Rock City sought the help of Amicalola Deer Park in Dawsonville, Ga., when constructing a new habitat for its rare fallow deer. The park is partnered with Rainbow Nation, a Christian ministry, that brings children with special needs to the park for therapy with the animals. For more information, visit www.AmicalolaDeerPark.com.
LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. - Nearly 80 years ago, the family that runs Rock City thought white deer fit in nicely with the park's enchantment theme.
So just a few yards from dozens of hidden gnomes, waterfalls and sweeping vistas, the park established an exhibit for white fallow deer. Visitors looked into a rock gully to view the extremely rare, all-white deer with roots in Old World England.
But over the years, the deer's bloodline weakened and the herd thinned to just three females. Park officials worried about the animals' future.
This weekend, Rock City visitors will get the first view of a deer habitat that park managers say is more comfortable for the animals and should help them prosper.
"We're transferring them from what was really more of an exhibit into something that is a truly natural environment where they can thrive as a herd," said Jeff Raabe, Rock City's operation manager.
This weekend also marks the start of the busy spring and summer travel season for the Lookout Mountain attraction.
The park started planning the move in the fall, when it contacted Amicalola Deer Park in Dawsonville, Ga., for guidance. That park is noted for rehabilitating and caring for rare species of deer.
"We brought the deer here for about five months, and they really had to learn how to walk again," said Sean Smith, a curator and rehabber for the deer park.
The new habitat at Rock City, 1.5 acres of sloping ground with English ivy and other green vegetation, closely mirrors what the deer would enjoy in nature.
"The goal is to have this be completely self-sustaining," Raabe said. "We will supplement their food with corn and other treats, so they are fat and happy, but mostly we want them to sustain themselves on what will grow here naturally."
While visiting in Dawsonville, two deer became pregnant, Smith said. They will have fawns sometime in June, and Raabe and Rock City spokeswoman Meagan Jolley said the park likely will have a naming contest on Facebook and Twitter.
"There are a lot of educational opportunities here," Raabe said.
If the fawns are viable, Rock City will have seven animals on permanent display.
The deer, raised from the Rock City original herd established in the 1930s, had grown accustomed to walking on rock, Smith said. At the deer park, they learned to walk on soft ground and to forage for naturally growing food.
Rock City never has been cited for any problems with its care of the deer, records show. Its only report available, a 2008 inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, notes that the deer were being overfed.
Fallow deer, especially the white variety, occur only in about 1 out of 10,000 individuals, Smith said. Introduced in the United States during Colonial times, the deer is rare today, though it survives outside captivity in some parts of middle Georgia.