Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, like the rest of Douglas County, was blanketed in snow last weekend, giving the piedmont forest, creek and historic mill ruins in the park a white coating they rarely see.
Park rangers said people still visited the park and hiked its trails despite the roughly 9 inches of snow that fell on the park Friday and Saturday. Someone even built a snowman in front of the historic New Manchester mill ruins that are the iconic symbol of the state park.
“I don't know who made the little snowman, I discovered him Sunday about 2 p.m. while leading a Winter Tree ID hike,” said Don Scarbrough, interpretive ranger at the park.
Scarbrough estimated about 200 people visited Sweetwater Saturday and Sunday. Scarbrough took pictures of the snowman and snow-covered trees along the creek.
"Several families from Florida and south Georgia came to visit for the snowy magnificence," he said.
Royce Johnson, assistant park manager, said Sweetwater handled the storm well, with no injuries or damage.
“The only time the park was closed was Saturday morning until 11:30 a.m. while park staff and volunteers worked hard to clear the roads and trails of downed trees and debris for safety,” Johnson said, adding the visitor’s center didn’t open until 3 p.m. Saturday due to a power outage.
While the snow and snowman should be long gone this coming weekend, Sweetwater welcomes everyone to come out and take a free tour inside the mill ruins on Sunday, Dec. 17, from 12-4 p.m.
Sweetwater is hosting a grand reopening for the mill ruins during that time, and the only fee is the $5 parking fee per car. Tours inside the mill ruins are typically $5 per person on a guided hike.
The event Sunday is being held to celebrate the restoration of the mill ruins. The restoration to stabilize the brick structure took place over the summer at a cost of $375,000. Hikes and other events inside the mill ruins were halted a few years back when someone noticed a brick column in the mill ruins leaning.
Guided hikes started back in October once the restoration work was done, but Johnson said the park wanted to hold the official grand reopening closer to the168th anniversary of the mill’s original opening on Dec. 21, 1849.
Johnson said there will be people dressed in period clothing, and that guides and interpretive rangers will be on hand to provide information about the history of the mill ruins.
He said the main room and the elevator room will be open to visitors. The only area that visitors won’t be allowed in is the wheel room where the archway is due to safety concerns.
“It will be kind of a cool little gathering kind of celebrating the fact that the mill’s been finished,” Johnson said last month. “It should be a fun day.”
The Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park are also celebrating the grand reopening with a Candlelight Hike to the Mill from 6-8 p.m. on Dec. 17, the same day as the grand reopening.
The cost is $5 cash per person and goes to the nonprofit Friends of Sweetwater group, which is made up of volunteers who help maintain the park year-round. The fees collected go directly into enhancing the park, Johnson said.
The Candlelight Hike to the Mill is also being offered Saturday, Dec. 9 from 6-8 p.m. for those who can’t make it on Dec. 17.
Johnson said no headlamps or flashlights are allowed and that lanterns are provided to everyone on the candlelight hike.
Reservations aren’t required for the candlelight hike — just meet at the visitor’s center parking lot at 5:30 p.m.
SWEETWATER CREEK MILL RUINS GRAND REOPENING
• What: Grand reopening of the New Manchester mill ruins
• When: Sunday, Dec. 17, from 12-4 p.m.
• Where: Sweetwater Creek State Park, 1750 Mt. Vernon Rd., Lithia Springs
• Details: Hike inside the mill ruins at no charge other than $5 parking fee
• Contact: For more information, call the park at 770-732-5871