Originally created 05/04/01

Park's boulder stops teetering



ATHENS, Ga. - Once known as Lover's Leap, Shaking Rock Park in Lexington is standing on what some would consider uncertain ground.

"We've got a problem down at the park. You see that rock don't shake," said Cliff Brooks, longtime resident and local historian for Oglethorpe County.

"I'm 79 years old, and I can remember when a small child could move that rock with just the pressure of a hand. It used to be that if you were near the park, and the wind was blowing, you could hear the rock bumping as it moved back and forth in the wind," he said.

Hamilton McWhorter Jr. also remembers the bumping sound, and being able to shake the rock with the pressure of his thumb. Mr. McWhorter, 88, now lives in Atlanta. His family donated Shaking Rock Park to the Lexington Women's Club in 1968.

"When I was young, people often picnicked there, as we kept the property open to the public. It was a place that brought the community together. I'd like to see the park continue, but my question is how much interest will there be in a park known for a Shaking Rock, that doesn't shake anymore?" Mr. McWhorter asks.

One of Georgia's former governors, George Gilmer, refers to the park as "Lovers' Leap" in his book The First Settlers of Georgia. He had been fascinated with the place for years, and was quick to purchase it when the opportunity arose.

He described the park in his book like this: "... a rock which weighs ten or fifteen tons, which rests upon two small points at its transverse ends so equally, that it is easily moved. A level space of several feet extends from this movable rock to the precipice. The young people of the village assemble here to try the state of their hearts, by trying to set the rock in motion... From the top is a near view of a beautiful meadow, through which meanders a creek in circuits so graceful, as to appear the work of design. Beyond rises a high hill, the side of which is covered with a forest of unsurpassed beauty."

So why did the rock stop shaking?

"Many people thought the rock had accumulated enough debris underneath it to stop its movement," said Tina Fleming, recreation director for Oglethorpe County and overseer the park. "We brought in pressure washers and cleaned under it, but it still wouldn't shake.

"Engineers were called in to examine it, and they determined that the pivot point had simply worn down over time."

"Granites exfoliate and erode in layers much like an onion. Fissures in the rock fill with rainwater that expands when it freezes. That pushes out against a layer of rock that will eventually fall off," said Chris Fleisher, a research technician in the Geology Department at the University of Georgia.