Hill Country Montessori Middle School students recently collaborated to create two Quests at a nearby nature center and park. (For the location of the nature center and information about its programs, visit it online at http://www.cochranmillnaturecenter.org/.) Taken together, the two Quests reveal the rich history of the Bear and Little Bear Creeks in Cochran Mill Park. The park property was the site of a couple of 19th Century grist mills, as well as an electricity generating station in the early 1900's. We based our Quest on a survey of historical structures in the Park (one that appears to exist only as a single copy in the office of the state archaeologist), along with an essay in "Early Georgia" (a periodical published by the Society for Georgia Archaeology at http://www.thesga.org/) about the technology behind Cochran Park's mills and dams.
Sadly, most of the structures in the park were severely vandalized in the 1970s and 1980s. Two mills were burned by arsonist's flames, while a more recent picnic area was utterly demolished (with one picnic table currently underwater at the base of the largest waterfall in the park). I am disappointed that such a lovely place, with such rich historical significance, can have been mistreated to such an extent. Even the trail signs have been damaged. Several are missing altogether, while others have graffiti on them or have been pulled up out of the ground. Graffiti used to cover the underside of the supports to a pedestrian bridge across Bear Creek; our school scrubbed away some of it, but ghost images of the older paint still remain. I am baffled that such a rural and rather remote location has been visited by such damage. Visiting the park, I begin to wonder about the value of place-based education. If greater awareness of local "treasures" (historical or ecological) means greater visitation, doesn't that increase the likelihood, in turn, that vandalism would occur? Are fragile landscapes best left unknown and relatively hidden, or protected by park signs that are easy to ignore?
With those thoughts in mind, here is the text of the first of our two Quests:
A Shocking Conclusion
Cochran Mill Park Quest #1
To complete this Quest, a field guide to trees might be helpful. Park in the Cochran Mill Nature Center parking lot. To get to the trailhead for this quest, walk back down the gravel entry road along the edge of the pond. Turn left and walk downhill to a trail sign. Take the wide, flat trail straight ahead of you, now known as The Waterfall Trail. This path used to be the access road to the mills along Bear Creek, whose ruins you will visit during this quest.
As you walk down the straight trail, you will notice a pile of rocks a short distance off to the right. __ __ __ __ c __ covers many of the rocks.
Continue on the path until it curves to the left. At the bend, you will see a large fallen pine tree that has been partially cut into logs. It is the same kind of pine that commonly grows in this part of Georgia, including along this trail. What kind of pine is it? __ __ __ c __ __ __ y.
Continue for about ten minutes along the trail, passing a small rock outcrop on the left. You will come to a place where the trail leads out onto bare rock. What kind of rock is it? You can take it for __ __ __ __ __ __ c.
Follow the sound of flowing water to the remains of a large dam. You will walk past an area on the right where we did some privet removal a year ago. The privet is already on its way back, though. You will see several small evergreen trees growing among the privet. What kind of tree are they? c __ d __ c s.
Stand at the stream edge, facing the broken part of the dam where the water flows over the edge of the wall. (The dam was originally constructed sometime in the 1930s; vandals broke the dam in the early 1970s.) Notice that, when viewed from downstream, the dam face has a series of steps. In side view through the gap in the dam where the water flows, you can see that the widest part of the dam is toward the bottom, and the narrowest part is toward the top. Why do you think the dam was built that way? After pondering this, turn away from the dam and face the woods. You will see a brown trash barrel. Take the narrow trail toward it. Near the barrel, along a wide path, you will see a large tree. Look around on the ground for its leaves, which have rounded lobes to them. What kind of tree is it? __ h __ c __ __ __ __.
Take the wide trail upstream until you come to a fork in the road. Look to your left, and you will see some ruins of an old house. It was built in the first decade of the 20th century, for the mill operator and later, the resident caretaker of the property.
Continue straight up the path for several hundred feet. Be watching on your left for the ruins of a small concrete structure that once had a flat wooden top to it. What do you think that it was? A __ __ c __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __. A group of bikers, the story goes, vandalized this part of the park in the 1980s.
Continue on the trail upstream until you arrive at a second large rock outcrop that the trail crosses. Look right, and you will see the ruins of a former mill, originally constructed by Barry Cochran in the late 1800s for the grinding of grain. A wood-framed building, it was destroyed by a fire set by vandals in 1972. Amid the ruins is a large wheel made of rock that was a very important part of the mill operation. What is it? A __ c __ __ __ __ __ __ __.
Between the ruins and the stream is a very weedy area; however, if you feel adventurous, walk toward the stream edge, and you will find the water wheel support foundations. Look out across the stream. Until the dam upstream was broken in the 1970s, that area was a pond. Hiram Evans, who owned the park property in the 1940’s, had the lower dam constructed to create this pond, but it was never used to power a mill. Instead, Evans had a building on stilts constructed in the middle of the pond, with a causeway accessing it that ran from the mill building out into the pond. Locally known as “the fortress”, this building had a checkered history. Hiram Evans was the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; supposedly, he used the building for secret Klan gatherings. Later on, in the 1960s, parties were held there. The house burned down in 1972, in the same fire that destroyed the mill.
Continue on the trail upstream to another dam. Along the way, you will notice several concrete structures sticking out of the rock. The larger, low ones were foundations for utility poles; the tall, narrow ones closer to the dam were pylons for a penstock that carried water from the upper millpond down to a structure you will see later on this Quest. The dam itself dates to the mid-to-late 1800s, and is built of local stones without mortar. Sections of it were replaced by volunteers in the late 1970s. There is a pipe sticking out of the dam. How many layers of stone can you count above the pipe? __ __ __ __ c.
Turn around and start back down the wide trail downstream. You will arrive at a fork in the path, with a large pine tree straight ahead. Take the left fork. Once you reach the rock face, go slightly left, and follow a path leading down to Bear Creek, past several clumps of star moss. The trail continues along the stream edge. Look across the stream, and you will see a small rock-and-cement structure. This building was a generator house, constructed in 1906. Stand at the edge of the stream in a location directly opposite from the near corner of that structure. There should be two slender trees near the stream bank that make a “doorway” through which you can view the generator house. Turn around and walk away from the stream edge. Walk until you cross a gully/path, counting the number of steps it takes you to get there. Round that number of steps to the nearest ten, and write it here: __ __ __ __ c.
Continue to walk in the direction you were going when you reached the path/gully, taking about the same number of steps that you wrote above. Look for a box with the stamp pad and book for this Quest.
Finally, arrange the letters inside the boxes in each answer above, to find the answer to this question: "The generator house is the newest structure along one of the streams in Cochran Mill Park. From 1906 until 1918, it was used to produce something for the City of Palmetto. What did the generator house make?"
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __.