Forsyth woman completes quest to see all of Georgia’s state parks

FORSYTH -- She’s seen her share of bears and gators. She’s walked along beaches, swamps, canyons and forests. She’s watched Civil War re-enactment soldiers battle.

If it’s in a Georgia state park or historic site, Ann Haines likely has seen it. In a two-year span, Haines has visited all 67 of them.

“Whenever you look at one, remember, if you don’t go, you’re missing God’s greatest creation,” she said. “We have great state parks here, but people don’t even know about them.”

Haines’ refrigerator door is covered with magnets from Georgia’s historic sites and state parks she has visited. If the park doesn’t have a magnet, Haines puts a postcard or picture from that site on her fridge instead.

Haines has enjoyed state parks for years, including Red Top Mountain State Park, near the Marietta home where she grew up.

Even before her latest odyssey began, Haines already had visited many of the parks, often coordinating her visits with business or church trips.

For her birthday two years ago, Haines decided she wanted to see all of the sites within two years -- even the ones she’d been to before. In June, she accomplished her goal, just weeks before her 65th birthday later this month.

She started her trek at Indian Springs State Park, just a short drive from her house in rural Monroe County.

“It’s the oldest park in Georgia and one of the oldest in the country,” she said.

She ended her quest with a visit to Hardman Farm Historic Site, which lies just south of Helen. The site was the home of former Georgia Gov. Lamartine Hardman, who served from 1927-1931. The family donated the property to the state in 1999.

The farm was one of Haines’ favorite places, because of its unique, forced-perspective architecture.

It wasn’t always easy for Haines to tour the parks. She has leg and ankle problems, causing her to walk with a cane, and she had shoulder and neck surgery about the time she started her parks visits.

“There are always places where it’s easy to walk,” she said. “They have some trails that are very easy, which are good for everyone. People with kids can’t do the more dangerous trails, so they have to have a place to walk and feel comfortable. ... And there are always benches everywhere.”

Haines’ routine included taking a photograph of the park’s sign at the beginning of her tour, then spending at least a half-day at the park, though many times she stayed longer. If the park didn’t have a lodge, she would spend the night in a nearby motel.

“I’m not really a camper,” she said.

Haines had high praise for the park rangers she met during her travels.

“They are a fountain of information,” she said. “The park rangers are awesome.”

Haines also tried to time her trips so she could catch any historical re-enactments there, such as at Pickett’s Mill State Historic Site in Dallas or A.H. Stephens Historic Park in Crawfordville. During her visit to Crawfordville, re-enactors played out the historic moment when Union troops captured Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, in 1865.

Haines said it’s impossible for her to pick a favorite location. Of course, she’s partial to Indian Springs and High Falls, both in Monroe County. In addition, she recommends Black Rock Mountain State Park near the Tennessee border, especially if patrons can catch the sunrise there.

“It’s just spectacular,” she said.

Another favorite is Providence Canyon Outdoor Recreation Area, also known as the “Little Grand Canyon.”

“It’s like the Grand Canyon mushed up with Georgia flora and fauna,” she said. “It has the same layers of sedimentary rock you can see in the walls.”

Haines said she’s been known to take her guitar to some of the parks, particularly if there’s a Sunday church service going on. She’ll talk to pretty much everyone who visits a park, such as a group of middle schoolers from Camden County who were taking a field trip to Crooked River State Park in St. Marys.

She said some state parks could be in danger if residents don’t realize their benefits. She urges people to become park volunteers, even if it’s simply picking up trash. The parks need to be preserved, she said.

“That’s what keeps you going,” she said. “Every one of them is unique, with its own charm, its own personality.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.