The Cherokee and Creek Indians made their home in Georgia from the 1500s until the early 1800s when gold was discovered, Indians were driven off the land in the "Trail of Tears" to reservations in Oklahoma and their land was given away in land lotteries. Gold was mined and almost every stream in North Georgia suffered damage from hydraulic mining. When the gold ran out, timber, companies moved in to capitalize on a demand for lumber to build an industrializing Nation. Unmanaged logging removed the best, most economically valuable tree species with no thought to reforestation.
Many agricultural practices such as deep plowing, planting the same crop year after year and burning crop litter depleted soil nutrients and contributed to sediment in the streams.
Much of the southern Appalachian mountains in the early 1900's were devastated by improper logging practices and no thought to reforestation.
With the land worn out, much of North Georgia was land nobody wanted. In 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Law giving the government authority to purchase land from willing sellers to protect the headwaters of navigable streams and insure a continuous supply of timber. The Forest Service purchased 31,000 acres in Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin and Union counties from the Gennett family in 1911 for $7 an acre.
In the beginning, the Chattahoochee was part of the Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests in North Carolina and Tennessee.
On July 9, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the Chattahoochee a separate National Forest. The first task of the Forest Service was restoration. Help was received from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCCs), in the 1930's. The CCCs planted trees, built roads, did erosion control work, check and controlled tree disease and insect infestations, fought forest fires, fought forest fires, built fire towers, ranger stations and recreation areas.
After the War, new uses of wood and wood products were discovered making the forests event more important. In 1959, the Oconee National Forest was proclaimed out of 96,000 acres of federal land in middle Georgia. The lands on the Oconee National Forest had been devastated from extensive cotton farming.
The priority for the Forest Service during the 1960's and 1970's was to restore badly eroded lands on the Oconee and restore forest health. During the 1960's construction efforts were undertaken to provide developed recreation areas within 50 miles of every major town. Brasstown Bald Visitor Information Center atop Georgia's highest mountain and Warwomen Dell are examples of areas built as a result of this effort.
The next four decades saw increased environmental legislation that governs management of the national forests to protect environmental quality and insure public involvement in the process. Wilderness areas were preserved, Wild and Scenic Rivers designated, and experts in natural resource management were employed to help meet the challenges. While the way we do things have changed many times over the years, our tradition of stewardship--caring for the land and serving people, is the same.