With nearly 6,000 acres, including two lakes, Hard Labor Creek State Park is second in size only by F.D. Roosevelt State Park near Columbus, which boasts more thank 9,000 acres. But being second doesn’t prevent this park from offering big fun to the thousands who visit each year.
The park largely is made up of farmland that became unusable more than a century ago due to erosion. It is one of 10 parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
The CCC was a government program that gave unemployed young men a job ($30 in wages for six month’s work) while providing them an opportunity to learn skills they could use when the Great Depression was over. The CCC constructed roads and dams and repaired areas plagued with soil erosion.
The park is named for the creek that runs through it although the source of that name is uncertain. According to the park’s website, gastateparks.org/HardLaborCreek, some people believe the creek got its name from the slaves who once plowed the plantation fields that now are part of the park, or it was named by Native Americans who found the swift-flowing, rocky creek difficult to cross.
The biggest irony about the park’s name is that there are so many ways for visitors to relax, not labor. The park includes a golf course, lakeside beaches and swimming areas. Visitors can rent paddle boats, canoes and fishing boats. With Lake Rutledge and Lake Brantley there, fishing is a popular pastime. There are 2.5 miles of hiking trails, 10 miles of biking trails and 22 miles of horseback-riding trails. Visitors also can enjoy the serenity of nature while birding or geocaching.
The park’s 18-hole golf course is said to be one of Georgia’s best golf values at $36-$46 per round. The course has its own pro shop, driving range and rental carts. Special rates are offered for seniors and children. The course offers a challenging layout, to include what is called “the hardest starting hole in Georgia.”
“I think it’s called that because of the lay of the land,” park manager Dan Schay said. “It’s a tough one.”
He said the park isn’t just a good deal for golfers, and the park’s equestrian facilities aren’t limited to riding trails. Schay said there are stable and boarding facilities near several of the park’s 20 cottages, and there’s a horse campground area that includes parking and camping space for 11 trucks with RVs as well as 30 stalls for horses.
He said probably the park’s most popular feature is its two group camping facilities, Camp Daniel Morgan and Camp Rutledge.
“These are lodge-style campsites with a main lodge, several small cabins and some larger group shelters,” Schay said “They don’t build them like that anymore, They’re available during warmer months — March through November. We get a lot of church youth groups and scouts. It’s a perfect site for a large group of campers.”
Camp Rutledge is named for the nearby town of Rutledge. It’s the larger camp, Schay said. It sleeps up 120 people and includes 70 buildings. Camp Daniel Morgan is named for Morgan County, in which most of the park is located. The county is named for American Revolutionary War hero Gen. Daniel Morgan.
Camp Daniel Morgan sleeps about 75 people and has about 20 buildings, Schay said then added this camp has the distinction of having been the site of three “camp” movies, including “Little Darlings” (1980), “Poison Ivy” (1985) and most notably, “Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives” (1986). He said having this gruesome reputation does not stop groups from renting the camp. Some groups ask specifically for Camp Daniel Morgan. High-school yearbook staffs have asked to use the camp as a backdrop for photo shoots, he said.
“I think Georgia’s state parks offer affordable outdoor recreation for the public,” Schay said. “Each park has its own identity ... For just $5 (parking fee), you can hike, fish, picnic or do a number of things, and if you want to stay overnight, we have a variety of accommodations.”
He said Georgia has 56 parks, historic sites and outdoor recreation areas, all managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. For more information, go to www.gastateparks.org.