Students work to preserve historic cemetery

University of North Georgia students and faculty across departments continue to collaborate to maintain Mount Hope Cemetery and help the city of Dahlonega promote tourism at the historical cemetery through a map and brochure, as well as use it as a learning lab.

Dallas and Roswell students at University of North Georgia are working with faculty across departments continue to collaborate to maintain Mount Hope Cemetery in Dahlonega.

The students and faculty helping Dahlonega promote tourism at the historical cemetery through a map and brochure, as well as use it as a learning lab. Participants in the project are from the Appalachian Studies Center, Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis, and Biology Department.

Zach Pilgrim, a senior from Dallas, pursuing a degree in environmental spatial analysis with a biology minor, used skills learned in Dr. Jamie Mitchem’s fundamentals of cartography class to craft an updated cemetery map for the city.

“It’s very exciting to be able to preserve this history,” Pilgrim said. “It’s really fascinating that it’s brought so many people and groups from UNG together.”

Nicole Winters, a sophomore from Roswell, pursuing a degree in elementary and special education, produced a video tutorial on how to clean headstones as part of the project. The cemetery’s connections to the Dahlonega Gold Rush of 1829 and the chance to highlight African-Americans were highlights for Winters. The cemetery is surrounded on three sides by UNG’s Dahlonega Campus and was founded in 1833.

“It’s really important because there’s so much cultural history in the cemetery,” Winters said. “It’s important for people to realize what we have.”

Rosann Kent, director of the Appalachian Studies Center, said she enjoyed the opportunity for the students to help shed light on some overlooked figures in American history via a brochure the city will use to promote walking tours at the cemetery. One of those was Isaac Rucker, who escaped slavery and during the Civil War fought as a solider in the Union Army before returning to Dahlonega as a prominent community member.

Another was Madeleine Kiker Anthony, who helped push for the creation of the Gold Museum in downtown Dahlonega. She also was instrumental in Dahlonega gold being placed on the state Capitol in Atlanta.

Biology students have also worked at the cemetery for a variety of purposes, including bird identification.

“It’s been a valuable resource,” associate professor of biology Janice Crook-Hill said. Crook-Hill has used the cemetery for her ornithology classes that identify birds, as well as for research on mockingbirds and now crows.

David Patterson, professor of biology, has used the cemetery to produce life expectancy tables and Carly Womack-Wynne, professor of education, had her students pilot the walking tour.

“By helping the city to digitally interpret this historical cemetery from America’s first major gold rush in 1829, students will provide a new outdoor learning lab for K-12 field trips as well as boost Dahlonega’s tourism efforts,” dean of UNG’s College of Education Dr. Sheri Hardee said. “Our partnership with UNG’s Biology Department means teachers will be able to re-envision this historical cemetery as a STEM venue to introduce students to research projects on lichens, invasive species, bird identification and urban corridors. It is a truly interdisciplinary initiative.”

Thanks to a $4,500 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, five of the students involved in the project joined Kent and Chris Worick, chairman of the Dahlonega Cemetery Committee, to present their work at the Appalachian Teaching Project Symposium in Washington, D.C., in December. The Appalachian Teaching Project aims for students to begin efforts that can sustainably be handed off to their communities. Worick has appreciated the students’ assistance.

“They have a big desire to do some type of public service. They’re willing to help,” Worick said. “They just need a little bit of direction.”

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