When most people think of Sweetwater Creek State Park and the history there in eastern Douglas County, they typically think of the Civil War and the New Manchester Mill ruins that still remain after Sherman’s Army famously torched the mill and town around it in 1864.
But Don Scarbrough, an interpretive ranger at the park, always makes a point of talking about the Native Americans when he gives guided tours.
“I’ll mention this was the road to New Manchester and the road to Atlanta for 15 years, but for a couple of thousand years, it was a Native American footpath. It’s important,” said Scarbrough.
Georgia State Parks, along with state parks from the other 49 states, will be participating in the First Day Hike program on New Year’s Day.
At Sweetwater Creek State Park, Scarbrough will be leading a two-hour, moderately intense hike that focuses almost exclusively on the park’s Native American history. The hike will go from roughly 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 1. It will start at the Interpretive Center.
The hike will loosely follow the Yellow Trail, crossing the only bridge that goes over the creek in the park to the east ridge, which rises about 400 feet. Scarbrough said the hike on New Year’s Day won’t make the full loop on the trail.
Scarbrough, who has worked at Sweetwater for 17 of the past 22 years, said there has been a bridge in roughly the same spot since the 1840s. There have been four or five bridges in the same spot over the years, he said. Most recently, the bridge was washed out during the 2009 floods and was replaced about a year ago.
Tim Morris, assistant park manager at Sweetwater Creek, said Factory Shoals is on the east side of the park.
Across the creek to the east, one of the big landmarks First Day hikers will see is what Scarbrough said old timers call the “Indian Cave.”
Morris and Scarbrough said the Indian Cave is technically a rock overhang about 10 feet deep. Hikers will get to go inside as part of the First Day Hike.
Scarbrough said the Creeks and Cherokees inhabited the area around what now is the park until about 1828 “when they were basically forced to sell their land to the Europeans looking for gold.”
He said he’ll talk some about what was discovered during the drought from six years ago.
And he’ll delve into how the Creeks and Cherokees lived in the area that is now Sweetwater Creek State Park at the same time.
Later on New Year’s Day, there will be a guided hike to the Historic New Manchester Mill from 2-3:30 p.m. for those interested in learning more about the mill ruins while getting a chance to see inside the mill. Sweetwater Creek offers the mill tour several times a month.
Scarbrough said the First Day Hike covering Native American history is more of a rare event, although he’s hoping to do more if the interest is there.
“They had a frontier or boundary between the two nations, and it worked really well,” Scarbrough said... “So many people are interested in it, and so many people have Native American ancestors, Native American heritage. Even if it’s just one-thirty-second Cherokee, there’s just a lot of people it’s particularly relevant to.”
To reserve a spot for either tour, call Sweetwater Creek State Park at 770-732-5871. For more information, visit www.georgiastateparks.org.