"I'm still fairly new here at Red Top, but [I am] settling in well," said Hill, who is overseeing 20 full- and part-time employees between the four venues. "Our goals for this next year [are] we're focused on our profitability, No. 1. We are taking a very business-based approach even though it is a state organization. We've been tasked to be as sustainable as we can in a business environment. So being able to explore those different options in how we can tweak our operations and provide additional guest services that would be more meaningful, those are kind of the main focuses from a business aspect.
"Of course, maintenancewise, we're actually looking to improve some of the facilities up here over the next couple of years, actually refurbish or rebuilding two of the shower houses in the campground [at Red Top]. Fixing a shower house is something very plain and menial, but when people have to be in a private location, you want to be able to provide the best quality at those places because that's what people remember. You'll remember a dirty bathroom or you'll remember a run-down [facility]. So being able to upgrade those amenities for our guests is going to have a very positive impact I think.
"With Allatoona Pass, I've been working very well with the EVHS [Etowah Valley Historical Society]. They've been very instrumental in kind of taking me under their wings and really [spending] time with me and getting me oriented to all the operations over there. Over at Etowah Indian Mounds, we've just re-established our Friends group chapter over there so that will definitely serve as an advocacy and a volunteer base for the site."
Over the past couple of years, the Cartersville venues have been trying to sustain their programming despite budget cutbacks following the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' restructuring of its state parks and historic sites. Implemented July 1, 2009, the plan was in response to a 24 percent forecasted loss of revenue and about a 39 percent decrease in state appropriations. Along with looking into the privatization of lodges and golf courses, other reorganization steps included cutting 12 percent of the system's labor force and utilizing furloughs one day each month, diminishing the services at five state parks and reducing operations at 12 historic sites.
Along with downsizing personnel, the Etowah Indian Mounds' operating hours initially were reduced from six days a week to three. Now open Wednesday to Saturday, volunteers are assisting the venue's staff, enabling guided tours to be conducted for school groups Wednesday through Friday.
During the past two years, Red Top -- 50 Lodge Road in Cartersville -- also did not go unscathed. In addition to reducing personnel, its lodge and Mountain Cove Restaurant closed June 30, 2010. The building now is being used as the Park Office, with restroom facilities available to the public, and the Mountain Cove Discovery Room, a hub for programming and hands-on learning.
"With the budget situation, of course, you know that the lodge and restaurant here have closed down," Hill said. "They closed, I think, in June of last year. Since then that's actually increased our profitability because over the 20-some-odd years that it was in operation, it never was able to sustain itself.
"So having our cottages and our campsites and, of course, all our day-use areas at the lake here, that allows us to focus a lot more of our attention to those areas. It's been very beneficial from a budget aspect because we are able to cover all of our costs now. So that's very reassuring in this day and age."
For Damon Kirkpatrick, president of Friends of Red Top and director of operations and development for Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, Hill's leadership and communication skills are key assets.
"He's been with us for a few months now, and we've already seen some great things happening where we've been able to work together and partner together as the Friends group with him and already have accomplished some really good things," Kirkpatrick said. "We've had the governor's staff up to work with us. We've had a couple of other things that have happened that have been really exciting. It's just great to have his leadership to help us do good things for Red Top."
Working for the Georgia DNR since 1995, Hill was introduced to the state park system when he spent two summers in high school as a seasonal laborer at then Watson Mill Bridge State Park. Later, he served as the park manager for Hamburg State Outdoor Recreation Area, then Hard Labor Creek State Park from 2007 to 2011.
"I grew up on a farm and I've always enjoyed working outside and working with people," said Hill, who currently is residing on-site at Red Top Mountain State Park. "It was almost a natural extension, going from working my summer jobs in high school to pursuing a career with the department. ... What I enjoy most about this line of work is the flexibility. Definitely it's a requirement to be able to be flexible, to be able to handle situations as they arrive. But also every day is something new and that's what I find very enjoyable about it.
"As far as park management goes, it's being able to have a positive influence on a wide variety of people. We've got a great staff here. We have an excellent Friends group. Being able to be involved with them and have common goals that we can work to and share in those accomplishments, I think that's the most enjoyable part of park management for me."