George L. Smith State Park is a state park located in Crawfordville, Georgia on the south bank of the Flint River. The park was named after George L. Smith, a former speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and longtime public servant who served as Secretary of State under Governor Zell Miller from 1954 to 1962 and then again under Jimmy Carter from 1974 to 1980.
Named in honor of his mother, Lucy Taliaferro Smith, George L. Smith State Park features hiking trails, camping facilities, boat rentals, picnic areas, playgrounds, cabins, lodges, conference centers, and golf course. It also includes four miles (6km) of the Chattahoochee National Forest Trail. The park’s visitor center offers exhibits featuring history and nature. There is a campground with RV and tent sites, as well as eight hike-in trail campsites. Other amenities include swimming beach, equestrian staging area, picnicking area, and canoe rental. The park also hosts many events open to the general public, including historical reenactments, crafts shows, holiday events, and more. Each summer, the park plays host to thousands of bikers taking part in the Floyd County Bike Festival.
George L. Smith State Park is a popular destination for runners using the Falmouth Road Race route. The park receives nearly 600,000 visitors annually. George L. Smith State Park is located approximately five miles east of Mount Juliet off Georgia Route 20. Its sister park is Little Ocmulgee State Park. Together, they form the core of the Macon metropolitan area’s urban oasis. George L. Smith State Park is situated amidst rolling hills known as the Blue Ridge Mountains. Geologically, these mountains consist of sedimentary rock deposited during the Paleozoic Age, about 530 million years ago, atop a granite pluton formed 1.1 billion years ago. At least ten separate formations are exposed here, ranging from shale and sandstone of the Early Cambrian period to gneiss of the Late Pennsylvanian age.
Two outlier peaks rise above the rest of the ridge: Ivanhoe Peak, to the west, and Long Mountain, to the north. These mountains are outliers of the Blue Ridge Mountains chain, which extends for hundreds of miles along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee. The highest peak in the immediate vicinity, Ivanhoe Peak, rises to elevation 2,301 feet (706m). Long Mountain stands slightly lower at 1,973 feet (606m). The ridgeline drops down to meet the Flint River valley via Pinnacle Point, dropping another 400 feet (120m) in elevation. The point itself sits at an elevation of only 740 feet (230m), but it commands views of not just the river valley, but also the entire watershed, the ridgetop, and even parts of Tennessee and South Carolina. The Flint River marks the upper boundary of the park. It flows northwest across the middle of the park, forming the border between the westernmost section, which consists mostly of floodplain forest, and the eastern section, which features a mix of forests and shrublands. The river valley supports a unique blend of habitats due to the fact that it floods every spring, renewing the vegetation each season.
The address today is 2300 Gulf Beach Highway. A local businessman, Dick Horner, bought land next to the street and fished commercially until he hit paydirt in 1979. He discovered oil and gas beneath the surface, and quickly sold most of his land to Anadarko Petroleum Corporation for development. However, he retained a 325 acre parcel, which he leased to Anadarko for purposes of exploring for and developing commercial quantities of hydrocarbons. To compensate, he built a 320 unit hotel complex, Marina del Rey, which opened in 1983. He also donated $2.5million for construction of the Ernest Hemingway Fishing Center, designed by architect Pete Dye. The facility features interpretive displays, a research lab, classrooms, and a multi-purpose room.
In George L. Smith first term, he helped create Georgia’s system of toll roads through the use of both state bonds and federal funds made available through the Highway Trust Fund. He also established the Department of Natural Resources and became its first director. After leaving office, he went on to serve as president of the Southern Conference on Public Affairs until his death in 1989. His wife Frances died in 2003; they are interred at Oak Mountain Memorial Gardens.
On September 12, 2016, President Barack Obama presented George L. Smith with the National Medal of Freedom for his work creating the modern highway system during his time as secretary of transportation. This marked the first time that the medal has been awarded to a living person. Prior to receiving the award, Mr. Smith was an active member in the civil rights movement, having marched with Martin Luther King Jr., attended numerous sit-ins, and organized several voter registration drives.
During his second term as governor, Zell Miller appointed him as ambassador to Ireland, where he remained from 1966 to 1970. Upon returning home, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1972 before being elected back into the governorship in 1974, serving until 1978. When he left office, he had become one of the nation’s leading advocates for the creation of a network of interstate parks. A year later, upon learning that Interstates 75 and 76 would intersect near his beloved Mount Juliet, he began working toward making sure this portion of the Interstate System would be developed in such a way that would preserve the mountain region’s natural beauty while providing convenient access for tourists.
As a result, in 1981, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to chair the newly created National Park Service Board which oversaw all national parks. While on the board, he worked closely with Interior Secretary William J. Perry to secure funding commitments from private sources and the government to develop two new national parks – Kings Gap National Recreation Area and Cumberland Island National Seashore. Both were dedicated in 1985. In 1990, he resigned over what he called “the administration’s lack of support for the environment.” Since his death, efforts have continued to expand these two parks and add to them seven other sites around the country, including Lake Burton State Park in Florida, Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California, and Denali State Park in Alaska.
Animals observed at the park included:
- wild hogs
- red-tailed hawks
- barred owls
- pileated woodpeckers
- northern flickers
Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles and amphibians noted here included:
Common tree species include:
- white oak
- water oak
- swamp gum
Srubs found here include dogwood
- mountain laurel
- cardinal flower
- pinxter azalea
- bee balm
- sweet pepperbush