July 14, 2013

Fort Mountain State Park celebrates 75 years

Rachel Brown

— As Fort Mountain State Park celebrates 75 years of existence this weekend, visitors and park personnel alike are looking forward to one of its oldest relics being restored.

The old fire tower, which has been closed for several years and is in disrepair, will get a makeover to return it close to its original state when it was built in the 1930s, officials said.

Ellijay resident Marjorie Bailey Anderson, whose father, Arnold Bailey, was on a Civilian Conservation Corps team that worked to build the park, came for Saturday’s festivities, which included old-fashioned kids games and relays, hiking, wagon rides and a birthday cake in the park’s honor among other events.

Arnold Bailey, Anderson said, was the foreman who led the team working on the stone fire tower that was once used as a lookout post for sentries to spot outbreaks. Park officials said a $150,000 state grant will go toward refurbishing the tower, restoring it very close to its original design with a wooden structure on top and stairs.

“It should look almost the same,” said Rich Boldon, an interpretive ranger for the park.

The project is expected to begin late this year and finish by early to mid-2014.

Anderson said her father used whatever tools he had on the job to shape a heart out of a piece of rock in honor of his sweetheart, Margaret Reece. He implanted the rock in the tower. Bailey stayed in the CCC only a year or so because the men who enlisted had to be single, and he was set on marrying Margaret.

He fulfilled that dream soon after, and their marriage lasted 59 years until his death in 1994. Whenever he told the story of the heart of stone, Anderson recalled, he would explain that he was “young and in love and thought he could do anything.”

Derek Gray, assistant park manager, said the park was built by men who were often part of the CCC because they were hungry and needed work. The men, between 18 and 25, lived a somewhat military-style life and were required to send the majority of their earnings to their families. Many of them gained weight on the job because they were able to be fully nourished, Gray said.

Gray said Ivan Allen Jr., who was an Atlanta mayor in the 1960s, donated the property to create Fort Mountain State Park earlier in his life during a time when there was a national push to expand public park systems. The CCC units that worked on roads, the tower and other infrastructure for Fort Mountain State Park were Camp 447 from Chatsworth and Camp 488 from Ellijay, he said.


75th Anniversary Celebration activities


• 9 to 9:30 a.m. — Non-denominational service at Pavilion 2.

• 10 a.m. to noon — Old-fashioned kids’ games in the grassy area next to the group shelter by the beach.

• 2 to 4 p.m. — Slide show of the park through the years, displays, concessions and guided hikes meeting at Shelter 7. Wagon rides are available from Shelter 1 to Shelter 7, and a $1 donation is requested to cover fuel costs.

Monday through Friday — Junior Ranger Camp for children ages 6 to 12 from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each day. There will be a wide variety of activities. Lunch is included. The cost is $45.

Friday — Make s’mores and enjoy a marshmallow roast at 8 p.m. followed by an “Introduction to Camping at Fort Mountain” session. Donations are requested to cover food costs.

Source: Fort Mountain State Park information sheet.