This region of Coastal Georgia teems with history.
From Revolutionary and Civil war sites to major cultural, art and ecological centers, residents and visitors could spend days traveling the area, taking in all the history it has to offer.
But many locals are not aware of the historical significance that surrounds them — and if they are, they’re not taking the time to visit and enjoy these regional offerings. That’s according to Jim Bacote, Diane Kroell, Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin and Michelle Ricketson, each of whom plays an active role at historic sites in neighboring Liberty County.
The four directors — Bacote of Geechee Kunda, Kroell of the Midway Museum, Austin of the Dorchester Academy Association and Ricketson of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority — discussed some of the challenges facing the region’s historic sites at a luncheon last week.
Though they each are involved in different aspects of the community’s historically and culturally significant sites, the directors echoed many of the same sentiments regarding the challenges they face.
Unsurprisingly, needs for funding and volunteers topped everyone’s lists. As Austin put it, “energetic, innovative, committed volunteers” are in short supply and always welcome. Kroell noted that even raising money can cost money, as oftentimes a hired grant-writer is needed to write the lengthy and detailed grant proposals that can bring in funds.
Bacote mentioned that, as the sites push to expand their offerings and increase visibility, it becomes harder to accomplish everything with the same limited amount of resources, again stressing the need for volunteers.
He also said that not enough local residents have visited any of the historic or cultural sites, stating that familiarity with the area’s offerings should be a priority for all community members.
“That’s part of everybody in here’s job description, as promoters of this county,” he said.
The directors also talked about some of the positive growth they’ve seen, thanks to the hard work put in by those who do volunteer their time and energy.
“When I go back and look at what Dorchester was 14 years ago, and look at what we have now, you have an appreciation for what you’ve done, the value of the hard work you’ve put in,” Austin said.
After the panel discussion, the floor was opened up for questions. One audience member asked about the presence of the local school system at the county’s historic sites, stating that she visited many of them on class field trips as a child.
“The only school in Liberty County that’s been to Geechee Kunda … has been First Presbyterian Christian Academy,” Bacote said.
Chamber CEO Leah Poole added that her son’s second-grade class field trip last year was a trolley tour of Savannah. Poole’s son attends Taylor’s Creek Elementary in Hinesville.
Bacote said that numerous universities from around the country take research tours of Geechee Kunda regularly. He said the site also has ongoing programs with other colleges nation- and state-wide, mentioning that Georgia State would be coming for its yearly visit this month. He said that Geechee Kunda also receives yearly visits from a charter school in Columbus, as well as several Atlanta-area and McIntosh County schools.
Bacote said that he and his wife even helped write the social-studies curriculum for the state of Georgia in 2007.
All four directors stressed the importance of local-level involvement, saying that if the region’s residents aren’t knowledgeable or interested in area historic sites, they can’t expect visitors to be interested, either.
“Be self-starting. Become a part of things,” Bacote said. “Because we are all one community, and the growth of one segment of the community means the growth of all, and the let-down and the failure of these historic sites means that all you guys are failures — and I believe that y’all are not really failures.”