Black Rock Mountain State Park is a state park located in Rabun County, northeast of the city of Clarkesville, Georgia. The park covers 3,972 acres (1,600ha), and includes three lakes: Lake Burton, Lake Crabill, and Lake Lajoie. It also features two waterfalls, the Lower Falls on Buckquarter Creek and the Upper Falls on Pinnacle Mountain. In addition to its natural attractions, the park contains the remains of an active charcoal mine from 1876 to 1896.
Visitors can access the mine by way of a restored tramway. Black Rock Mountain was named after a rock formation near the summit that resembles a black rock when viewed from certain angles. Geologically, it is made up of sedimentary hardpan soil deposited some 550 million years ago during the Ordovician Period; however, the mountain itself is much younger than that at around 400 million years old. This makes it one of the oldest mountains in the Appalachian region.
The park offers camping facilities, cabins, boat rentals, playgrounds, picnic areas, equestrian center, swimming beach, fishing pier, nature trail, museum, and interpretive center. There are 12 miles (19km) of paved multi-purpose trails open year round, 10 miles (16km) of horse riding trails, and 20 miles (32km) of mountain biking trails. The park has five campgrounds, each accommodating tents, trailers, RVs and motor homes. They feature modern restrooms, showers and dumping stations, plus campsites equipped with electricity. Two of the campgrounds are specifically designed for use by persons with physical challenges, including the disabled. Campground #5 provides handicap accessible sites and facilities. The park’s main entrance is via Highway 354. From there, visitors may take either the Tramway Trail north to the falls, or follow signs west to the campground and other points of interest.
Before European settlement, this area would have been hunted extensively as both Native Americans and wild animals could be found in abundance within the mountainous terrain. After colonization, the demand for lumber reached the area and logging operations sprang up all over the mountain. One such operation was owned by Charles J. Burton who logged the slopes of what later became Black Rock Mountain with his sons. At first they used axes and hand tools which were not very effective but soon switched to steam-powered equipment which allowed them to harvest more timber per day. By 1880 they had erected a small town called Burton’s Mills where the logs were cut into lumber and turned into shingles, shakes, tool handles, etc., before being sent down the mountain on the “tramway” to the sawmill.
Operations continued until 1896 when the mill burned down. However, the land remained untouched except for occasional logging. It wasn’t until 1958 that a group of local citizens petitioned the government to make the entire 2,400 acre tract a national park. Their efforts were successful and Black Rock Mountain State Park opened to the public in 1963. The park has since grown to nearly 3,000 acres through additional acquisitions and donations. Among those who donated property were Senator Richard B. Russell Jr. and his wife Bettye, along with former Governor Zell Miller and his wife Sue. A large tract known as Lot 14 was given by the family of Joe L. Johnson, Sr., including his widow Mary C. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson offered to donate 1,100 acres if the federal government would grant her late husband’s children legal status as American citizens.
Although she never got the satisfaction of seeing the official documents showing that her son Randy Wayne Johnson and daughter Janis Ruth Johnson were indeed born citizens, the couple were issued passports valid for ten years indicating that they were indeed US Citizens. She died in 1968, less than four months after Joe Jr. Her gift of land helped facilitate the purchase of another 750 acres. Another major donation came in 1981 when North Carolina sold 840 acres to the state for $2.3 million. An additional 937 acres were purchased between 1983 and 1987 for roughly $4 million, bringing the total amount of land acquired to approximately 1,500 acres. Additional purchases have brought the park to nearly 2,400 acres.
On December 7, 2016, President Barack Obama announced that he was giving 640 acres, more or less, in the Flat Shoals Mountains east of the park to the National Park Service. This marked the largest single land transfer ever undertaken by any U.S. Department of the Interior agency. When fully realized, the park will stretch across portions of nine counties with 21 miles (34km) of lakefront and 15 miles (24km) of hiking trails. It is expected to receive about 6 million visitors annually.