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Environment and History of Stone Mountain Park

Along with a distinctive history as old as the mountain, there are several different and unique natural communities within Stone Mountain Park. Exploring the park’s natural and social history will reveal a diverse number of plants, animals, and artifacts that inhabit the mountain and surrounding protected areas. Begin your exploration at the Confederate Hall Historical and Environmental Educations Center’s geology and ecology museum. Over two-thirds of the park has been designated the “Natural District” by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association which prohibits further development. The Natural District includes pristine woodlands, streams, lakes, fields, and most notably the mountain’s granite outcrop community. Many restoration projects have been implemented within the Natural District including invasive species removal and streamside improvements

The Harold Cox Nature Garden and trail, through interpretive signage, will introduce visitors to a variety of native plants, trees, and flowering shrubs. The Songbird Habitat and Trails familiarize visitors with a variety of sun loving plant species and a variety of birds found in the park.

Just one of many, the Cherokee Trail is a 5 mile historic trail which explores much of the Natural District around the base of Stone Mountain. It was designed as a National Recreation Trail in 1971. For a list of all trails please visit the trails page.

    Stone Mountain is one of the largest granite formations in the eastern U.S. It exposes 7.5 billion cubic feet of rock. The nearby Panola Mtn. and Arabia Mtn. are similar to Stone Mountain in composition and origin although are much smaller but also less impacted by development. Stone Mountain formed 300 million years ago deep underground during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains. The shifting of the earth’s crust beneath the surface created heat and friction which metled a large amount of rock within the continental crust. This magma (melted rock) slowly hardened into granite and remained hidden beneath the earth’s surface for millions and millions of years. The granite was eventually exposed as the miles of land on top of the dome eroded away with time and weathering.

    Granite is an igneous rock because it was formed by crystallization of magma. The granite at Stone Mountain consists of quartz, mica, and feldspar.

    Granite Outcrop

    Unique plants can be found on Stone Mountain, Plants which are rare across much of our State. Life on a granite outcrop can be very stressful because of exposure to the elements (rain, wind, sun, etc). Very few species can grow on the rock and there is a timely period of succession before a tree will ever take root on the granite. Succession describes the stages of plant growth which occur before a mature plant community is established on the open rock. The first organisms to grow on the rock are lichens. These are part fungi and part algae which live together by sharing their resources.

    The lichens can wear way depressions in the rock allowing soil to gather and plants to grow in what is known as solution pits.. Mosses follow lichens in succession along with the outcrop endemic Diamorpha smallii and as more soil gathers, more plants and eventually trees will root in the shallow soil. Some of the trees which can be seen growing on the mountain include Loblolly Pine, Red Cedar, Georgia Oak, and Black Cherry.

    Oak Pine Hickory Forest

    The forest surrounding Stone Mountain are considered Oak-Pine-Hickory Forest and are comprised of tree species including White Oak, Chestnut Oak, Loblolly Pine, Big Leaf Magnolia, Pignut Hickories, Sourwood and more. A unique understory includes spring ephemerals that grow along the rich forest soil for a brief period in spring. One such species known as the Trout Lilly is the first to bloom in late February and blankets the forest floor in a sea of yellow blossoms.

    The depressions at the very top of Stone Mountain seasonally gather water and can then provide the necessities for life. There a few endangered and threatened plants which in habit these pools as well as a small crustacean known as the Clam Shrimp. The shrimp leave tiny eggs behind in the soil. Shrimp can be seen when the water warms in late spring through early Fall but only during adequate rains.

    Granite outcrop animals include many types of insects. Look carefully for the granite grasshopper in the summer whose pattern blends in with the lichens and rock. There are also small mammals like mice and voles and numerous songbirds. From the top of Stone Mountain vultures and hawks can be soaring on the wind.

    Harsh conditions on the mountain make life hard for many animal species but due to the rich woodlands surrounding Stone Mountain they are not excluded from the park. Woodland animal species in the park include Woodpeckers, Coyote, Fox, Deer, Hawks, Raccoon, Turkey, Snakes, Salamanders and a myriad of other species.

    While artificial, the lakes at Stone Mountain play an important role in both habitat and recreation. Fish species found with the lake include Largemouth Bass, Catfish, Sunfish (Brim), and others. Muskrat, Otter, and Beaver swim its waters along with various turtles, snakes, and amphibians. Simple life forms known as Bryozoan also live within the lakes; look for the hard clear jelly-like masses clinging to underwater branches.

    Learn more at the Confederate Hall Historical and Environmental Education Center.

    Stone Mountain and its surrounding landscape hold a unique and varied past; one painted with reality and myth, life and death. From early Paleo peoples and the Cherokee and Creek Nations to Colonial Explorers and Quarrymen, the mountain has seen its share of change through the ages.

    Early History

    Due to its size and visibility from great distances, Stone Mountain has long been a landmark and gathering place. Pieces of soapstone bowls, dishes and other artifacts have been linked to people living around the mountain as early as 8,000-10,000 years ago. During the Spanish exploration of the New World, the Creek Indians occupied what is now Alabama and North Georgia including the Stone Mountain area. Later in the 16th century the Cherokee tribes forced the Creek nation farther south in Georgia. Stone Mountain was located in a buffer zone between the Creek and Cherokee tribes and was used as a neutral meeting place. Through colonial times the Native Americans farmed around the mountain and traded actively in the area with the Spanish, British and French.

    Stone Mountain first played a part in modern history in 1790 when President George Washington sent Colonel Marinus Willet to meet with Micos of the Creek Confederacy regarding cession of Creek lands. The Micos were invited to the nation’s capital at the time, New York, to negotiate. Willet wrote on his first visit to Stone Mountain that “Here we found the Cowetas and Curates to the number of 11 waiting for us. While I was at Stony Mountain, I ascended the summit. It is one solid rock of circular form about one mile across. Many strange tales are told by the Indians of the mountain…”.