“It is the first time we are doing anything remotely on this scale. We have some gentleman (Leon Bates and Jim Caldwell) who love the area and live in the area and, they do volunteer hikes and volunteer photography shoot … and they just thought it would be great to let the greater community in on their little secret,” Park Ranger Angelo Giansante said.
All of the events spanning the three days are free. Parking is also free. Vendors will be selling food and outdoor activity products. These vendors will also help introduce people to outdoors activities.
The events are planned in such a way that potential participants can come for the portions they want to or the entire weekend. Camping at Gee Creek Campground is available. (For reservations, contact the park.)
Giansante said many of the activities were geared toward people who wanted to get into outdoor activities, but were not sure how.
He said the state park is “great” because there is not a lot of restrictions on what people can and can not do.
“It’s really nice to introduce them into a free area where they can just go and explore and enjoy themselves. That’s what I’m really excited about just the ability to make people comfortable with the outdoors … that’s not just for people who have been backpacking their whole life. It is for families with children. It’s for old and young,” Giansante said.
Giansante said he has enjoyed planning the event. He said it has reminded him how much the state park has to offer.
The Ocowassee Festival spans three days starting on Friday night with outdoor games at 5 p.m. followed by time around the “Hope Log” at 5:30 p.m.
At 6:30 p.m., Giansante will lead a group to drive to Starr Mountain for a one and a half mile hike to the top of the Starr Mountain Bluffs.
In a press release about the event, the rangers advise “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.”
“Saturday is where a lot of the interesting things kick off. There is going to be an early bird hike with a guy who has been doing birding for a long time,” Giansante said.
The walk will be lead by Rick Houlk starting from the park’s office at 7 a.m.
“If you get up really early it’s really quiet and nothing is going on, next thing you know you hear some little critter starts singing … different types of birds get up at different times of the morning so before you know it you have this cacophony of sound,” Giansante said.
He said Houlk will help hikers identify birds and explain what they are doing and why.
For those who want to sleep in a little, Houlk will be offering another birding hike at 10 a.m. that day and another one on Sunday.
An exercise class, emphasizing exercises that can be outdoors or at home will also be taught by Giansante.
“My whole class is how you can attain a high level of fitness without any kind of equipment just as long as you have a little bit of space in your yard or even in your living room,” Giansante said.
This event will be held at the amphitheater at 8 a.m.
Some of the actives planned for the weekend overlap giving families the opportunity to choose what best fits them.
“I am really excited about the living history. It’s going to be really fun,” Giansante said.
A Living History presentation will be made at Ft. Marr at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Sunday will feature some repeats from Saturday and some new presentations such as one about birds of prey.
The event will end at 3 p.m. with a hike around the Hiwassee River. Participants will meet at the park office and then drive 10 miles to the John Muir trailhead, where hikers will enjoy the “scenic Hiwassee River.”
The park hopes that those on this hike will be able to use what they have learned throughout the weekend to enjoy the experience in new ways.
“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,” a press release noted.
Other activities being offered include a talk on growing mushrooms, a Gee Creek Falls Hike, fishing lesson, snake presentation, beekeeping presentation and stories around the Hope log.
Additional activities are still being added. Giansante encouraged those interested in attending to check the final a complete list of activities visit at www.facebook.com/HiwasseeOcoeeStatePark or call 423-263-0050
The park is located at 404 Spring Creek Road, Delano, Tennessee.
Giansante warned that a GPS will take drivers two miles past the park office
The park office is located in the Gee Creek campground.
According to the park’s website, from Cleveland’s Exit 20 “travel east on Bypass to US-64/74, follow east to Hwy 411 North. Park is located 6 miles North of Benton.”