Under Siege: Managing Kennesaw Mountain NBP
TOWERS ON BIG KENNESAW
In its earliest years, Kennesaw Mountain NBP was located in a rural area and was removed from any real urban pressures. Most residential and all commercial development was in Marietta, two miles away. Even the primary roads through the park were unpaved and unimproved. But gradually, over a period of years, the pressures from a growing urban spread began to make themselves known to park managers. Increasingly, requests were made for using Big Kennesaw Mountain for radio towers, for crossing park lands with utility lines, and for widening and further improving roads that passed through the park. Changing usage of the park by visitors also brought new challenges for managers.
The earliest request concerning Big Kennesaw Mountain was in 1939, when the Civil Aeronautics Administration, which had maintained an airplane beacon on the mountain since before the park was established, wanted to build a new, taller tower. Concerned about the visual effect, the NPS rejected the request for a new tower but did allow an increase in the beacon's candlepower. The CAA also agreed to place its cable underground. With this decision, a precedent was set and subsequent requests for towers by AT& T, Southern Bell, and the Georgia State Department of Forestry were denied. 
Requests for permission to route utility lines through the park were not so easy to deny, though. The basic policy of park officials was to limit the impact of such utilities as much as possible; avoidance of park lands was the preferred alternative. In 1938, the NPS had persuaded the Cobb County Rural Electric Administration to avoid erecting power lines on park lands. However, sometimes it was impossible to go around the park, as when the new headquarters area was developed at the base of Big Kennesaw Mountain. In those cases, the solution was to put the lines underground. When it was not possible either to avoid the park or put the lines underground, managers worked hard to assure that the lines were as unobtrusive as possible. In 1940, when a new right-of-way was granted to AT& T for the placement of overhead lines, it was with the stipulation that they be relocated to a less visible area. For those utility lines along Highway 41, the park planted trees for screening. 
As development increased in the succeeding years, these kinds of requests became more frequent and park managers found themselves feeling more pressure from local officials and developers. Some of these requests were approved, but always under strict conditions so that the impact was limited. Generally, these utilities were installed underground, within road right-of-ways. 
In addition to utilities, development brought other requests involving park lands. In April 1966, Superintendent Vincent Ellis met with Edward Felmer regarding his proposal to construct a 60 unit campground on a tentatively selected site between Stilesboro Road and the railroad tracks within the park. Ellis was able to dissuade him. But, in July and August, he, and regional staff, were engaged in negotiations with the Cobb County Youth Museum regarding its request for an access road across park lands to its property. This proposal was eventually accepted and the access road was built from Cheatham Hill Drive to the museum under the terms of a special use permit. 
But outside development was not the only pressure the park was experiencing. Growing numbers of visitors began to threaten park resources and force management to do things differently. Since it was one of the few open areas in the rapidly developing county, the park came to be viewed as a recreational area by many of the local residents. Picnics, kite flying, sunbathing, and other recreational activities became predominant in the park, especially on weekends. By 1974 traffic had become such a problem on weekends that on one occasion firemen attempting to reach a blaze in the park were delayed for more than an hour. 
Traffic was particularly a problem on the Kennesaw Mountain road. By 1974, an average of 1000 cars were on the road on a busy Sunday. However, there was only enough parking for 33 at the top. As a result, many people parked. along the road further restricting traffic. Numerous accidents took place in spite of the efforts of four rangers on traffic control duty. Larger numbers of visitors on the mountain also led to increasing law enforcement problems such as vandalism, relic hunting, use of alcohol and drugs at the old quarry, after hours visitors, and occasional assaults.
In an attempt to solve some of these problems, park management decided to control access to the mountain by instituting an emergency bus service. For 17 weekends between March 16 and July 7, 1974, two chartered buses were employed to carry visitors to the top. Private auto use of the road on those weekends was suspended. The results were dramatic. First of all, it eliminated the traffic problem and parking congestion. But is also resulted in less littering, vandalism, and illegal drug and alcohol use. In addition, park managers discovered that the bus service required less personnel and freed rangers to concentrate their efforts on resource protection and interpretation. Rangers on buses were able to present interpretive programs to the passengers and personal contact between rangers and visitors increased.
The success of the emergency program led to a formal transportation study prepared by Ralph Liss Associates, under contract to the Denver Service Center. Citing the benefits of the bus service, the study recommended that the system be implemented on a regular basis beginning in 1975. The mountain road could remain open through the week but on weekends and holidays during the busier season access to the crest should be by bus only. As visitation increased, park management should consider using it daily. 
Despite the success of the bus program, there continued to be problems in other areas of the park with the increasing number of recreational users and there were more incidents involving drugs and alcohol, excessive noise, and destruction of property. In 1982, park management began to consider the designation of specific areas for recreational uses and in 1983 began bringing rangers in from other parks to help deal with law enforcement problems. 
In 1984, a new General Management Plan for Kennesaw Mountain NBP was released and the concept of specifically designated recreational areas became official policy. Three sites were selected: along Cheatham Hill Road just south of Dallas Road (30 acres); off of Old Highway 41 east of the headquarters (15 acres); and off of Stilesboro Road east of the headquarters (15 acres). Explaining the changes, Superintendent Ralph Bullard said, "We're going to do the bulk of our enforcement through interpretation. We want people to understand that times have changed and we're just getting too many people here." Other plans included repairing damage to earthworks. 
In addition to setting aside recreation areas, new regulations prohibited the use of alcohol or controlled substances in "designated historic interpretive areas, parking lots, recreation and picnic areas." With vigorous enforcement, these regulations resulted in fewer incidents. 
The new regulations aroused some opposition though. Responding to complaints from constituents, Representative Buddy Darden, of the 7th District, said, "They're very unhappy about the unnecessary strict regulations that have been imposed regarding the use of recreational areas in the park." Sympathizing with them, he further added, "I understand the need to monitor activities of visitors to the parks to prevent vandalism and crime. But I also believe these parks are meant for the enjoyment and use of the public and not to be treated solely as a museum." 
In addition to restricting recreational use, park management began denying permits for activities it considered incompatible with the historic mandate of the park. The denial of one such request for a road race brought a written inquiry from Representative Darden. Not satisfied with the NPS' answer that policy had changed to emphasize the historic nature of the park, Darden questioned the wisdom of such a policy. To him, " . . . the seemingly harsh or unreasonable application of policies which prohibit the reasonable use of these facilities seriously undermines public confidence and support . . . " for the national park system. As a newly elected representative of the public, he wanted to remind the NPS that it was dependent for its support on people like him. 
Despite the thinly veiled threat in Darden's letter, the NPS stood by its policies. In a reply drafted by Superintendent Bullard, the NPS acknowledged the need of Darden's support but also requested his ". . . understanding of a park dedicated to historical events . . . ." The national park system, because of the diversity of its sites, needed to be managed by policies appropriate to each of these sites. Kennesaw Mountain NBP was an historical area and therefore had to be managed as such. Managing it as a recreational area would be inappropriate. 
Not all people, however, shared Darden's belief that the regulations were unduly restrictive. In fact, many local officials and residents welcomed the changes. Kennesaw Mountain NBP had developed a notorious reputation as a place for "hanging out" and "cruising" activities during the annual "rites of spring." Residents near the park were unhappy with the traffic and numerous alcohol-related incidents. Working with Cobb County and Marietta officials to implement the new regulations, the NPS was able to significantly decrease problems with both. There was also general public acceptance of the separation of conflicting uses because there were still some areas for recreation. The local press and the park visitors also supported the changes. The park's efforts to use interpretation and education as the primary means of communicating the changes proved successful. 
The change in policy and new regulations were an important step in the preservation of Kennesaw NBP, but pressures on the park continued. The development of residential subdivisions on the edges of the park, and especially on the private in-holdings, resulted in numerous encroachments onto park land. To deal with this problem, the park began a project to "re-establish its boundaries" with new and clearer markings. Residents were informed that they would have to remove any and all fences, vehicles, outbuildings, and anything else they might have on park property. 
Private property surrounded by park land presented special problems since residents had to cross park land to get home. Certain allowances were made but still problems arose. One such incident took place in 1987 when Fred C. Davison, who owned 40 acres on the western boundary of the park, announced his plans to enlarge his 12-foot dirt easement across park property to 50 feet and pave it. This would have been a major encroachment on a nearby entrenchment. To stop the action, the Department of the Interior filed a suit against Davison and gained a restraining order. The issue was partially resolved when Davison sold the property to a Marietta development company which could gain access to the property without crossing park land. But to avoid any future disputes, the National Park Service paid Davison $90,000 to relinquish his claim to the easement; the payment was part of the settlement of the court case. 
In addition to these pressures, the park experienced threats from commercial development. In 1988, a developer proposed the construction of a shopping center and office park on a 4.3 acre tract at the southeast corner of Powder Springs and Callaway roads, across from the Kolb House. Such a project would destroy the historic character of the farm. Fortunately, Superintendent Larry Steeler was able to work with the Cobb County Historic Preservation Commission to oppose the rezoning of the site from residential to commercial. As a result, the project was abandoned. Since then the park has continued to work with the Commission in an effort to keep land next to the park zoned for low density development. As Steeler put it, " . . . there's much less of a visual impact on the park from a single-family residential home than there is from having a warehouse next door." 
But despite these successes, the pressures continued to mount. Traffic was still so heavy on the weekends that some road sections were converted to one-way only during those periods. Encroachments from adjacent property owners was a continuing problem. Countless trails cut across park lands, sometimes directly over fragile earthworks. Things had begun to improve but park management realized that it was going to be an on going struggle. 
One of the problems that management had to deal with directly was the increasing use of park trails by riders of mountain bikes. Earlier problems with motor bike use of the trails had been largely resolved through stricter enforcement of regulations, but by the late 1980s some people felt that mountain bikes fell into the non-motorized category and should be allowed on the trail. In fact, Kennesaw Mountain NBP began to be publicized by patrons of the sport as an ideal location. But, citing concern for the safety of other visitors and for the impact of such activities on the trails, Superintendent Larry Steeler banned mountain bikes from the trails in October 1989. This elicited strong protests from the Southern Off-Road Biking Association which asserted that the ban was discriminatory. For a time the controversy was heated but in the end, the ban was enforced. 
One consequence of the growth and development of west Cobb County that has had a major impact has been the widening of roads through the park to accommodate more traffic. Despite one early threat in 1944 when survey parties ran lines through the park in anticipation of a new national highway, Kennesaw Mountain NBP was free from any substantial road changes until the 1980s.  Roads were improved but, in general, were not greatly altered. With the increase in the volume of traffic, though, the state and Cobb County began planning for the widening of the primary roadways.
The first road widening to affect the park was that of Powder Springs Road in 1984. The road had been realigned and paved in the 1930s and gradually widened over the years but Cobb County wanted to make it into a four-lane roadway. The county owned enough right-of-way to construct the widened road but requested an additional easement for construction of the road shoulders, safety slopes, and drainage channels. Although unhappy with the impact of the new road on the park, especially the subsequent diminishing of the historic scene around the Kolb House, the NPS granted the easement because without it the road would have required curbing, vertical concrete retaining walls, and guard rails. Park management felt that these things would have had an even greater adverse impact. The State Historic Preservation Officer reluctantly agreed with the NPS' approval of the project but expressed concern "that this is another example of a piecemeal approach which . . . as part of a series of small individual encroachments could become a major concern for the overall park plan." 
As part of the agreement, the NPS informed Cobb County officials that it would not consider any future road projects through the park unless an Environmental Analysis of Alternatives was done first. The hope was to gain cooperation for future planning. However, such planning has not yet taken place.
The Powder Springs Road project was only the first. In 1985, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) announced its plans to widen Dallas Road from the Cobb-Paulding county line east into Marietta. Like the rest, the two-lane section through the park was to be made into four lanes. Anticipating a severe adverse impact, the NPS opposed the project. In a letter to the GDOT, drafted by Superintendent Bullard, the NPS likened the situation to a 1958 request for a right-of-way that was refused. On that occasion, the NPS stated that "our policy . . . is to refuse all requests for road right-of-ways that do not directly benefit a particular park or its visitors. Even more, it is our policy to encourage the development of through highways on routes that would bypass our parks and monuments and leave them undisturbed." 
Specifically, park officials had concerns about the impact of the design on park resources and about the cumulative impacts of all road widening proposals. Bullard stated his belief that, "in widening the Powder Springs road, . . . we understood that a highway connector to the west of the park would first be constructed to funnel traffic to the north into U. S. 41 and I-75, and south into Powder Springs road, thereby relieving the Dallas Highway and Burnt Hickory road of future traffic problems." 
At a public meeting in June 1986, the NPS again expressed its concerns and asked that alternatives be developed. But GDOT was not interested in alternatives. At a meeting with park staff, on June 26, it indicated that 100 feet of right-of-way was needed. The state already owned 80 feet but design plans called for four twelve foot lanes, a twenty foot median, two ten foot refuge lanes and two six foot shoulders. The designs also revealed that the proposed alignment was directly across a major Confederate gun emplacement on the north side of the existing road. The possibility of losing such a significant resource alarmed park officials and they asked that the road be realigned to the south. They also opposed the 100 feet of right-of way and the impacts it would have. In response, GDOT stated that it could build the entire road within the existing 80 foot right-of-way but it would then build retaining walls and deny turning access at Cheatham Hill Drive. 
Meetings between NPS and GDOT continued over the next two years. Compromises were made and some alterations in the design took place. DOT agreed to landscape the median and provide a traffic light at Cheatham Hill Drive. The alignment was shifted to avoid an historic house site and the Confederate gun emplacement. It was also decided to construct a pedestrian underpass between Cheatham Hill Drive and John Ward Road. 
With these agreements, the GDOT proceeded to revise its designs. By 1991, its revisions were complete and consultation with the NPS began once again. In still more meetings in 1992, further changes were made. The pedestrian underpass was dropped because of the impact its construction would have on the Cheatham Hill area. GDOT also agreed to change the grade of some of the slopes to minimize the loss of earthworks on the south side of the road. But even with these alterations, the NPS continued to express its concern about the cumulative impact of road widening projects and the lack of alternatives. As of this writing, the NPS and GDOT are still negotiating this project.
The proposal to widen Dallas Road is an excellent example of the kind of pressure Kennesaw Mountain NBP is under because of increasing development that threatens to strangle it. More people, more traffic, more encroachments, and more problems will result from this pressure. Kennesaw Mountain NBP is rapidly becoming an urban park; it is no longer the peaceful, rural battleground it once was in its early years. Coping with these pressures and maintaining the integrity of this significant historic park is the continuing challenge of its managers.
Last Updated: 01-Sep-2001