Campaign emphasizes importance of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites
by Marie Nesmith
Sep 18, 2011 | 2791 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Keith Bailey, president of the Friends of Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site, talks to a group of Atlanta students about American Indian tools and weapons. 
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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In hopes of spurring volunteerism and visitation, Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites is organizing Save My State Parks Day on Saturday.

Area residents will have ample opportunity to support their Cartersville venues -- Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site and Red Top Mountain State Park -- by attending special events and participating in various volunteer efforts. Currently in its third year, Save My State Parks Day is presented during a statewide celebration of National Public Lands Day.

"Save Our State Parks Day is designed to help guests understand the importance of the state parks and historic sites and what they bring to the local community," said Damon Kirkpatrick, president of the 1,200-member Friends of Red Top and director of operations and development for Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites. "It's also designed to give them an opportunity to give back on that day or learn ways that they can through either donations or volunteering their time or just spreading the word or even just coming to visit a park.

"We hope that they'll be more involved, No. 1, but also to realize that the parks that we have are worth taking care of and it takes everyone to do it. It's not just the [Department of Natural Resources]. While the DNR continually does a great job of operating the state parks, they [need] our help to make sure that the parks succeed, are successful and are providing great opportunities for guests."

Etowah Indian Mounds

From painting picnic tables to installing bird feeders, people can partake in a variety of improvement projects at the Etowah Indian Mounds from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"What we want to do is bring attention to the fact that we need to preserve our natural resources, that we need to save our parks by visiting, by volunteering, by doing all we can to draw attention to their situation now and the needs that they have," said Steve McCarty, interpretive park ranger for the Etowah Indian Mounds, a 54-acre site where several thousand American Indians lived from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1550. "The biggest thing we need now is participation. We need visitation. We need volunteers. We need people to take part and to realize this is their historic site. This is their park. This is their public land. And they can help to save it, to preserve it, to improve it, to make it better.

"We have several activities that day. We will [be] primarily painting picnic tables, benches, amphitheater, things like that, that do need a good coat of paint, a good cleaning. We're going to put bird feeders up, fill those, raking leaves, that type of thing."

Along with completing volunteer tasks, visitors also will be able to tour the venue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regarded as the most intact Mississippian Culture site in the Southeast, Etowah Indian Mounds at 813 Indian Mounds Road in Cartersville features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and a defensive ditch.

The site also provides several educational displays, such as a wattle-and-daub house, which is a 15-foot-square replica of a residential structure; an American Indian garden at the venue's front entrance; and a 9-foot-by-7-foot diorama designed to show what the location could have looked like in A.D. 1300.

Red Top Mountain

At Red Top, Kirkpatrick said, this year the focus will be placed on the park's offerings, such as its Harvest Time at the Homestead, not beautification activities. To be held Saturday and Sept. 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Harvest Time at the Homestead will reveal what life was like during pioneer life through demonstrations at the Vaughan Cabin. There also will be Civil War re-enactors on site.

"What we are going to do is offer folks an opportunity to see what it is we do at Red Top and encourage them to either volunteer or come back for another volunteer event or even just come back to another special event to come see what we do and how we do it," Kirkpatrick said. "Our homestead events are staffed almost exclusively by volunteers. It takes a lot of people to put on those events and that's what we want to highlight to show the public that, 'Hey, anybody can do this.' We can all get involved and we can all help make a difference.

"[With Harvest Time at the Homestead], we try to give folks a picture of what pioneer Georgia life was like around the 1840s. Our historic log cabin was built somewhere between 1830 and 1850, so we try to reproduce some of the activities, some of the sights and sounds that were happening during that time frame. ... We'll have weavers and spinners and people that are turning wool into thread and yarn. We'll have our pioneer cooking demonstrations where we use an open hearth fire to cook lunch for all the volunteers. We'll have woodworking demonstrations, basically everything that would have made up regular pioneer life."

Budget outlook

Since the Save My State Parks Day initiative was launched two year ago, the Cartersville venues have been trying to sustain their programming despite budget cutbacks following the Georgia DNR's restructuring of its 48 state parks and 15 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, about four volunteers and a DNR-funded part-time worker are assisting the venue's staff, enabling guided tours to be conducted for school groups Wednesday through Friday and for the general public on Saturdays.

During the past two years, Red Top -- 50 Lodge Road S.W. 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.

"The budget situation unfortunately has not gotten any better and cuts continue to happen and we're continuing to lose staff and funding for maintenance and repairs," Kirkpatrick said. "One of the things that we at Friends of Red Top have seen though is a much greater outreach from the community and our partners. We've recently had Starbucks join us for a volunteer day. We had REI come out. We had the governor's staff join us for a day of volunteer service. And those are partners that in the past have been hard to come by.

"So what we are seeing is the community as a whole seems to really care about the park and want to get involved and do what it takes to help out. So we're really thrilled about that and, of course, we wish the budget situation would improve but until it does, we're real happy to have those partners coming out to help us."

To find out more details about the Save My State Parks campaign, visit www.friendsofgastateparks.org or call Kirkpatrick at 770-975-7533, ext. 9. On Saturday, regular admission fees will apply -- Red Top, $5 daily ParkPass; and Etowah Indian Mounds, $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and $3.50 for youth.