2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   REVISITING THE TRAILS AT KENNESAW MTN.
NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD PARK

FRIDAY, APRIL 2

 
"It was a swelteringly hot and clear Monday, June 27, 1864 when some of the
heaviest fighting in the Atlanta Campaign occurred here . . . Interpreted
here are the historic events where over 5,350 soldiers were killed
in the battle fought from June 19, 1864 to July 2, 1864."
 
~ from the Kennesaw Mountain NBP website
 
 
That was a pretty ferocious battle, although there were others during the Civil War that had even more casualties than that. It's amazing how many men (mostly) died during those four years  -- more than 600,000.

Sherman came to Atlanta with about 100,000 men, 254 guns, and 35,000 horses, according to the "history and culture" page on the park website. Johnson's Confederate army had only 63,000 men and 187 guns (no horses are mentioned) but they had some advantage being on their own turf.


Trail through part of the Cheatham Hill battleground at Kennesaw

In only a couple of weeks 67,000 men were killed, wounded, or captured in the Atlanta Campaign. 

Kennesaw, from a Cherokee Indian word meaning "cemetery" or "battleground," is appropriately named.

MY PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE PARK

This park covering almost 3,000 acres northwest of Atlanta was one of my favorite running venues when I lived in the metro area back in the '70s, '80s, and 90's. The varied network of trails is scenic, hilly, and generally has fewer rocks and roots than Stone Mountain Park, the Appalachian Trail, and most of the other trail running options I had back then. I loved it.

However, I lived east of the metro area in Gwinnett and Hall Counties during those years and it was a heck of a drive to get to Kennesaw (about 40 miles one way), so I got over there only about once a month to run with friends. I did most of my training miles at Stone Mountain because it was more convenient.


Jim and Cody are dwarfed by the tall trees on a trail at Kennesaw.

This week I was close enough to visit Kennesaw Park twice and show some of my favorite trails to Jim. We hiked about three miles on Wednesday and about four on Thursday. Jim's got a tough 50K race tomorrow so he was taking it easy. After being at very flat Brazos Bend State Park near Houston for four weeks we aren't very well hill-trained right now, either. We needed a couple easy walking days.

In this entry I'll give you an introduction to this beautiful park and show photos from our two hikes. Click on this link to see a map of the trails at Kennesaw. Because it is so large I'll just show the two segments we hiked.

WELCOME TO KENNESAW MOUNTAIN

Kennesaw is primarily known as a national battlefield park. Run by the National Park Service, it draws close to two million visitors a year and is located off Old US 41 west of Marietta, Georgia.

History abounds here, with a large visitor center on Stilesboro Road and excellent signage, impressive monuments, and cannon emplacements at the various Civil War earthworks and battle sites throughout the park.

The main purpose of the park is to interpret this history and preserve these sites. Recreation is secondary.

Above and below:  some of the Confederate earthworks at Cheatham Hill

This is a great place to wander around and soak in some history. It's a beautiful wooded, hilly setting with some open meadows full of flowers and grasses.

There are lots of indoor and outdoor activities from interpretive films, living history demonstrations, bird and wildlife watching, and picnicking to exploring some or all of the 18 miles of trails. You can pick up a brochure at the visitor center for a self-guided tour of the landmarks or access a free audio tour online for your cell phone.


Jim and Cody walk between monuments and interpretive signs
 at Cheatham Hill, the main battle site at Kennesaw.

Kennesaw Mountain is a haven for trail runners and hikers in the Atlanta metro area. Many of the trails are wide, smooth dirt. Others are narrow dirt single-track with some rocks and roots and steeper grades. Like the rest of north Georgia, there are very few flat places in the park.

I have fond memories of dodging herds of deer on these trails early on weekend mornings, doing mile-long hill repeats on the trail up to the top of Big Kennesaw Mountain (a 708-foot elevation gain to 1,808 feet), trying to keep up with ultra buddy Steve Michael on training runs, and participating in Janice Anderson's first 50K "fat ass" run at the park with a few of our friends.

I even had a small part in providing something every trail user in the park can appreciate: an all-weather water fountain near Kolb's Farm at the far southern end of the park. In the late '90s before I moved to Montana, I was on the Board of Directors for the Atlanta Track Club. I was happy to have the opportunity to vote that the club donate the money for the fountain's construction. If I remember correctly, it cost about $2,000 to construct (I could be wrong). I still consider it a good use of the organization's funds and it's fun to run by it and know I had an eensy, weensy part in its presence.

I have the same feeling of pride and "ownership" when I go past wooden steps and a self-composting potty I helped construct on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, and other trails I've helped build or maintain.


Description of a decisive battle at Cheatham Hill where the 
well-entrenched Confederate defenders held back the Union assault.

Eight miles of the trails at Kennesaw may be used by equestrians, plus some fire roads. Mountain biking isn't allowed on park trails; cyclists can ride only on the paved roads.

Leashed dogs are permitted on the trails. There is no camping in the park. Hunting wildlife -- and hunting Civil War relics -- are both prohibited. So are events like weddings and scattering someone's ashes. The Park Service views such activities as contrary to the purpose of the park, which is primarily to interpret what happened here and preserve it for future generations.

The easier trails and those near significant battle sites are rather crowded on weekends. If you want a more peaceful walk, or more freedom to run without dodging kids and dogs, go on a weekday or choose the more remote trails.

On the other hand, since so many local runners and hikers head to the park on the weekends it's a great place to socialize with friends.

We saw some other visitors on the trails this week but mostly had the single-track trails in the middle of the park to ourselves, enough so to leave Cody off his leash most of the time we were hiking. We didn't get down as far as Kolb's Farm, so Jim has yet to see that fine water fountain!


More earthworks at Cheatham Hill

Entry to the park is free. So is parking. The only fee I know of is $2 for the shuttle bus that takes visitors to the top of the mountain on busy weekends and holidays. You can drive up the paved road on weekdays, ride a bike up the road any day, or run/hike up various trails to the top anytime the park is open. The paved road is narrow so pedestrians aren't encouraged to use the trails to the summit.

There are several parking areas where visitors can access the trail system in this somewhat-linear park. The two most popular trailheads for runners are at Cheatham Hill off Dallas Hwy. and on Burnt Hickory Road near Pigeon Hill.

Check out the park website for maps and more historic, cultural, and recreational information. We highly recommend you plan a visit here if you're in the Atlanta metro area.

HIKE # 1: CHEATHAM HILL AREA

We made our first foray down to Kennesaw Mountain on Wednesday. Jim's a Civil War history buff so I knew he'd like this park for more than its great trails.

After checking out the visitor center for the latest park information and maps, we drove to the parking area at Cheatham Hill. This area of the park saw the most battlefield action (and carnage) during the Atlanta Campaign in the summer of 1864.

It is named after Confederate Major General Frank Cheatham, whose Tennessee troops wreaked havoc on the Union soldiers who charged their line on June 27, 1864. The site was dubbed the "Dead Angle" because of the bend in the Confederate line:

We read the interpretive signs and viewed the impressive Illinois Monument memorializing all the men from that state who died here:

I especially wanted to show that monument to Jim, since he grew up in Illinois.

Three handsome monuments in the park represent states from which Union and Confederate soldiers came. The Georgia monument is located near the visitor center; a monument honoring soldiers from Texas stands below Dallas Hwy.

After our history refresher course we headed down the trail toward Kolb's Farm, hiking out and back on the hilly course for a total of about three miles. Here's the map section that shows our course:

We parked where I added the blue dot, 2/3 mile south of Dallas Hwy. Our track is the orange loop and out and back section. Yellow is the park boundary. Number 16 is the Illinois Monument.

We didn't get as far as the historic Kolb Farm, marked #20. Next time!

Above and below: wide, smooth, partly sandy trails

We were plenty warm in the sun with temperatures in the upper 70s F. and could have used more water. The deciduous trees are still pretty bare of leaves (Atlanta had a very cold, snowy winter) so we didn't have much shade that day.

HIKE #2: BURNT HICKORY - DALLAS HWY. LOOPS

The next day we drove back down to Kennesaw Mountain to do another hike in a different section of the park. We walked about four miles this time, on a hillier and more scenic route. It was even warmer (80s F.) and we carried more water for Cody and ourselves.

Here's the relevant section of the park trail map:

I put the blue dot where we parked at the trailhead on Burnt Hickory Road. We followed the orange highlighting south to Dallas Hwy. and looped back north on the more squiggly line on the left.

This is actually two loops unless you ford Noses Creek (where did that name come from??) about where the red #12 is circled on the map. We decided to continue forward a couple hundred yards to the main trail, cross the creek on a long wooden bridge, then go down to the trail and follow it along the creek on the other side.

I took this photo from the bridge; it shows the trail on both sides of the creek:

The remaining photos are in chronological order as we went clockwise around these loops.

The main trail on the east (right) side of the loops is wide and more heavily traveled. We went outbound that way from the trailhead:

That is one of the few flat spots to run or walk at Kennesaw.

The trail soon dips down to a small creek . . . 

. . . goes back up another hill, then down to a long wooden bridge over larger Noses Creek. That used to be a lot of fun to run over!

Then there is a long hill going up to Dallas Hwy. (are you getting the idea that Kennesaw Mtn. Park is hilly?) That's another good place at Kennesaw to do hill repeats. Here, Jim and Cody are walking up that hill -- good training for Jim's mountainous race tomorrow:

Just before reaching busy Dallas Hwy. we turned right onto a single-track trail and headed back north.

We enjoyed that return on single-track better because it is more remote and scenic, the kind of trail we like the most. We let Cody run off-leash and didn't see anyone else on the trail  -- typical on weekdays, but not likely on weekends.

It was a constant roller-coaster for 2+ miles back to the truck:

 

After about a mile we came down to Noses Creek. Here, Jim ponders whether to wade across to the other side:

Since we had errands to run we decided not to get our shoes wet. We continued forward and crossed over the bridge on the main trail, then went down to the trail on the other side of the creek:

 

We continued north on the second loop to our truck at Burnt Hickory Road:


More hills . . .


More rocks and roots . . . this is our kind of trail!


Back on the main trail, heading to Burnt Hickory Rd.

OTHER ACTIVITIES WHILE IN THE AREA

Both of those days we ran errands in the Kennesaw-Marietta area, then returned to the Navy Lake Site campground to relax the rest of the day.

We've been fortunate to have warm, sunny weather since our arrival in north Georgia. Temps reached into the 80s F. yesterday and today, which is unseasonably warm for the area this time of year. Jim may be better heat acclimated for the race tomorrow than the locals, after some time in mostly-balmy weather at Brazos Bend State Park south of Houston. He's not as well trained for the hills, though.

Today we just stayed "home." We got our things ready for the race tomorrow -- Jim to run, me to  crew, take a walk, hang out, and take care of Cody.

Jim also did a few small camper repairs and posted several comments and replies on the Carriage, Inc. internet forum. That's been a good resource for us when we have questions about, or problems with, the Cameo and it's nice when we can provide answers for other people's questions and concerns. As with the ultra running list, we hope to meet some of the people with whom we correspond on the Carriage RV list -- some day, somewhere.

We don't eat out at sit-down restaurants very often but we did on two consecutive days this week. For my 61st birthday on Wednesday we had lunch at a nice Thai restaurant, Thai Basil, on US 41/Cobb Pkwy. in Acworth. (Thanks to all our friends and relatives who sent b.d. greetings!)


Bev and Steve

Thursday evening we met our ultra running friend Steve Michael and his wife Bev Oberer (above) at the tasty Gondolier Italian Restaurant in Woodstock. It was great to see them again! We'll see Steve again tomorrow at the race.

Next entry:  the Sweetwater 50K trail race

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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