Liberty County has been included in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, according to Griffin Lotson with the corridor’s commission.
Calling it a national distinction, Lotson presented heritage corridor signs to the county during a commission meeting Thursday. The signs will be placed at I-95 exit 67, between mile markers 2 and 3, so visitors will see them as they enter the county, he said. Similar signs will be placed along highways in North and South Carolina and in Florida, Lotson added.
Lotson said Liberty County is considered a national heritage area like Niagara Falls on the U.S.-Canada border. He said there are 49 heritage areas in the United States. National heritage areas generate $5.6 billion in tourism dollars each year, according to Lotson.
“Economically it’s going to be great for Liberty County,” he said.
The Gullah Geechee Corridor was designated by Congress in 2006, under then President George W. Bush, Lotson said. The National Heritage Areas Act is supported by President Barack Obama, he said, pointing out that First Lady Michelle Obama is a descendent of the Gullah Geechee people.
According to The New Georgia Encyclopedia, the Geechee and Gullah people, who still live along the coast, are descendants of West African slaves. The website said Gullah now is applied to those islanders in South Carolina, and Geechee is for those in Georgia. The Gullah Geechee culture has retained its own language, cuisine, folklore, art, music and spiritual traditions.
Lotson said academics from across the country and journalists from major media companies like the BBC have shown interest in Liberty County’s Gullah Geechee heritage.
Jim Bacote, founder of the Geechee Kunda Center, was at the presentation, along with genealogist, herbalist and sweetgrass basket weaver Gregory Grant. Bacote said Liberty County has been celebrating Gullah Geechee culture for 11 years, referring to the annual Geechee Gathering each spring in Riceboro.
“Everybody should go to Geechee Kunda at least once,” Lotson said.
Later in the meeting, commissioners discussed possible route modifications to the proposed Hinesville bypass. The project has been in the planning stages for nearly a decade, officials said.
Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said the bypass’ original proposed alignment began at the Long/Liberty county line on Highway 84 West.
“The new alignment moves that beginning point a little more west into Long County,” Brown said.
The proposed route changes would lessen environmental impacts by building a bridge over wetlands and would skirt historical sites such as old churches, the county administrator said. Close to two-thirds of the proposed bypass would run through Long County, Brown confirmed.
Funding for the project’s design and permitting would come from SPLOST money, he said.
“HAMPO (Hinesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) is requesting state and federal dollars for construction,” Brown added.
He said Liberty County officials would discuss the project with the Long County commissioners at their first meeting in March.
Also Thursday, Commissioners authorized Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission executive director Jeff Ricketson and county engineer Trent Long, as members of the Liberty County Gateway Beautification Group, to apply for a Georgia GATEway grant to fund landscaping at the intersection of Highways 17 and 196. Grant money is generated by fees paid to the Georgia Department of Transportation by outdoor advertising companies, Long and Ricketson explained. GATEway grants pay for landscape plant materials and the installation of roadside enhancements along state routes. Up to $50,000 can be granted to any organization, local government or state agency, they said. Long said the Gateway beautification group would apply for $48,000. The completed application must be submitted by Feb. 28. Long said once the landscaping was installed, maintenance would become the county’s responsibility. He said low maintenance plant and tree species would be selected.