09:17:11, Georgia, 33° 6.452’N, 83° 40.486’W – Located 25 miles North of Macon, Georgia, The Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 by President Roosevelt. Long term framing dating as far back as the early 1800’s caused mass erosion and ravaged the land of its natural fertility. After the Great Depression in the early 1930’s, farmers abandoned the land altogether. Today the Piedmont NWR is 35,000 acres strong and once again a forest but the remains of old homesteads and cemeteries still lie deep in these woods. I set out to see what was left behind.
I parked along side an old logging road at 33° 6.452’N, 83° 40.486’W and dropped into the woods with GPS in hand. I made sure to wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants and douse myself in bug repellant. I heard the Ticks are notorious in here. They can dig their entire body under your skin.
I found a foot trail that lead to the old Gunn Cemetery, 33° 6.717’N, 83° 40.704’W. This is one of 30 or so graveyards that have been documented in the Piedmont NWR. Many of the early homesteaders graves are marked with just a small standing stone, called a field stone. The Gunn Cemetery dates back to the revolutionary war and has a few headstones with inscriptions you can still read.
From the Gunn Cemetery, make it to this creek head at 33° 7.251’N, 83° 40.768’W. You’ll crisscross a few trails and forest roads along the way. I walked into an open field of cracked mud that was a lake dried to the bone. At the far side of the lake is the creek head. Follow it into the woods.
Trailing the creek, you’ll walk through several eroded gullies, some quite deep, caused by poor farming practices back in the 1800’s. Just keep with the creek as it goes deeper into the quiet forest.
If you decide to take up free hiking get yourself a dog. He’ll be the best wing man ever, detecting intruders long before you will. A dog’s sense of smell is 40 times greater than a humans! I had my dog, Dawson, scouting the area when the fur on his back rose and he let out a defensive bark. We climbed the hillside to take a look. At about 100 yards ahead were 3 guys hiking with packs and dressed in full camouflage. Probably bow hunters. It’s no doubt they heard Dawson. I stood still until one noticed me. We spoke no words but each raised a hand in acknowledgement from across the forest floor before they walked on. The encounter was a bit unnerving but I felt no fear. The intense beauty out here will pacific any troubled soul.
I got moving again and found a rock bed that led to an old road at the top of a hill. This was a promising sign. I walked into a clearing where nothing much was growing at 33° 8.037’N, 83° 40.584’W.
Lying on the ground was a chipped iron cast kettle. Yep, someone used to live here. I also found an old farming tool and an ornately designed piece of cast iron that could have been part of a stove. On the perimeter was a pit about 6 feet deep with a few pieces of tin sticking out and an old fence post with iron henges. Maybe this was once an animal pen or a trash dump. I found a chimney. One corner was still in tact but no other remains of the house were visible. There was a single upright field stone with a smaller stone resting about 6 feet directly in front of it. Could this be a grave? The smaller stone would signify the foot of the grave. That mystery would remain unsolved for now because daylight was slipping and it was time to head back. I strapped the artifacts to my pack and hiked along the creek back to the dry lake.
I found another lake, much larger, that was also barren of liquid. On the far bank was an observation hut at 33° 7.116’N, 83° 41.064’W. It was in ruins but still stable enough to support me when I arrived. The view was great even without water. Past the lake I picked up a forest road that led back to my van to complete a 6.75 mile free hike in the Piedmont NWR.
A couple pulled up in their car just as I was about to drive off. They wanted to know what there was to do here cause this place just seemed like a bunch of woods. I told them to watch out or else you might step on an unmarked grave. They didn’t seem too excited to hear that.
– Steve Tanner