July 24, 2014 - 12:56
Festival celebrates spring
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The First Annual Ocowassee Festival will be hosted by Gee Creek State Park and offers games, sports, nature hikes, classes, and a host of other events to showcase the recreational opportunities of the area in a family-oriented festival.

A new festival slated for March 28-30 will celebrate the wonder of spring. The First Annual Ocowassee Festival will be hosted by Gee Creek State Park and offers games, sports, nature hikes, classes, and a host of other events to showcase the recreational opportunities of the area in a family-oriented festival.

This year’s festival is focused on the Hiwassee River in order for organizers to gain some valuable experience hosting this event. In the years to come, the Ocoee will play a larger role in this event. “Ocowassee” combines the names of the two parks and rivers.

With flora waking from its long winter’s slumber, baby animals being born, days getting warmer and longer, the world just seems to be more alive during the spring. Organizers hope to get folks out of the house they have been hiding in all winter and get excited about the months to come. The idea is to celebrate the cultural, historical, and recreational significance of this time of year.  

“We hope to educate, to inspire, and to encourage you to try new things this year, to give you a different approach to what you have been doing, and to maybe introduce you to some like-minded people to share some memories with,” organizers said.

Ocowassee will kick off Friday, March 28 at 5 p.m. with games, soccer, Frisbees, and other outdoor games. At 5:30 participants can visit the “Hope Log,” a tradition borrowed from friends that involves taking some time to write down your dreams and things you hope to accomplish during the next year. Participants can also draw something with their kids. The log will be burned at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

A Starr Mountain Hike will begin at 6:30 p.m. Meet up at the park office for a 1-mile drive to Starr Mountain trailhead. Ranger Angelo Giansante, a ranger with 6 years of experience, will lead you on a journey as you climb roughly 800 ft. in ½ mile to the top of the Starr Mountain bluffs.  This is considered to be a difficult hike so it is not advised for young children or those with health issues. Water and sturdy shoes come highly recommended as well as a flashlight, just in case we are having too much fun.

At 8 p.m., gather in the group camp for a great time discussing stars, the universe and whatever else come up as we view the beautiful night’s sky.  Remember that it may be chilly, so a jacket is advised. A red light flashlight is also a good option so you don’t ruin your night vision or anybody else’s for that matter.  

An Early Bird Program kicks off the events for Saturday March 29th. Meet Rick Houlk at the park’s office from 7-9 a.m. Rick is an avid birding enthusiast, he has traveled extensively throughout the south adding new and interesting birds to his life list.  He will introduce us to some of those busy singing workers and explain just what all of those crooners are up to.  This is an early adventure, but one totally worth missing a little sleep for.

Other Saturday events include:

8:00 a.m. - Outdoor Exercise.  Do you want to get in shape for summer? Do you want to be able to join your friends, children or even grandkids on a few more excursions?  Is the gym too far away? Too expensive? Too hard to find childcare?  Angelo Giansante has a few options for you. All you need is the great outdoors or even a few square feet of empty space in your living room and you have all that you need to get in great shape and be more comfortable in your daily activities.  Meet Angelo at the Amphitheatre for a 30 minute workout.  Please bring a water and wear a pair of tennis shoes.

9:00 a.m. - Wildflower Hike.  Do you know what a jack in the pulpit is?  What about a trillium?  Well if you want to know what they are, or if you just want to go and see some beautiful wildflowers Leon Bates is the guy to take you.  Leon is our local plant guru, although he is too humble to refer to himself as such.  Meet Leon in front of the bathhouse and get ready for a nice beautiful hike.

10:00 a.m. - Not So Early Bird program. Rick is at it again with another great birding opportunity if you missed the early one.

11:00 a.m. - There Is Fungus among us!  Ed Holmes, on loan from his farm in Wildwood Georgia, will be taking some time to fill us in on the many nutritional benefits and medicinal qualities that mushrooms possess. Ed will also be teaching us the ways to grow and nurture your own little nest of nutrition.

Noon - Break for lunch.  Take some time to visit our vendors, relax and enjoy what our park has to offer.

1:00 p.m. - Living History at Fort Marr. What is that old wooden building outside our office?  Just how old is it anyways? How was it used? Ranger Jane Switser, on loan from Red Clay State Park, will answer those questions and more when you meet her at Fort Marr.  There she will be adorned in period dress, and, with just a little bit of imagination thrown in, will bring this fort back to life.

2:00 p.m. - Photography.  Ever wonder why your pictures don’t turn out like you want?  Ever wonder what setting you should put your camera on before you take a picture?  Is photo-editing hard?  Meet Jim Caldwell, he is the guy responsible for a lot of the exquisite pictures in the Polk County News and in the state park office.  Meet Jim at the office and he will lead a short hike all the while attempting to solve a few of those photographical mysteries that may be plaguing you.

3:00 p.m. - Gee Creek Falls Hike. Leon Bates will lead a 2 mile round trip hike to a beautiful 12 foot tall waterfall. This is a great time of year for a wildflower hike and lots of interesting things will be blooming.  This is a great trip for most people, but it is moderately difficult and it will be two miles, so make sure that you wear sturdy shoes and bring water, kids of any age are welcome, as long you are willing to carry them when they get tired.    

4:00 p.m. – Learn a bit about fishing. Rangers get asked about the fishing on the Hiwassee quite often, so we decided to bring in some experts to help. Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency will be coming down to do a fish shocking demonstration. This will be an opportunity see fish we share the river with and learn a little more about their world.

5:00 p.m. - Caution- Live Snakes!  Join Ranger Angelo at the amphitheater for an excellent opportunity to learn about our shoulderless friends.  

7:00 p.m. - Living History at Ft. Marr.  Join our region’s interpretive specialist, Steven Smith, for something very special.  He will be in period dress reading a heart-wrenching account from a soldier who actually participated in the Cherokee removal in this area.

8:00 p.m. - Join us at the amphitheater for campfire stories, singing, s’more making. Bring your guitar, your ukulele, your stories, just bring yourself down for a good time.

Events get underway on Sunday at 8:00 a.m. with an exercise Program.  Join Ranger Angelo at the amphitheater for day two of the path leading to a healthier, happier, more comfortable you.

9:00 a.m. - Wildflower Hike. Leon Bates is at it again and thoroughly excited about another opportunity to entertain and orient you around the silent but beautiful world of plants.    

10:00 a.m. - Birding aficionado Rick Houlk will be leading another expedition into the world of the winged wonders.  Meet Rick outside of the bathhouse and be prepared to take a little walk.  

11:00 a.m. - Photography. Jim Caldwell is offering his experience and practiced hand at the art of photography once again.  Meet Jim outside of the office for a short hike, who knows, this may need to your new favorite picture hanging on your wall.   

Noon - Break for Lunch.  

1:00 p.m. - Orienteering. How did anyone get anywhere before they invented the gps?   In comes an old favorite, it never needs batteries and as long as you are not next to a lot of metal, it will tell you where you need to go. Meet the compass. Ranger Angelo will take us on a mostly intellectual exercise as we learn how use this faithful little tool.

2:00 p.m. - Birds of Prey.  Join Ranger Brad Hamby, a 10-year veteran of Tennessee State Parks, at the amphitheater to see some real live birds of prey. Brad will point out the features of these predators that make them so good at what they do. This is an excellent and enjoyable class for all ages.

3:00 p.m. – The celebration concludes with one last long hike. Meet Ranger Angelo at the office for a 10-mile drive to the John Muir trailhead. Proceed at a leisurely pace along the scenic Hiwassee River.  This will give you an excellent opportunity to polish those new photography skills, or to get a little more time in with your plant identification. Armed with all of the knowledge gained throughout the weekend this may be a completely different hike than any you have taken before. You will now be looking at the world around you with a little more understanding, that understanding will allow you to immerse yourself a little bit more into the natural world.  

Although there are a few classes that children may not be interested in, there will be lots of opportunities for them. There is a playground for their use as well as some child-oriented classes that will be thrown into the mix as well. New programs will be added up until a few days before the festival.  Some that will definitely occur but have not yet been scheduled in are Knot Tying, Tree Climbing, Introduction to Bicycling, A class on Bees and Beekeeping, Rock Creek will be offering classes, and Ace Funyaks will be offering Beginning Paddling courses.

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