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On a clear day Atlanta and southern points of interest can be seen from the south deck. PHOTO BY JOHN FEIGHT

 

Eagle’s Rest Park atop Mt. Oglethorpe marks its second year

By Wayne Tidwell, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About 75 minutes north of Atlanta at the southernmost end of the Appalachian mountain chain sits 3,288-ft Mt. Oglethorpe and at the top of it, Eagle’s Rest Park. This park is protected by lovers of the mountain, a place of beautiful views, spiritual presence and a touch of Stonehenge.

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Bill Gibson checks out the views from the northern viewing deck. PHOTO BY JOHN FEIGHT

From its vantage points visitors can see the Piedmont plateau, Lake Lanier, Stone Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain and Atlanta and from the north deck North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama.

The 107-acre park is on property purchased by Ken and Billie Ann Rice of Big Canoe 20 years ago.

“We were at a friend’s house 20 years ago and someone at the party mentioned that the property on top of Oglethorpe Mountain was going to be auctioned off the next day,” Ken Rice recalled. “We decided we were interested but the next morning I had to go to Auburn. I took Billie Ann [his wife] up to the top of the mountain around 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. and said this looks like something we want to buy. Then I took off in my truck to Auburn. When I got back Billie had bought 107 acres on top of the mountain.”

For 17 years the property remained pretty much untouched and visited primarily by residents of Big Canoe who knew about the special place through the Rices. They weren’t sure what they wanted to do with it other than to preserve it. They said there was talk about logging it or developing it and they didn’t want that to happen.

But then Rice and John Feight came together and an idea was hatched.

“We held onto the property for 19 years and Billie and I talked about making a park up there,” Rice said. “One night we had the Feights and Mike and Kate Davis over to the house and we happened to mention to them that we would like to make a park up there and things took off from there.”

Rice and Feight would seem an unlikely pair, both successful in their own right, to embark on such an ambiguous and challenging project.

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Fall splendor viewed from the northern deck atop Mt. Oglethorpe. PHOTO BY JOHN FEIGHT

Rice was a consensus All-American football star at Auburn and seven-year NFL player for the Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, and the Miami Dolphins. He was selected to more All-American teams than any player in Auburn history at that time. Named to the Freshman All-SEC Team in ’57, he played in four-post season all-star games after his senior season and was the first player drafted in both the American Football League (AFL) and the National Football League (NFL) in 1960. He worked for Tom Cousins, original developer of Big Canoe and later became a builder. He was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.

John Feight is a successful artist and founder of The Foundation for Hospital Art. Feight’s artwork and murals appear in 195 countries, over 6,000 hospitals. He and his group painted images at the Olympic Village at the 1992 games. He painted with 2,300 people at one time at an event in Dallas, Tex. Over 500,000 volunteers and patients have participated in an effort to create over 35,000 paintings through Feight’s foundation.

But Rice and Feight seem to work well together and have equal passion for the preservation of the special mountaintop piece of earth and the inclusion of those who share their passion.  In 2013 they worked together to establish the Oglethorpe Mountain Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) organization with a nine-member board established for the sole purpose of preserving the mountaintop and development of a public park. The park was dedicated December 23, 2013 after state and federal approval.

Thanks to groups of volunteers and donations from “friends of the mountain,” the property now consists of viewing decks, hiking trails, an outdoor classroom and a “privy.”

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Lake Sconti and nearby Big Canoe as viewed from Eagle’s Rest Park. PHOTO BY WAYNE TIDWELL

“John got into the idea of a park immediately and laid out his idea of an 80-foot stone eagle that could be built by park visitors,” Rice said. The eagle eventually became a 120-foot eagle and is well underway.

“There are two things about the mountain,” Feight said. “The mystery and the altitude that has an attitude. You get up there and you’re in another world, peaceful and reflective, and we want to hold that.

“We want people to be involved in this special place and have begun the building of an eagle, made by the laying of stones, that will never be finished,” Feight said. “There is something about stones that gives a feeling of “that is my stone, it’s here and I am leaving but it remains.”

Mt. Oglethorpe is named for James Edward Oglethorpe, a British general, Member of Parliament, philanthropist, and founder of the colony of Georgia. As a social reformer, he hoped to resettle Britain's poor, especially those in debtors' prisons, in the New World.

The mountain was the start of the Appalachian Trail from 1937 until 1958 when the startwas moved to Springer Mountain due to “development” in the area. Its original name was Grassy Knoll. A monument to Oglethorpe stood at the summit but was moved to Jasper after being vandalized and stands today near the Woodbridge Inn. The four decks at the top of the mountain offer a 360-degree view. Two are handicap accessible.

Funds for the park have come, without fundraising events, through individuals and organizations with interest in helping to preserve the mountain top, such as the Mountain Stewards, whose members have built three of the observation decks, trails and an outdoor classroom on the mountain with a crew whose average age is 76, according to Rice.

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John Feight at the outdoor classroom at Eagle’s Rest Park. PHOTO BY WAYNE TIDWELL

Another local group the “Wildflower Bunch” garden club in Big Canoe has also contributed and planted trees and flowers.

A Dulcimer group of 10-15, made up mainly of residents of nearby communities Big Canoe and Bent Tree have performed at the park as has the Drum Circle of Jasper and a mandolin group called “January 8” to crowds of over 100.

“In December the mountain has a whole new attitude with the fog and wind,” Feight commented.

Rice recalled the day of the dedication as a foggy one. “People who arrived late couldn’t see where the event was being held but could hear the music and followed steps that had been built by Boy Scouts to the gathering of folks in the woods.”

Rice said he has met people from as far away as Florida and Illinois who had heard about the park and had set out to find it.

Future park plans call for benches for hikers to rest and perhaps a picnic pavilion and a sundial. Sundials are valued as decorative objects, as literary metaphors and as object of mathematical study. A gnomon is the part of a sundial that casts the shadow.

“The sundial is more of a sculpture,” Feight said. “The concept is that the Marble dial (gnomon) will be white marble emerging out of the ground [in Pickens County]. It’s not from somewhere else, it’s from here.”

They also plan to have pictorials at the observation decks that name the points of interest that the viewer sees from each vantage point.

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Stones laid by Eagle’s Rest visitors that outline a 120-foot eagle image. PHOTO BY WAYNE TIDWELL

Throughout the park are stacks of stones and visitors are encouraged to add their own, as Native Americans had done historically.

“People stack stones and when they come back they see that others have added to the stack,” Feight said of the random mini monuments.

Activities at Eagle’s Rest are centered around the seasons.

“Stonehenge was related to the solstice,” Feight said, “and we set our schedule on that also. Four programs each year are set on the solstice and the equinox both of which are connected with the seasons of the year.”

Equinox is the astronomical event when the imaginary plane of the Earth’s equator passes the center of the sun, illuminating the southern and northern hemispheres equally, or when day and night are equal.

The solstice occurs twice a year when the sun reaches its highest and lowest position relative to the equator. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year.

The next scheduled park event will be December 22, the winter solstice, at 2:00 p.m. and will feature mandolin player Bob Knysz.

On March 20, 2016, the spring equinox, at 2:00 p.m., a dulcimer group will perform.

On June 21, the summer solstice, at 2:00 p.m., a drum and flute circle will perform.

Other events will be held on the autumn equinox and the winter solstice in 2016.

The park is also a place where people come on Easter Sunday to watch the sunrise.

More information about the Mt. Oglethorpe Foundation can be found at: www.mtoglethorpe.org

More information about The Hospital Art Foundation can be found at: www.hospitalart.org.

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