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Geologist a 'natural teacher' about nature
Dr. Bill Witherspoon unearths creation of Amicalola Falls
Jarred DeVito, left, John Johnson, center, and Tina Simons climb the stairs Saturday to see the top of the Amicalola Falls in Dawsonville. The trio hiked along the Upper Falls Trail with geologist, Dr. Bill Witherspoon, who detailed the formation of the cascading waterfall. - photo by J.K. Devine

Twelve-year-old Jarred DeVito had two choices Saturday: Attend his sister’s friend’s birthday party or hike Amicalola Falls with his grandmother in Dawson County. Jarred chose to go on the hike and was glad he did.

“It was very fun,” the North Hall Middle School student said, pointing out he learned about the snakes, rocks and minerals during the hike down the easy Upper Falls Trail to Amicalola Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the East.

The hike was part of a series of walks and talks by Dr. William “Bill” Witherspoon this past weekend at Amicalola Falls, the Dahlonega Gold Museum and Fort Mountain State Park. During the walks down the falls, Witherspoon pointed out the different rocks, minerals and wildlife in the state parks as well as the geological significance.

Jarred’s grandmother, Tina Simons of Cleveland, explained she had heard Witherspoon before and wanted to learn more about North Georgia.

“I wanted to see the rocks and know what I’m looking at and the formation,” the White County Middle School sixth-grade science teacher said.

And Simons was not the only teacher taking advantage of Witherspoon’s lectures and guided walks. Dianne Kiser, who teaches at Tellus Science Museum, wanted to expand her geology education to help explain things better to the schoolchildren who she takes on field trips.

“I have a better understanding,” she said, following the hike down one of the Amicalola trails. “Every time I learn something new, I can answer a kid’s question better.”

One of the new bits of information Kiser learned was the rocks at the top of Amicalola Falls used to be 7 miles underground. She and 15 others also learned how the rivers in North Georgia and pre-existing rock fractures helped form different escarpments during Witherspoon’s presentations. Escarpments are narrow zones and sometimes cliffs that stretch for miles and mark a sharp difference in levels of land elevation. Among a few escarpments in North Georgia are Amicalola Falls and Toccoa Falls, Witherspoon said.

Teaching fellow educators and the public was and is Witherspoon’s ultimate goal.

“I want the public to know about the science behind the Earth,” he said. “And the science behind Georgia is something people are interested in.”

To accomplish this goal, Witherspoon conducts seminars and hikes throughout Georgia and occasionally across the United States. However, to reach more people, Witherspoon and Georgia Perimeter College professor Dr. Pamela Gore have authored the book “Roadside Geology of Georgia.” This book details the science behind Georgia landmarks such as Amicalola Falls, Lookout Mountain and Tallulah Gorge.

“It’s the interesting science people don’t know,” said Witherspoon, who teaches geology to kindergarten through 12th-grade students and their teachers at DeKalb County Schools’ Fernbank Science Center.

Some of the people attending his talk and hike Saturday at Amicalola planned on getting his book as well as attending his next hike later that day at Fort Mountain State Park, including Kiser.

“I’m following him around today,” she said.

And while Simons wasn’t going to his next seminar that day, she planned to keep an eye out for future hikes and talks.

“He’s a natural teacher,” she said.

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