WINDER - Nature lovers, prepare to get dirty.
Officials with Ft. Yargo State Park in Winder have announced the annual Arbor Day tree planting will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday.
The free event is open to the public. Trees are provided, but other essentials should be brought from home, said Artie Doughty, senior park ranger.
"If they bring their shovel and their gloves, we'll put them to work," Doughty said. "We'll go until the work runs out."
Officials hope to plant about 45 small trees and bundles of seedlings in strategic spots around the 1,800-acre park.
Last year, 65 volunteers donated the Saturday morning to plant 50 trees, an effort to replace lost trees and to add needed shade for the sweltering days of summer.
Volunteers planted mostly red oak and saw tooth oak trees, which stand from six to 10 feet tall, near the beach pavilion, a picnic area, and in Camp Will-a-way, a children's sanctuary. The park's circa 1792 log fort is adorned with crabapples thanks to Arbor Day volunteers.
The big dig started in the early 1990s to combat an outbreak of pine beetles. In recent years, Ft. Yargo had lost trees to deer, more pine beetles and a rogue tornado - spawned by Hurricane Katrina - that ripped several thousand specimens from the park in 2005.
Doughty said controlled hunting has helped keep the deer population in check, while the bugs and freak wind-tunnels have hit elsewhere.
"We lost a lot more (trees) the last two years to the drought than beetles," he said. "I'm hoping this year changes, but that's part of nature. We do what we can."
The not-for-profit Friends of Fort Yargo raised $500 through fundraisers to buy the trees, Doughty said.
New to this year's gathering, said Doughty, will be a ceremony in which five trees are dedicated to people instrumental in starting or sustaining Ft. Yargo. Park officials eventually hope to have planted trees in honor of every Ft. Yargo dignitary, he said.
"It'll be a good thing," Doughty said.