Mary Barnett –

According to Tommy Littleton, chairman of the nonprofit Paradise Gardens Park and Museum, which operates the gardens and produces the annual Finster Fest, the four acre site which was sold to Chattooga County this month is working on a master plan to fully restore the grounds, art and buildings.

"Getting the property in the public domain will help clear the way for future funding. The county can head the restoration effort and preserve it for history and tourism," Littleton said.

In addition to ongoing restoration of the grounds and the artworks, Littleton said the primary restoration of the site’s major structures should take about 12-18 months once the preservation plan is finalized and funding is in place.

The destination has also passed the state of Georgia’s criteria to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is awaiting final approval from the National Parks Service. Littleton said he expects the official designation to be in place by January 2012.

Through a relationship with Kennesaw State University, a research library will be developed on site and will eventually be located in the Folk Art Chapel. An oral history project started by the students will be housed at the new library and include interviews with older generations of people who knew Finster personally.

With the county taking ownership, the potential to provide security to the buildings will be greater, thus allowing for more valuable paintings and sculptures to be placed on exhibit at Paradise Gardens in the future, according to Brown.

In addition to upgrading and preserving the gardens, the annual Finster Fest, a celebration of folk art and music, will also transition to a position of growth as it is relocated to the center of Summerville for the 2012 event.

"That is where the festival began and we want to be able to let the event grow without putting strain on the gardens," Littleton said.

Working with a new promoter in Atlanta, Littleton said the hope is to make the festival a premiere art and music event for the region and book bigger headlining performers.