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Georgia's parks celebrate 75th anniversary

While the State Parks and Historic Sites division was collecting Georgia residents' favorite memories of the parks as part of its 75th anniversary, a trend quickly became apparent.

"So often, it just came back to camping. The novelty of sleeping in the woods, the sounds in the night, making s'mores," department spokeswoman Kim Hatcher said.

Over the decades, Georgia's parks have become a place to camp, to picnic, to boat, to fish and to play.

Throughout the year, the state parks division is celebrating its diamond anniversary with events across the state. The official kickoff will be April 29 at Indian Springs. In 1931, Indian Springs and Vogel state parks were created, and one of the oldest state park systems in the nation was born.

Indian Springs park actually dates back to 1825, when a treaty gave the last of the land owned by Indians to the federal government, with the stipulation that the land would become a park.

Soon, the park and its mineral springs became a popular resort destination. Several hotels sprang up during the Victorian era, and the Indian Springs Hotel, which still stands today, has been renovated and turned into a museum of the area's history. The museum will open during the kickoff event.

"People came from all across the country. They believed in the medicinal properties of the springs," Hatcher said.

If you can't make it to the 75th anniversary kickoff celebration, there are plenty of other opportunities to enjoy the state's parks this year. From beaches to salt marshes to mountains, the state parks system offers it all, Hatcher said, and much of it within easy driving distance from Gwinnett.

And if you'd like to visit them all, get started now - it would take more than a year to visit all the parks and sites if you went to a different site each weekend, according to the state parks division.

Almost every state park offers miles of hiking trails, picnicking, boating, camping and fishing. But each park has its own hidden gems, too. Here are some of the state parks located closest to Gwinnett.

•Amicalola Falls State Park. 418 Amicalola Falls Lodge Road, Dawsonville. Amicalola is a Cherokee word meaning "tumbling waters," which is the perfect name for these 729-foot falls, the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

•Fort Yargo. 210 S. Broad St., Winder. The historic park features a log fort built in 1792 by settlers for protection against Creek and Cherokee Indians. The park surrounds Marbury Creek Reservoir, a 260-acre lake with a swimming beach, fishing areas and boat ramps.

•Hard Labor Creek. Rutledge. This park is best known for its golf course, The Creek. The actual creek, which cuts through the golf course, is said to be named by slaves who tilled summer fields or by Native Americans who found it difficult to ford.

•Indian Springs. Lake Clark Road, Flovilla. One of the oldest state parks in the United States, Indian Springs used to be a bustling resort town. Today, visitors can still sample the spring water. A museum highlights the park's history, including many structures within the park built by FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

•Panola Mountain. 2600 Highway 155 S.W., Stockbridge. The Atlanta-area park was created to protect a 100-acre granite mountain, similar to Stone Mountain. Hikers can explore the park's watershed or granite outcrop or take guided tours of the mountain at this minimally developed park.

•Red Top Mountain. 50 Lodge Road, Cartersville. Named for the soil's rich red color, this mountain was once an important mining area for iron. Located on 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona, the park offers a reconstructed 1860s homestead and a lodge.

•Smithgall Woods-Dukes Creek. 61 Tsalaki Trail, Helen. This conservation area features north Georgia's premier trout stream, Dukes Creek. A popular attraction is the Lodge at Smithgall Woods, an elegant mountain retreat loved for romantic getaways or corporate retreats.

•Sweetwater Creek. Lithia Springs. A peaceful tract of wilderness only minutes from downtown Atlanta, the park offers rocky bluffs and a 215-acre lake for fishing. A wooded trail follows a stream to the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned during the Civil War.

•Unicoi. Helen. The park, located in the north Georgia mountains, offers scenic mountain hiking trails, waterfalls and a gift shop featuring handmade quilts and local pottery.

•Victoria Bryant. 1105 Bryant Park Road, Royston. This park is nestled in the hills of Georgia's upper piedmont. It features a short nature trail and longer perimeter trail and the Highland Walk Golf Course.

•Vogel. 7485 Vogel State Park Road, Blairsville. One of Georgia's oldest state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Visitors can pass through Neel Gap mountain pass, the highest point in Georgia.

•Watson Mill Bridge. 650 Watson Mill Road, Comer. Rumored to be one of the most picturesque state parks, Watson Mill contains the longest original-site covered bridge in the state, spanning 229 feet across the South Fork River.

The parks department came up with a list of 75 ideas of things to do at Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites. Here are 10 of our favorite ideas:

•Climb to the top of an ancient Indian mound preserved at Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site.

•Discover the beginnings of our nation's gold rush at the Dahlonega Gold Museum.

•Launch your sea kayak at Crooked River State Park for a paddle along the Georgia coast.

•Hike the Pine Mountain Trail, one of Georgia's longest, within F.D. Roosevelt State Park.

•Sleep in General Coffee State Park's Burnham House, one of the more interesting cottages at a Georgia state park.

•Saddle up for a ride along Hard Labor Creek State Park's 22-mile horse trail.

•Hike along the Towaliga River to old factory ruins at High Falls State Park.

•Walk the grounds where the infamous "Trail of Tears" officially began at New Echota Historic Site.

•Try to find right angles in the construction of Lapham-Patterson House, which is said to have none.

•Design your own cast iron skillet during an iron pour at Red Top Mountain State Park on Lake Allatoona.