the learning experience site is operational, self-guided and ranger or facilitator led tours will be available.
“The new Dig In! Outdoor Learning Experience area at Red Top Mountain is evolving even faster than we expected,” Kirkpatrick said. “The outpouring of support from the community and from our partners at Keep Bartow Beautiful has been tremendous. There is still plenty of work to be done. On Your State Parks Day, we will have some of the most important tasks underway as we complete the ground surfacing in preparation for the installation of the activity areas. It is our hope that this space will be truly unique in the community and that it will inspire kids — and their parents and teachers — to involve themselves in nature in new ways.
“We have been very fortunate thus far to have received tremendous support in the form of grants from Lowe’s, Cobb EMC and others. However, we still need to raise more funds to complete the project and to help fund ongoing maintenance. We will have donation boxes available on Your State Parks Day and every little bit helps. We also encourage people to donate online at www.friendsofredtop.org.”
Along with volunteering at the Dig In! site, participants also will be able to install a pollinator garden behind the park office, 50 Lodge Road S.E. in Acworth.
“The garden will be used to help support pollinator species like the Monarch butterfly, many of which are threatened,” Kirkpatrick said. “Pollinators are critical to our food supplies and overall ecosystems. The garden project at Red Top is part of a statewide effort of Friends of Georgia State Parks to create interpretive pollinator gardens across the state. In partnership with Monarchs Across Georgia, the North American Butterfly Association and others, we have secured grants from AT&T, The Home Depot and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help us plant over 50 of these gardens in one day.
“In addition to supporting the critical pollinator species in Georgia, the gardens will also offer guests the opportunity to see how easy it is to add a small space in their own yards and communities. With a little education, a small plot of land — or even pots or window boxes — and a desire to help, anyone can plant a pollinator garden and do their part to help support the Monarch and other critical pollinator species. We hope guests will be inspired to put in a small garden of their own.”
For more information on the Etowah Indian Mounds, visit www.gastateparks.org/EtowahMounds or call 770-387-3747. Further details about Red Top can be obtained by visiting www.gastateparks.org/RedTopMountain or calling 770-975-0055.