Jul. 26—Rocky Face Ridge Park "is exactly how" the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program "is supposed to work," said Chris Welton, a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Battlefield Trust, which works to protect and preserve Civil War, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields.
Welton spoke Monday at the grand opening of the park off Crow Valley Road. The American Battlefield Trust, formerly the Civil War Trust, and the American Battlefield Protection Program provided funding for Whitfield County to acquire parts of the 1,000-acre site of the park, which contains numerous Civil War fortifications and was the site of two Civil War battles.
"You got federal aid," he said. "You got a variety of nonprofit organizations. You got state government. You got local government. You got individual donors. All participating and protecting a beautiful and hallowed piece of ground. I want you to feel good about that."
Welton said the park will "play a vital role" in the continuation of the American Battlefield Protection Program as supporters can point to its success when requesting Congress renew funding for the program.
Welton's voice choked up as he talked about the park and the need to preserve history, no matter how painful.
"What happened here was tragic," he said. "We don't celebrate that. We don't celebrate the destruction and the loss of life. We certainly don't celebrate slavery. But we do celebrate the attitude of the people who fought here, and the sacrifices they made. Everyone thought they were doing the right thing."
Jim Ogden, chief historian of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, said Rocky Face Ridge Park will play an important role in telling the history of the Civil War in Georgia.
"The Atlanta Campaign begins here," he said. "While there will be more and bigger battles to the south, the campaign that will allow (Union Gen. William T.) Sherman in early September (1864) to communicate to (Union Gen.) Ulysses S. Grant and President Lincoln 'Atlanta is ours and fairly won,' that campaign began here. This story is one that can now be better told."
In addition to Civil War history, the park contains a hiking trail to the top of the ridge, a cross country trail around the park and about 10 miles of a mountain bike trail that circles the ridge. Representatives of the Northwest Georgia chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) helped design the mountain bike trail and provided $75,000 for its construction. The county received a $200,000 grant from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to build the trail.
Gaye Rice, president of Northwest Georgia SORBA, spoke at the grand opening. She noted the trail is already attracting bikers from around the nation.
"If you look around this parking lot you'll see cars from across the Southeast," she said. "We have been riding this trail for almost two years and the buzz is over-the-top. Everyone is so excited. They are telling their friends, and people are coming to ride."
County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen announced that one of the park's pavilions will be named for former board chairman Mike Babb. The county acquired a little more than 600 acres on the western side of the ridge during Babb's first tenure in office from 1997 to 2004.
During Babb's second tenure as board chairman from 2009 to 2016, the county acquired the 301-acre Grant Farm, which abuts the acres the county already owned and was the site of two Civil War battles in 1864, and was also the site of Confederate encampments when the Confederate Army spent the winter of 1863-64 in Dalton following the Battle of Chattanooga. The farm is where the parking lot and trailheads are located.
Babb said he is thankful for the honor.
"But I'm just one person," he said. "We acquired the land. But it was (former board chairman) Lynn Laughter and her commissioners and Jevin Jensen and his commissioners who did the work to make that land into a park."
Among the organizations that helped fund the park are Dalton Utilities, the Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga, the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, the Riverview Foundation in Chattanooga and Save the Dalton Battlefields.
Jensen said of the $3.4 million it cost to acquire the land and create the park, just $600,000 came from Whitfield County taxpayers.