The park is expecting 100,000 visitors from across the country between June 26 and 29, where there will be live artillery demonstrations, music, battle re-enactments and guided hikes throughout the park’s 22 miles of trails, according to park data.
A love for history and a dedication to preserving the memories of the Americans who fought in the wooded hills in 1864 has inspired the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club to prepare the park for this summer’s festivities, said club President Scott Mackay.
During the day, Mackay works as an engineer, but most Saturday mornings, he is out at the park, crisscrossing the dozens of trails, picking up trash and pruning back overgrowth.
Mackay and a group of roughly a dozen trained “Crew Leaders” meet at the park’s Visitor’s Center every second Saturday morning of each month to work on the park’s paths.
The group meets in a clearing to the right of the visitors’ center, straps on bright yellow vests and waits for volunteers to arrive.
On Saturday morning, dozens of groups showed up in waves from all over the county. Church groups and school volunteer clubs arrived in waves, were briefed on their assignments and led out to a spot in the park.
The goal is to “protect and preserve” the trails while simultaneously teaching volunteers the history of the land, he said.
For almost six months now, the trail club has been working to create a new 1.5-mile trail that stretches between the visitors’ center and Gilbert Road. Titled the “24 Gun Trail,” the gently-sloping path breaks off from the popular Environmental Trail Loop and continues across Old Mountain Road, parallel to Stilesboro Road, up a hill to a spot where Union troops, under the direction of General William Tecumseh Sherman, positioned 24 cannons in their attack against Pigeon Hill and Little Kennesaw almost 150 years ago.
The cannons are long gone, and large holes are all that remain along the ridge of the hill today, said trail club member Jay Haney, but one can still see to the top of Kennesaw Mountain, where Confederate troops were once positioned and firing back at the Union troops.
Years of planning and work have gone into the preparations for the 150th anniversary, and the group began to sketch out this new trail two years ago, Haney said. Club members were required to undergo hours of training and prep work with the National Park Service before any volunteers were invited to step foot on the new trail.
“It’s an honor to build a new trail at a National Park,” said David Strand, a long-time member of the club.
The club has already built one other new trail, a half-mile path below the Illinois Monument, which was completed this fall, Mackay said.
With the work of a12-person board, the trail club works with an estimated annual budget of $40,000, made up of grants and donations to do its work, Mackay said.
Trail members use the funds to purchase rocks and wood to build bridges. They borrow equipment from the park and rely on the free labor of passionate volunteers who to help with the work, Mackay said.
Gil Guimares, 21, of Kennesaw, was helping install a set of rock stairs at a steep ridge in the new trail Saturday. It was his fourth time volunteering with the trail club in the past year, and Guimares said he enjoys working with members of his community outdoors in the woods.
Karan Shah, 17, a senior at Allatoona High School, helped position a number of heavy rocks in place to construct the new steps.
The president of his school’s Beta Club, a community service organization, Shah said helping out at the park was a great way to serve the community.
“It’s a good way to come out and get some exercise and help out in the community,” he said.
The trail was lined with clusters of people shifting red dirt around, packing into the ground and leveling it off so a thin layer of tiny rocks could be laid down in the near future to ease the hiker’s path.
The new trail cost almost $10,000 to construct, Haney said, and covered bags of rocks, wood and materials for building bridges and stairs throughout the path. The money came from a National Park Services challenge grant, he said, and all of the labor has been put in by volunteers.
More than 500 people have so far helped to build this trail, Haney said, and many more are expected to show up at next month’s trail work day. There is still much work to be done before anniversary festivities begin at the end of next month.
For more information on how to get involved with the trail club, or on events for the 150th anniversary, visit battleofkennesawmountain150.com.