Local News

April 24, 2014

Scouts’ work helps new Civil War park open

Some 150 years ago, the Confederate Army of Tennessee headquartered in Dalton. Anticipating a showdown with Union forces under Gen. William T. Sherman, Confederate commander Gen. Joseph Johnston had his men dig into the ridges and mountains around the city, placing artillery across them.

Austin Cole, a junior at Coahulla Creek High School, said he wasn’t aware of much of that history until he began work on an Eagle Scout project at Potato Hill, just off Reed Road, the site of extensive fortifications.

“I’ve come by here many, many times and never knew there were fortifications there until I started this project,” he said.

Cole erected wooden fencing around the fortifications, while another Scout and fellow junior at Coahulla Creek, Chase Lynch, cut a trail up the steep hillside for his Eagle Scout project.

“I really learned a lot from doing this,” Lynch said. “I learned about organizing something and managing people. But I also learned a lot about the history of this area.”

The work done by Cole and Lynch will help others learn more about Dalton’s Civil War history. The Potato Hill Civil War Battlefield Park will be officially opened on Saturday at 11 a.m. with a keynote speech by Georgia Battlefields Association President Charlie Crawford.

“We would not be able to open this park now without the work these two young men did,” said Bob Jenkins, president of Save the Dalton Battlefields, a private group aimed at saving Dalton’s Civil War fortifications.

Save the Dalton Battlefields acquired the Potato Hill property with funding from the Georgia Battlefields Association and donated it to Whitfield County. At around the same time, Jenkins began talking to scouts in the process of earning their Eagle award to see if any could help turn the hill into a scenic park.

To become an Eagle Scout, a boy has to earn 21 merit badges and must also hold a leadership position in a troop, team or crew, complete a service project and pass a board of review. Doing all of that takes years of work, and the Eagle Scout project can takes months to complete.

“I started planning everything in November, talking to Mr. Jenkins and to (Save the Dalton Battlefields member) Greg Cockburn,” Lynch said. “I got done in the first couple of weeks of February.”

That meant Lynch was out there during some of the worst weather in one of the worst winters in many years in Dalton.

“It was anywhere from the teens to low 40s when we were working,” Lynch said. “We worked through a lot of rain, even some freezing rain. If we were able to work three hours, we were lucky.”

Lynch said on the worst day, he and the people working with him just kept breaking mattock and pick handles.

“The ground was frozen solid. It was like cutting through stone,” he said.

Often, they literally were cutting through stone, since the hill is very rocky.

“We had to move some pretty big rocks,” he said.

Lynch and Cole weren’t working on their projects alone. They had help from numerous people, especially fellow scouts.

“I did the planning and getting stuff together largely by myself,” said Cole. “But my troop helped a lot with the work up there. I could not have done it without them.”

The two said the secret to a successful Eagle Scout project is getting fellow scouts involved.

“For someone working on his Eagle Scout, it gives him a chance to organize others and get them to work together,” Cole said. “And it’s really inspiring for the younger scouts to take part and see the work that goes into becoming an Eagle Scout. I think back now on working on the Eagle Scout projects for the older guys in my troop when I was younger and how it prepared me for this.”

Cole and Lynch don’t quite have their Eagle Scout awards yet. Both have to complete a cooking merit badge that was recently added to the requirements.

But both plan to be at Potato Hill on Saturday to witness the opening of the park they put so much work into.

“When we finished, I was really relieved and happy it was over,” Lynch said. “But I was also very proud of the work we did. I think we really accomplished something.”

That opinion is shared by others.

The park has already had numerous visitors, including at least one tour group, and Jenkins said the feedback he has gotten has been very positive.

“Everybody has been very impressed with what they have done,” he said.

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