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Condensed by Native Village
Georgia: The United States Forest Service [USFS] is the steward for over 866,468 acres of federally owned land in Georgia. The agency's job is to maintain and protect several hundred archaeological and historical sites.
In July, a group of hikers in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest were shocked to discover that the USFS had cut down over 100 live trees to block a trail. The trail led to a dormant volcanic vent and large complex of stone ruins in Track Rock Gap, a 1,100 year-old Mayan site in Georgia's mountains. No alternative route was provided.
The hikers, including a movie producer and journalists, were forced off the trail. Using digital and video cameras, they documented the damage done by federal employees. They also discovered the USFS has allowed new saplings to grow in the plazas and 300+ stone ruins, possibly causing permanent damage to archaeological artifacts beneath the surface.
The U.S. Forest Service has maintained signs to the Track Rock Gap Archaeological Zone for several decades. However, national awareness only grew after the book, Itsapa, the Itza Mayas in North America, was published on December 21, 2011 to coincide with the beginning of the Maya solar calendar year.
early March, 2012, the USFS granted a filming permit to the Travel Channel to
film at Track Rock Gap. The History Channel also applied for a permit to film in
early April, and National Geographic Magazine planned to film in the fall of
The Travel Channel managed to film their program. However, when the History Channel arrived to film a segment for the series, America’s Secret History, they were shocked to learn that their permit had been denied. No amount of pleading would budge the USFS from its position.
The trail was a branch of the Great White Path, an 8,000 year-old trade
route between the Smoky Mountains with the Etowah River. It end at Etowah Mounds
National Historic Landmark.The
intentionally blocked path -- now called the Vent Trail -- is at least 1,200
years old, between 14 - 6 feet wide, and climbs about 800 feet. Vent Trail leads
to an ancient volcanic vent hole (fumarole) that Native Americans considered
As the hikers approached the stone walled terraces, the cut-down trees became so dense that it was impossible to go under or around them. The hikers then turned up the steep slopes of the archaeological zone and immediately found cairns and stone walls. Some retaining walls are over 300 feet long.
At the top of the archaeological zone are the ruins of the acropolis, where the largest and most interesting structures are located. However, the soil is so fertile here that vines and saplings make passage almost impossible in the warm months. No trees had been cut down in this area to block the trail. However, the hikers could go no further because a dense stand of fast-growing saplings filled the large acropolis plaza in the acropolis.
In early March, when the Travel Channel filmed a program praising the beauty and
cultural significance of Track Rock Gap, the plaza area had been completely
devoid of vegetation except the dead fronds of ferns.
The hikers became disoriented because the dense vegetation blocked out the sun and landmark views. So they pulled out their compasses to get bearings -- and gasped in disbelief. The compass needles were oscillating about 35 degrees every second and a half.
And when trying to photograph the oscillating
compass needle, camera image had spots on it. The camera had been exposed to
Compass needles only oscillate when exposed to alternating electrical currents or pulsating electromagnetic waves.
seen this before. We are standing on a portal,” said Tom Grode of Los
Angeles. In theoretical physics, a time portal is a place where beings or
objects may jump between two distinct times or physical locations.
The group headed straight down the mountain when no trail could be found in the dense vegetation of the acropolis. The hikers eventually found a section of the Vent Trail that was passable and returned back to the parking lot.
Many wonder why the U. S. Forest Service has not adequately maintained or promoted the Track Rock Archaeological Zone as a major archaeological site. They have known since 2000 that a half square mile Native American archaeological zone is there. In fact, the USFS paid for the archaeological study.
The The Archaeological Resources Protection Act requires federal agencies with stewardship of Native American archaeological sites to protect them from damage. Yet, for 12 years, the USFS has knowingly allowed tree roots and parasitic vines to continue destruction of the 1,200 year old stone structures at Track Rock Gap. Archaeologists from the local Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest office were never directed to study or guide preservation of the Track Rock Gap stone structures.
Also, the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to follow specific procedures before altering archaeological zones. At Track Rock Gap, the cutting of more than 100 trees and blocking access to the zone would have required public notices, public hearings and consultations with the Muscogee-Creek Nation, the Poarch Creek Tribe, the Florida Seminole Tribe, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, the Eastern Band of Cherokees, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Kituwah Band of Cherokees, plus a published plan for mitigation of negative impact.
That was not done.
One former USFS employee said local USFS management had "freaked out" when news of Track Rock Gap went national because "they had obviously dropped the ball." She said these middle level managers had considered, perhaps attempted, several extreme, illegal measures to discredit media articles, books and TV programs that discussed the archaeological site.
"What seems to you Native Americans as a straightforward historic preservation
issue has become the U.S. Forest Service's Watergate. I really can't tell you
more," she added