“The idea came from America’s State Parks, which is an organization of state park systems across the country,” said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites. “So there are many states doing this, where parks are kind of encouraging people to kick off the year with a healthy hike to appreciate the great outdoors and nature. So we have just about every state park and even some historic sites in Georgia leading these trips. Some are short, some are long, some are easy, some are more challenging. There’s themes to some of them. Fort Mountain State Park is even having a — instead of a polar bear plunge, they’re calling it a — Black Bear Plunge and they’re all going to jump into the cold mountain lake there when they’re done.
“[Through First Day Hikes], we want to remind people that state parks belong to them and that they are a fun way to [maintain] an active lifestyle, that you can enjoy getting out and exercising by hiking or biking, doing things outdoors ... [and appreciating] the beauty of Georgia around them. Also, it’s nice because a lot of people have that day off. A lot of children are out of school that day. So it’s a great opportunity for families to spend some time together.”
For a list of sites participating and information about each hike, visit GeorgiaStateParks.org/firstdayhikes.
According to the website, Red Top’s hike will be conducted from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Spanning 1 mile, the moderate trek along White Tail Trail will be led by Site Manager Daniel Hill. Participants need to gather at the trailhead at the Park Office’s parking lot.
At the Etowah Indian Mounds, patrons will be able to tour the 54-acre site — where several thousand American Indians lived from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1550 — at 9:30 a.m. Regarded as the most intact Mississippian Culture site in the Southeast, Etowah Indian Mounds at 813 Indian Mounds Road in Cartersville features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and a defensive ditch.
“The state park system is [participating in] the First Day Hike [to] try to encourage everybody to get out and hike,” said Keith Bailey, interpretive ranger for Etowah Indian Mounds. “So I’m taking the opportunity to offer everyone a guided hike around the mounds and nature trail area. In total, it will be ... 1 1/2 miles long. So it’s a short hike compared to some of the other state parks. Most of it’s fairly easy. It may be a little moderate or strenuous for people in not so great shape when we climb the mounds.
“It will be a guided hike, so we’ll be discussing the history. But unlike our usual hikes, I’ll also be adding in a lot of the nature trail [information] that we usually don’t do. So we’ll be looking for some of the migratory birds and [other wildlife] that’s around during the wintertime. We’ll be going up on the mounds and just looking around from up there. Depending on how the weather is, you never know what you’ll see.”
Along with providing details about the venue’s history and surrounding wildlife, Bailey also will discuss the connections between another neighboring American Indian site.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t know that the Leake Mounds existed here down the stream prior to the Etowah [Indian] Mounds being constructed,” Bailey said, referring to the Leake site, which was considered by archaeologists to be a vital ceremonial and economic center for societies residing across the Southeastern and Midwestern U.S. from 300 B.C. to A.D. 650. “So I will actually be tying the two together — how over the centuries you basically have that same trade system that would have been in place.
“Basically it would be like the difference between the Leake Mounds being the colonial era of the United States and then the Etowah being the more modern era. So similar people, similar things that they’re doing, but their culture changes over time.”
For more information on the Etowah Indian Mounds, visit www.gastateparks.org/EtowahMounds or call 770-387-3747. Further details about Red Top can be obtained by visiting www.gastateparks.org/RedTopMountain or calling 770-975-0055.