published Monday, November 14th, 2011

Cleanup on Georgia's George Disney Trail an arduous process

By Mark Millican/The Daily Citizen, Dalton

DALTON, Ga. -- Wes Lynch said one guide labels the George Disney Trail "the toughest short trail in Georgia."

Both novice and experienced hikers would likely agree.

When straight-line wind shears that reached 75 mph raked Whitfield and Murray counties on a Saturday afternoon in mid-June, thousands were left without power and several residences and vehicles were damaged. No injuries were reported, but it would be days before the damage was assessed on a remote historical site on Rocky Face Ridge -- the gravesite of Civil War soldier George Disney and his namesake trail.

For most trekkers, it takes the better part of an hour to ascend the northern horn of the ridge to the top where Disney's grave is well-marked. A bench halfway up the trail offers welcome respite from the climb -- which includes very few switchbacks to make walking easier -- and the winds that tore across the flank of the mountain in late spring have cleared a view of I-75, Blue Mountain and the community of Rocky Face to the north and west.

Eastern hardwood coves and ridges showed off their autumnal palette of colors on the trail last week.

Lynch, a captain with the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office, said during rest breaks on the trail that he and two other officers -- Lt. Phillip Herren and Lt. Patrick Rollins -- were tramping up the mountain before the storm hit for other reasons.

"We'd been trying to get in shape, and were hiking the trail for about a year and a half," he said. "We did it two or three times a week, and then some weeks we didn't get up here at all. We would carry packs and add weight to them. We ended up making it to the top in 25 minutes with a good pace, but they were hard minutes."

After the storm, the trio saw action needed to be taken to clear the trail and make it safe for other hikers. They began lugging chain saws and axes up the steep path, cutting downed trees to make the "walking" easier and safer.

"We've noticed there've been some other folks up here cutting trees out of the trail, but we don't know who they are," Lynch said. "We certainly can't take credit for all of it because somebody else has been doing a good bit of work."

Herren, the training coordinator for the sheriff's office, said a concern since the storm has been that people don't hurt themselves on the trail -- and he hopes more people will learn about the historic path.

"Whitfield County people need to be aware of it," he said. "It's a real nice trail. It's not for the faint of heart, but it won't kill you. It's a good way to stay in shape, no doubt about that."

Rollins, the administrative lieutenant over the department's patrol division, remarked with a laugh while yielding a chain saw that left lingering the smell of sawdust in the breeze, "I just come up for the exercise and the view."

Boy Scouts discovered the Confederate soldier's grave on the mountain in 1912 and marked it. Other Scouts since have rebuilt the trail, and one teenager built a chapel with podium and benches on top as part of his Eagle Scout project.

Disney was a member of the Fourth Kentucky Infantry that was helping defend Dalton in 1864. Mill Creek was flooded between the ridges -- where Highway 41 and I-75 now pass through -- forcing Union troops to try and scale the ridge on the western flank before being repulsed.

After the Battle of Rocky Face the Union troops moved south through Snake Creek Gap between Villanow and Sugar Valley and met Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston's troops for the Battle of Resaca.

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