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Don Wells, head of the Mountain Stewards, describes the work done at Eagle’s Rest Park and announces two new projects on Mt. Oglethorpe.

BY BARBARA SCHNEIDER. PHOTOS BY JIM FRANCIS.

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Eagle’s Rest, a 107-acre public park on Mt. Oglethorpe, celebrated its fifth anniversary Saturday, March 23 with a gathering of supporters—and plans for new projects—from the highest point in Pickens County.

Kathleen Ingram, daughter of the park’s founders Ken and Billie Ann Rice, welcomed more than 50 supporters including Pickens County Commission Chair Rob Jones to the cloud-level event—an elevation of 3,288 feet atop Mt. Oglethorpe.

Ingram opened the program with a tribute to “supporters of the mountain,” the late Bert Loftman and Ed Newman.

“This was my mom’s dream,” Ingram told the crowd. She shared the story of a dinner party 20 years ago where her parents learned the land on top to Mt. Oglethorpe—the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail from 1937 to 1958—was going to be auctioned off the next morning. Mt. Oglethorpe and its Eagle’s Rest Park are Big Canoe’s “next door neighbors,” with an emergency entrance near Deer Ridge Run in the Sanderlin Mountain neighborhood of Big Canoe.

“My dad and I went to a football game the next morning but my mom headed to Pickens County to bid on the property.”

Billie Ann Rice bought her mountaintop.

Determined to protect the land from development, for years Ken and Billie Ann Rice pondered what to do with it. After 17 years, and with encouragement from friends Mike and Kay Davis and John and Linda Feight, the Rice family committed to preserving the land by creating a public park. The family created the Mt. Oglethorpe Foundation, a 501 c3 non-profit.

Don Wells and the Mountain Stewards have been active supporters of Eagle’s Rest Park and Mt. Oglethorpe. They developed three trails; two forming concentric circles around the mountain’s crest are Eagle's Rest Trail, the upper and Mt Oglethorpe, the lower. The third trail is called Grassy Knob Vista Trail.

Mountain Stewards—with an average age of 70—are currently working on trails and cleaning up storm damage from the winter.

Speaking to the gathering, Wells said, “The Mountain Stewards mission is twofold: to protect Indian cultural heritage and create/maintain recreation facilities in the North Georgia mountains.”

The two new Mt. Oglethorpe projects will include building a meditation garden at the bottom of a hill and creating a Trail of Tears memorial. Georgia Marble donated an eight-feet wide by five and one-half feet tall and eight-inch thick slab of marble. The Mountain Steward heavy lift team moved the 5,030-pound marble slab to an area where the carving will take place. Carving won't be started until design is approved by the Mt. Oglethorpe Foundation board.

“There were two Cherokee villages in Big Canoe and a Creek village in Bent Tree,” he said. “The soldiers marched them down a trail that is now Monument Road.” This Trail of Tears Memorial will commemorate that tragedy.

Bob Knysz, a Big Canoe musician, performed two songs he had written; one pays tribute to Billie Ann Rice and the other “Cherokee Trail” to commemorate the mountain’s history.

The Mt. Oglethorpe Foundation welcomes donations to help offset the costs of creating the Trail of Tears Memorial. Donations to preserve and maintain Eagles Rest Park may be sent to the foundation. To make a donation or for directions, maps and detailed information about Eagle’s Rest Park and Mt. Oglethorpe, go to www.mtoglethorpe.org

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Kathleen Ingram (left) and her dad, Ken Rice, the owner and founder of Eagle’s Rest Park, greet supporters of the park as they arrive for the fifth anniversary celebration.

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Local Boy Scouts presented the colors to open the event then provided demonstrations for the audience. The scouts in this photo are showing the correct way to fold the flag.

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Boy Scouts demonstrate how the flag should look when folded correctly.

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A memorial to commemorate the Trail of Tears is planned. Georgia Marble Company donated a large slab of marble for a sculpture depicting the Native Americans. This drawing shows one of the designs being considered.

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One of the four viewing platforms designed for visitors to enjoy distant views. The four decks at the top of the mountain offer a 360-degree view; two are handicap accessible. From the platforms’ vantage points, visitors can see the Piedmont plateau, Lake Lanier, Stone Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain and Atlanta. From the north deck visitors can view North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama.

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