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Signs mark cultural 'milestone'
KINGSLAND -- Signs officially designating Camden County as part of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor were erected Tuesday during a brief ceremony on U.S. 17 near the Florida state line.

Chuck Clark, vice chairman of the Camden County Commission, said the event marked a milestone for the county. Clark, whose ancestors settled in Camden County in the 1700s, said it's important to preserve the history of those who impacted the area.

"The biggest point is this tells the history of the people," he said. "We're starting to lose a bit of our history. It will encourage people to investigate their heritage."

Griffin Lotson of Darien, a member of the commission overseeing the corridor, said it is among 49 cultural heritage districts established across the nation.

"Camden County has lots of rich history," he said. "Once you're a part of this, it will be tapped into the rest of the world."

Lotson said he constantly gets contacted by people who want to know more about the history of the Gullah Geechee culture.

"Camden County has a history that's documented and recorded," he said. "They want that cultural connection."

Every county in Coastal Georgia, including Glynn and McIntosh counties, was given two signs that will be erected on high-traffic roads to let motorists know they are traveling through the corridor that encompasses 12,414 square miles, from Pender County, N.C., in the north to St. Johns County, Fla., in the south. Each county can also purchase additional signs to help lead motorists to historic sites, Lotson said.

So far, Lotson said the signs have been erected in Glynn and Camden counties in Coastal Georgia. Other counties in the region are scheduled to follow suit in coming weeks, he said.

Lotson said the designation has potential to do more than preserve the history of the Gullah Geechee culture. He said cultural heritage districts across the nation have a $5.4 billion impact on local economies.

In South Carolina, where Lotson said municipalities have aggressively promoted the Gullah Geechee culture, festivals draw as many as 30,000 people.

"I'm hoping we can borrow from the Carolinas," he said. "We need to have more festivals. They want that cultural connection."

Barbara Ryan, the cultural corridor's liaison for Camden County, said cultural tourism is among the nation's fastest growing tourism activities.

"People want to know where they came from," she said.

In Camden County, the Bryan Lang Historical Archives, a library in Woodbine dedicated to preserving local history, will be one of the designated destinations for visitors. A theater group is also performing in an original play, "Follow the North Star," which Ryan said will become a reoccurring performance at the St. Marys Little Theatre to attract visitors.

The play is about former slave life on Cumberland Island on a plantation owned by Robert Stafford. There are also plans for an interactive kiosk at the Riverview Hotel in St. Marys to give visitors information about the Gullah Geechee culture, Ryan said.

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.



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