New Echota Historic Site & Fort Mountain State Park

Wendy and I love to get out for the weekend.  There are very few weekends when both of us don't already have something planned, but when those rare weekends do happen we love to just hit the road and see the sights around Atlanta.  One of our favorite things to do is head up to the Georgia mountains.  The mountains of north Georgia are beautiful, and home to some of the coolest little towns in the state.  On our last free weekend we hit the road and visited two of our state's coolest parks, New Echota Historic Site and Fort Mountain State Park.

Getting to both of these parks is simple.  Coming out of Atlanta I would recommend going to New Echota first.  Head up I-75 North until you get to the Dalton area.  Get off the interstate at exit 317 on GA-225.  The park is less than a mile off of the road on the right.  When you are done at New Echota, you have several choices on how to get to Fort Mountain.  You can stay on GA-225 until you get to Spring Place, then you pick up GA-52, or you can drive over and pick up US-411 and take it all the way to Chatsworth, and then get on GA-52.  Once you are on GA-52, be prepared for some challenging roads.  The mountain roads switch back and forth, and a good deal of the highway does not have a railing, so take it slow.  If you do get in front of someone who has to be somewhere a whole lot faster than you want to be there, just pull off to the side.  There are pull off lanes every few miles to allow people to pass.

New Echota is a piece of history that deserves much more recognition than it gets now.  In the early half of the 19th Century, as Americans pressed farther west, they continued to encroach on the lands of Native Americans.  Some tribes fought back, and others attempted to make treaties with the Americans.  One of the tribes that attempted to make peace with the new nation was the Cherokee.  To stay on their ever shrinking corner of Georgia, the Cherokee attempted to adopt a republican style of government like the United States operated, they wore American style clothing, and even stopped living a nomadic lifestyle and began living in permanent homes.  Beginning in 1819, the Cherokee settled the land of New Echota, and in 1825 adopted it as their official capital.  This did not stop the growing number of people looking for new land.  Following the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson, things got worse for the Native Americans.  In 1832, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which called for Native Americans to be forcibly removed to land west of the Mississippi River.  After years of legal battles trying to maintain their rights, a small group of residents in 1835 signed the Treaty of New Echota, which agreed for the Cherokee to move to Oklahoma.  The treaty was controversial because it was signed by a questionable group of leaders who the majority of the tribe did not recognize.  Despite the disputed treaty, the government began driving Cherokee west in what would become known as the Trail of Tears.  New Echota therefore lays claim to being the site where the Trail of Tears began.

After entering the historic site you will see a wonderful recreation of what the city would have looked like at the time.  Many of the homes and buildings on the site are original, either to the town of New Echota, or from other Cherokee towns.  The homes that are not from the town were moved there by the state to help protect them and to help people understand what it looked like.  The first interesting building on site is the Council House, where the governing body of the Cherokee Nation met until 1835.  This two story building housed the 32 member National Council that acted as a Congress for the Cherokee.  Next you will see the Supreme Courthouse, where the Cherokee Nation carried out there own justice system.  The Cherokee did not have a prison system, so crimes were often settled with brutal punishments such as flogging or hangings.  After that wander up to the Worcester House.  The Worcester House was the home of a white pastor and his family that chose to live among the Cherokee.  There Rev. Samuel Worcester worked to translate the Bible into Cherokee.  He was expelled from the town by the State of Georgia in 1834 for failing to get the state's permission to live with the Cherokee.  Despite building the home that you see today, he lost the home and land when the newly opened territory was placed into a land lottery.  When you are done at Worcester House, get on the mile long nature trail that wanders through the woods around the park.  You will see a set of forests that must look very similar to what the Cherokee saw 200 years ago.  After you are done with your easy hike, visit the Print Shop to see how the Cherokee attempted to modernize their lives by printing a weekly newspaper in both English and Cherokee, and printed books such as the Bible for the locals.  If you are there at the right time a guide will walk you through the eighty plus letter Cherokee alphabet.  The entire site can be seen in less than two hours.  There is an introductory movie, and a museum at the entrance, but that can all be seen in about 20 minutes.  If you want to stay for a while there are plenty of picnic tables to use.

After you leave New Echota, head towards Fort Mountain State Park.  Neither of us had ever heard of the park before planning our trip the day before we set out, but we're glad we found it.  Overshadowed by the more famous Amicalola Falls State Park nearby, Fort Mountain is just as beautiful, and just as rugged.  For anyone who lives in Georgia, I would recommend getting a Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Pass.  The pass gets you and a guest into parks for free throughout the state, and gets you several other perks such as two free rounds of golf at state run courses each year.  After winding through the mountain roads to get to the ranger station, we set out for a hike.  One recommendation, take some food and drinks.  This park is not near any major town.  In the 30 mile drive from New Echota we passed just a couple of gas stations, and no restaurants of note.  They do sell small snacks in the ranger station if you forget to bring anything.  The park is most famous for the 855 foot stone wall built be Native Americans more than 1500 years ago.  There is no definitive answer as to why they built the wall, but it is an impressive site.  Rising to impressive heights in some places, and small in others, it must have taken years to construct with primitive tools and manpower.  Look for the pits around the wall that would have allowed fighters to fire through the openings at attacking tribes.  After wandering around the wall, head for the tower building built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression.  This four story tower on a high clearing gave young firemen a chance to see forest fires from what must be 50 miles away.  Look for the heart carved into the stone of the building's wall.  A very nice lady standing outside who worked for the park said she was the daughter of the foreman of the crew that built the building more than 80 years ago.  She said her father carved the heart shaped stone to represent his love for her mother.  After climbing to the top of the well-preserved building, take the 20 minute walk to the West Overlook.  One of the most impressive sites in all of Georgia, this overlook allows you to see the entire valley below, and on a clear day like we had you must be able to see all the way to Tennessee (but don't quote me on that).  As you walk down look at some of the rock caves that were clearly used by Native Americans as shelters.  You can see the drawings on the stone that are centuries old.  Our last stop in the park was the Big Rock Trail down by the lake.  The mile long trail is short, but very steep, so wear good shoes.  The highlight is the wonderful cascading waterfall that you can walk right up to and put your feet in the clear water.  We stayed at the park for about three hours, and got some great hiking in.  There were many more people who were there for camping, and it must be impressive because people were literally lining up to sign up for sites, both RV sites and backpacking sites.  If you did want to make a longer day out of it there are much longer trails to hike, and they have a putt putt course.  How can you not like hiking through beautiful mountains and then playing a round of putt putt when you are done?

Our day came to an end going to dinner in one of our favorite towns to visit in Georgia, Blue Ridge.  The vibe of that town is addictive.  Blue Ridge is another post for another day though.  We set out at 8:00am that day, and got home around 9:00pm, and made a great day out of finding two new sites we hadn't experienced before.  You truly can find wonderful locations all around you, but far to often we focus on visiting towns and countries far from home.  Don't overlook what is right around you, and it will help you have a better understand of your state's history, and a better understanding of the state you live in today.  It will also give you a lot of fun exploring, and that is a great way to spend a day.

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