From 300 B.C. to A.D. 650, the Leake site was considered by archaeologists to be a vital ceremonial and economic center for societies residing across the Southeastern and Midwestern U.S. Propelled by the Georgia Department of Transportation’s need to widen Highway 113, 50,000 square feet of the historical site was studied along the road near the Etowah River in the 2000s. Two excavations — November 2004 to September 2005 conducted for the Georgia DOT and December 2006 carried out for the Bartow County Water Department — resulted in an abundance of artifacts, some of which include pieces of pottery and effigies, quartz, animal bone and stone projectile points.
“It’s amazing to me, because as an archaeologist we want to see sites preserved but we also want to see education happen from them,” said Georgia DOT Archaeologist Pam Baughman, about highlighting the historical site through an interpretive trail. “So, sometimes for us, you only get information from gathering information, but at the same time that we gather information we’re destroying a part of the site.
“So this is sort of a neat medium between those two, because we gathered a lot of great information during the road project, but then we also are preserving the majority of the site for this kind of [educational opportunity]. So we can take that information that we learned during the excavation and then use it and then preserve the remainder. So that’s like the best of both worlds to me.”
Along with Baughman, other speakers at the dedication ceremony included Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson and David Archer, attorney for the city of Cartersville and a member of the Bartow County Greenspace Committee. Along with local and state dignitaries, representatives were in attendance from some of the trail’s sponsoring organizations — Georgia Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Bartow County government, city of Cartersville and the University of West Georgia.
Toward the end of the gathering, Bryant Celestine, a representative of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, led a dedication prayer.
“It’s an honor to be here, to be back in our homelands,” said Celestine, addressing the crowd before the prayer. “A lot of the tribes that are here have been prevented over the years from being able to come back. But through partnerships like this, it’s good to know that we can come home and enjoy what was left here.
“And we are so thankful for the partnerships that have been made to help preserve this site, not only for the people of Cartersville, of Bartow County or the state of Georgia, but for the nation as well, because it’s a very important site that’s important to us and hopefully it’s important to our nation.”
Calling the site a “crowning gem,” Keep Bartow Beautiful Assistant Coordinator Missy Phillips also is pleased to see the Leake site utilized as an educational resource through the trail and interpretive panels.
“I’m extremely proud, because it is such a significant site historically,” Phillips said. “I am so glad that we were able to preserve it and that we are able to utilize it to make sure that the public actually learns from the site, because the historical significance is so vast. It’s one of our crowning gems.
“The interpretive panels, they do have [QR codes], [so] it’s very interactive,” she said, referring to visitors being able to obtain additional details on their smartphones. “And the information that is there is awe-inspiring. It captures the imagination in such a way that it really makes you want to understand.”
Furnished by Georgia DOT, the trail’s 18 information panels were researched and designed by the University of West Georgia.
Currently serving as an interpretive ranger for Red Top Mountain State Park, Marcus Toft was present during the dedication ceremony. His previous work was displayed along the path, because, as a graduate student at the University of West Georgia, he helped design and research the content for the trail’s signage.
“[Through the panels], they’ll learn about the history of the site, the people that lived here,” Toft said. “They’ll learn about the history of the preservation that’s taken place at the site — so the archaeology that’s been done over the years. They’ll learn about why the site was chosen by the American Indians in terms of the mineral resources, the natural resources, the river, the geography — so the reason for it being exactly where it is.
“They’ll learn about what was here at its peak — the three mounds, the defensive ditch and some of the ceremonial centers and then the importance of this site for all of eastern North America in a sense, because the archaeologists believe that this was kind of a gateway community. People who lived in the Middle Woodland period traveled extensively and they think this may have been a place where people traveling from the Midwest to the South would have come here first and stopped here. That’s important today, because in a lot of ways Atlanta still serves that same function. So there’s a lot of comparisons to be made between why the American Indians chose to come here and why people are today. There’s that connection.”
Constructed and maintained by the city of Cartersville and Bartow County government, the walking trail is situated on about 22 acres of Bartow County greenspace — 12 acres owned by the county and 10 owned by the city. One of the remaining components of the trail is its trailhead, which is located on Highway 113 West on the left before the E.R. Bates Memorial Bridge. Work will begin when Cartersville constructs a canoe/kayak launch at the trailhead or links the site with the future Leake Mounds Trail.
“I’ve been working with the city going on 33 years,” said Greg Anderson, director of Cartersville Parks and Recreation Department and a member of the Bartow County Greenspace Committee. “And when I first came here to Dellinger Park our most used facility at that time and still is today is our walking trail here at the park. And I’ve always remembered that. ... Walking trails are very popular, especially with the fitness craze that’s going on these days.
“... Starting around 2003, we built the Sam Smith Park trail, the Etowah Riverwalk, which is a multi-use trail for bicycles and then we have plans for — we’ve got the Leake Mounds Trail that will connect and we also have the Pettit Creek Trail that will all come in and they will be connecting the city parks. So the Leake Mounds Interpretive Trail, it is important because I don’t know that people would just be walking that trail just for exercise, but it’s linked to our other trails. And we felt like that would give it more visibility and it would be used more and in doing that it would be able to educate our community about what’s happened in the past and how important that site was in the history of Bartow County and in the history of our state.”
To obtain further details on the Leake site excavation and archaeological investigation, visit www.bartowdig.com or www.westga.edu/~khebert/leakemounds/. Along with reading the trail’s signage, individuals also can learn more about the ancient society by viewing the “Pieces of the Past: Bartow’s Leake Site” temporary exhibit at the Bartow History Museum, 4 E. Church St., Cartersville. On display through Feb. 28, 2014, the exhibit features artifacts that were collected during the most recent excavations, which started in 2004.