Text and photos by Jamie Anderson
If you enjoy photographing fall colors, now’s the time to plan a visit to George L. Smith State Park in Georgia.
Here you can discover beautiful pond reflections of cypress and tupelo trees, complete with all the amber colors of autumn. Most years, the trees will transition from green to amber sometime in mid-November. (The trees in these photos were actually past peak when photographed in late November, but still showed some fall colors.)
While fall offers some colorful opportunities for photographers, this state park includes surprises as well, such as white sand dunes and a 137-year-old gristmill. Outdoor enthusiasts will find lakeside camping, cottage camping, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking and biking.
The mill pond invites you to explore the cypress and tupelo trees, some draped in Spanish Moss, to look for beavers, blue herons, great egrets, white ibis and other wading birds. The seven miles of hiking trails make it easy to explore the exterior forest, where you might find Georgia’s state reptile, the gopher tortoise.
On the 3-mile loop trail behind the covered bridge you can see areas with a lot of white sand. These are actually beach sand dunes (yes, in mid-Georgia) created when the ocean level was receding from the mountains and hills of northern Georgia thousands of years ago.
Hognose snakes, which prefer sandy soil, are sometimes spotted in this area. They are completely harmless, but if they feel threatened they may hiss and puff up like a cobra. If that doesn’t work, their best defense is to simply roll over and play dead. If you look closely, you may also find a tiny rare lichen growing on the sand in this area.
Of particular interest to photographers and history buffs is the Parrish Mill. Built in 1879 by Alexander Hendricks and James Parrish, it was considered an engineering miracle of the day. The dam and base of the mill were completed in a few months, and within a year the house – which would eventually contain a sawmill, cotton gin and gristmill – were also standing.
The road to the mill passed right over the dam and through a covered bridge. So the “mill” was a combination dam, covered bridge, lumber mill, cotton gin and gristmill. It was first used to saw cedar, pine, and oak trees that were felled near the dam. A cotton gin was installed next, and by 1885 a gristmill was added.
Local people could bring wagonloads of cotton and corn right into the mill for processing, and buy lumber to build farms and barns. The gristmill ran 24 hours a day to produce corn meal that was sold to all the surrounding counties. By 1944 the gristmill was the only part of the site that was still operating, and it continued to do so until 1973. The covered bridge was not closed to automobiles until 1984. In 1998 the mill was restored, and it can still grind corn occasionally at the rate of 200 pounds per hour.
To reach George L. Smith State Park, take I-16 to the Metter, Georgia, exit (which is also Hwy 23). Follow Hwy 23 to George L. Smith State Park Road (which is before you get to Twin City, Georgia). For navigation purposes, the address is 371 George L. Smith State Park Road.
Jamie Anderson is a contributing writer for the GNPA newsletter, and also serves as the newsletter production editor and the co-coordinator for the Coastal Chapter of the GNPA. His website is www.CoastalGeorgiaPrints.com.