I was looking for history, not a hawk.
But there, Tuesday at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, I saw a burst of motion above me.
The Cooper’s hawk briefly landed on a tree above me at Cheatham Hill, site of the most ferocious fighting at Kennesaw during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.
Near us lay the remains of Confederate and Union entrenchments thrown up before and during the furious assault at the “Dead Angle.” A memorial to Illinois troops recalled their fallen leader Dan McCook and his troops who lay beneath Confederate fire and trenches for six terrifying days.
Soon the hawk was off, as was I, resuming my march to Kolb’s Farm on the south end of the park.
I spent Tuesday afternoon doing a 10-mile loop from Pigeon Hill to Kolb’s Farm. Admittedly, I missed Kennesaw’s most rugged terrain between Pigeon Hill and the visitor center.
I wanted to get a closer look at the park’s 20 miles of trails and some of its 3,000 acres. It was a rainy and gray weekday, so I didn’t see more than a few runners and walkers, along with three deer bounding across one trail.
I actually saw more homes than people. Thirty-two subdivisions surround the park. Cobb County thoroughfares cut through the park in several places. At times, you feel very much in a busy community.
Still, I recall some beautiful views, including Noses Creek.
The trails are lmaintained by the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club, which has logged 35,000 volunteer hours since it was formed in 2002.
“Without their work we couldn’t keep the trails maintained,” says Stanley Bond, the park’s superintendent.
The club has between 50 and 100 active members, with hundreds of others helping from time to time on work days, like this past Saturday.
Although Kennesaw is the largest and most famous Civil War site in Georgia, 80 percent of its visitors come for recreational reasons. Bond and the trail club want more visitors to soak in the history of the park.
“They [the club] are well aware of the history of the period,” says Bond.
Kennesaw Mountain’s trails draw a range of visitors, from out-of-state war buffs to locals who enter the park from the subdivisions. There are joggers, walkers, horseback riders, tourists and hikers preparing for strenuous endeavors around the world.
The park runs 8 miles from north to south, with most visitors walking rugged trails in the top half. That’s where the familiar “Big” and “Little” Kennesaws rise.
Some see the monthly trail work and return to help.
“Most volunteers want to give back,” says Fred Feltmann, the club’s communications director.
The trails are in good condition and I saw little litter.
Feltmann says the club pays particular attention to earthworks. Gravel and sand runoff from the trails is a constant concern. The trails were established before switchbacks, increasing the runoff problems.
“We make sure we don’t do any harm” to fortifications, Feltmann says.
Both Bond and Feltmann say that Kennesaw needs better directional, mileage and points-of-interest signs (I echo that sentiment). Grants and federal funding are expected to make that feasible.
And while most visitors are good stewards, some still do not clean up after dogs or ensure they are under control.
Urban sprawl has long posed challenges for the park. Some 1.5 million visitors come annually, and the National Park Service has to balance recreational demands with historic preservation. I noticed signs prohibiting certain recreational activities on hallowed ground where soldiers died. The use of metal detectors is prohibited.
Union forces of General William T. Sherman launched a bloody frontal attack on the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, at Kennesaw Mountain in June 1864. The assault was unsuccessful, but Sherman managed to flank Confederate troops soon afterward. He seized Atlanta within two months.
Bond says students of the Civil War are still drawn to Kennesaw. Members of the military study tactics and command decisions at the bloody engagement.
“They walk the battle[field] to see how it worked,” Bond says.
• More information on the trail club.
• More information on the Kennesaw battlefield