In 1931 two state parks, Indian Springs and Vogel, were joined to create the Georgia State Parks System. This year, 2006, marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of Georgia's State Parks. Union County is proud to be numbered among those in Georgia with the next-to-oldest park.
Exploring the history of Vogel and seeing how things worked together, even when America was in the throes of the Great Depression, is nothing less than amazing.
First, Vogel got its name from the donors of a gift of sixteen acres on May 1, 1927 from Fred Vogel, Jr. and Augustus H. Vogel, owners of the Pfister-Vogel Leather Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Vogels owned 65,000 acres of land in the mountainous region around what is now Vogel State Park. Timber from this vast acreage had been harvested for tanbark and tanwood needed in the leather-processing business and shipped to Milwaukee. Imagine the manpower needed to get the timber from the mountain forests, take it to Gainesville to the nearest railroad, and ship it by rail to faraway Wisconsin.
Then, during World War I, a synthetic tannin acid was perfected, and the tedious process of getting the acid needed from Georgia's forests saved the company much money. Furthermore, it preserved the forests from destruction. What would the Vogels do with the vast landholdings in Georgia and elsewhere?
To the initial sixteen acres donated by the Vogels, another gift of 248 acres was given to the state of Georgia specified for Vogel State Forest Park. Somewhere along the line, the term "Forest" was dropped and the name of this second-oldest park in Georgia became Vogel, after the initial donors. The Vogels had built a meeting place which they called the "Tea Room" at the top of Neel Gap. This was incorporated into the Walisi-yi Inn, built of native stones, and used now as a supply store and stop along the Appalachian Trail. It once was a popular restaurant at the top of the mountain, with a magnificent panoramic view of the mountains to the south.
During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began the Civilian Conservation Corps in an effort to provide jobs to young men without work. A CCC Camp was built at Goose Creek just north of Vogel State Park. The young men of the CCC's built the dirt dam on Wolf Creek to form the twenty acre Lake Tralyta, centerpiece of Vogel State Park, named for a Cherokee Indian Princess whose grave is located at Stonepile Gap. They also carved from the forest places for cabins and picnic areas and built the initial camping sites at Vogel.
To honor these men of the Civilian Conservation Crops, Vogel State Park is the scene of the CCC Reunion, where those still surviving who appreciated their $30 per-month salary, $25 of which was sent home to help their families during the Depression, meet to talk about those "good old days." One of them, John Pierce Head, is quoted as saying: "It gets me that we didn't know what we were building. We didn't know it would impress people as it has." At the park, a museum cataloging the work of the CCC in forestry preservation, building of the park and its first cottages and the dam, and other duties of the CCC documents this important era in recovering the American economy.
To celebrate seventy-five years of Georgia's State Parks, Georgia Public Broadcasting is airing a documentary entitled "Sites to Behold: The History of Georgia's State Parks." The premier showing is Wednesday, July 26 at 8 p. m. (past when you read this). However, encore showings will be aired on Friday, July 28 at 7:00 p. m, and Sunday, July 30 at 6 p. m. It will be worth your viewing time to tune in and enjoy this walk through history. Billy Townsend, retired Chief Historian of Georgia State Parks, in his inimitable way, opens with fascinating stories about how over three million people visited the various parks during his tenure as Parks historian.
Mists rise over Blood Mountain that towers over Vogel State Park. Legends are told about the blood of Cherokees and Creeks that mingled in an Indian war on the mountain to turn the waters of Wolf Creek blood-red as it flowed downward.
Mountain trails are nearby for avid hikers: The Appalachian Trail can be accessed at Walisi-yi on top of Neel Gap; the Byron Herbert Reece Trail honors North Georgia's extraordinary poet; Duncan Ridge and Coosa Backcountry Trails challenge the most strenuous; Slaughter Creek and Sosebee Cove Trails are not quite as challenging. All beckon Vogel visitors to explore nature and appreciate the flora and fauna.
When the sun rises or sets above Lake Tralyta, rainbows of beauty are reflected in its still waters. Programs throughout the year offered at this next-to-oldest and most popular park reflect the cultural and natural history of the area. Right here within Union County we have one of the most cherished of Georgia's resources. Let us celebrate seventy-five years of its continued service to help rejuvenate people. Within its acres of beauty is our own "fountain of youth."
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 27, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.