Jul. 17—Standing at the top of Rocky Face Ridge, Bill Hester points to the south.
"If it weren't so hazy, you could see Kennesaw Mountain," he said.
Hester, a Whitfield County Public Works Department employee spearheading work on Rocky Face Ridge Park, said a 5K walking/hiking trail is planned to the peak and those who make the trek will be able to see much of North Georgia as well as parts of Tennessee and North Carolina.
"The view really is spectacular," said former Whitfield County Board of Commissioners chairman Mike Babb.
The entrance to the 1,000-acre park is on Crow Valley Road.
The county acquired the land for the park and began planning for it while Babb was chairman, and he has remained active in its development even after leaving the board more than four years ago.
Whitfield County Parks and Recreation Department Director Brian Chastain said the park is on schedule for a grand opening in the early fall but there was a "soft" opening several weeks ago.
About 10 miles of mountain bike trails circle the mountain, and bikers are out there almost every day riding.
Babb said he comes out on the weekends to "look at the tags on the cars in the parking lot." He said he regularly sees tags from across Northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee and from as far south as the metro Atlanta area.
Hester, who is a member of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), said the park has the potential to draw mountain bike riders from across the Southeast and perhaps the nation.
SORBA members 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.
Numerous Civil War trenches and fortifications dot the sides of the mountain, and the former Grant Farm, where the parking lot and trailheads are located, was the site of two Civil War skirmishes.
Part of the 5K trail has been built, but Hester said the county is waiting on its partners in the Civil War Trust and the Georgia Piedmont Land Trust to approve the final design.
"Three groups really control this property," said Babb. "The county owns the land. But the Civil War people helped us buy this, and they want to make sure the property they helped buy isn't turned into ball fields or subdivisions. It can only be used for outdoor recreation, so before they turned over the title, they gave a conservation easement to the Georgia Piedmont Land Trust. The Piedmont people make sure it stays as natural as possible."
Babb notes numerous other organizations helped acquire the land. The city of Dalton and the county both put state greenspace money into it. Dalton Utilities provided funding because the new use of the land helps preserve the watershed feeding nearby Haig Mill Lake by "getting the 80 cows that had been on the farm off this property."
The National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program also provided funding, as did private groups and foundations such as the Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga, the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, the Riverview Foundation in Chattanooga and Save the Dalton Battlefields.
Hester said it's unsafe for mountain bikers and hikers to use the same trail. He said until the walking/hiking trail is completed county officials would like for walkers and hikers to use the Public Works Department access road to the top.
Chastain said county officials are still waiting on the restrooms to be delivered and put into place before officially opening the park. They plan to build a pavilion and enlarge a pond on the property.
But Hester said they will continue to work on the park for years, clearing trees and brush to improve the view from the trails and to keep trees from blocking the trails.
On a recent trip to the top, he had to get out a chainsaw to clear trees that had fallen and blocked the access road.
"We were here the day before yesterday and it wasn't like this," he said. "We deal with something like this just about every day."