Thursday, February 21, 2008

Snowy Day Trip to Ellijay (Feb 2008)

The forecast was for 2-3 inches of snow above I-20 last Saturday..what better time to head to the mountains of north Georgia! Actually, by the time I left north Atlanta to drop my son off in Woodstock the forecast had changed to more snow below I-20 than above and travel didn't seem to be an issue as we made our way west.
The plan was to drop my son at a friend's house for the afternoon and head up to Ellijay for lunch and loitering on the square downtown. Ellijay is very accessible from Atlanta-my route was up I-75 to I-575 to drop the kid off-then back on 575 north which turns into the limited access, but still 4 lane, GA 515 aka The Zell Miller Georgia Mountain Parkway...which takes you through Jasper and Talking Rock right into Ellijay.
Snowfall had just about stopped by the time I parked on the square, very light flurries but enough on the ground to provide a great backdrop in the hills surrounding the city. My first stop was The Antique Hound, one of two side by side antique malls located in the old historic brick buildings that line the square.. I was impressed the moment I walked into the shop. There were real antiques all over. So many of the "antique" malls in north Georgia have been infiltrated by weekend crafters and people selling new Chinese pocktknives that you really have to search to find something that could be described as antique. This isn't the case at The Antique Hound. All booths were full of predominately old and vintage finds. everything from old local farm tools and pottery to 1960's glass Christmas ornaments still in the box with the original price tags (89 cents). The Antique Hound is also a Case knife dealer and had a very good selection.
Just next door to The Antique Hound is First Mercantile Antiques. I was equally impressed with the quality of merchandise there, but not as impressed with the selection. Hopefully business has been very good and they need to replace and restock. Both stores are worthy of a visit and being next to each other makes it very hit them both.
Normally I try to eat somewhere I haven't tried when I can...but the River Street Grill was giving away free coffee and it was 29 degrees didn't matter at the moment that I had dined there before. I ordered a "build it" burger all the way topped with some pepper jack cheese. The burger was well cooked, the coffee was hot and the service was excellent. The River Street Grill is a no-brainer if you are in downtown Ellijay for lunch. The lunch menu is quite extensive with offerings ranging from a selection of salads to Rainbow Trout or a Ribeye Steak.
I wish I had more time to spend, but the radio weather folks were talking about the roads freezing up as the sun went down, and I was 90 miles from home. I did make one more stop at Ellijay Outfitters, which is tucked into one of the corner buildings right on the square. Ellijay Outfitters has a good selection of kayaks and outdoor gear. The gentleman working the store also took the time to tell me about their place on the Cartecay River where they rent tubes and kayaks-I'll have to take him up on that later, I think...maybe 3-4 months from now..maybe June...

The Mysterious Gazebo (Feb 2008)

Many visitors to Helen, Ga. are curious about the Gazebo located adjacent to and just east of Hwy. 75 north of town. There is a little history surrounding the Gazebo and the Nacoochee Indian Mound upon which it was built.

The Gazebo was built by Captain J.H. Nichols in 1890. Captain Nichols purchased quite a bit of land in the Nacoochee Valley following the Civil War. His holdings included the land surrounding Anna Ruby Falls, which he named after his daughter. Across the road from the Gazebo and Indian Mound you can see the house that Captain Nichols built in the nineteenth century, which still stands and is known now as the Hardman-Nichols estate. The Nichols land holdings were sold to timber interests after his death, which led to Helen, Ga. growing up around the saw mills that followed.
The history of the Indian Mound that sits beneath the Gazebo goes back much further. This ceremonial mound is believed to be the center of an ancient Cherokee town known as Gauxule. Archaeological evidence uncovered during an extensive excavation done in 1915 indicate the Nacoochee Mound was in use in the late fifteenth century until sometime in the seventeenth century. Local legend even points to a visit by Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto around 1540.
A local Helen resident told me that the Nacoochee Mound site has been sold to the state of Georgia and will be included within a new state park-but I have not been able to verify that information yet.
When you visit Helen, stop by and enjoy the unusual setting of a 1890 gazebo sitting atop an ancient Mississippian earthen burial is one of the most photographed scenes in north Georgia, for good reason.

Contributed by S. Nunnally, Cleveland, GA.

Winter Camping at Boggs Creek (Feb 2008)

A friend of mine asked me a couple of weeks ago where he might be able to take a short weekend camping trip in the mountains. That was in the middle of January, and the choices are not quite as plentiful as they are during other seasons. Boggs Creek Campground was the first site to cross my mind. Many of the National Forest campgrounds shut down in the winter, and some of the state parks have to cut their water off due to the cold. Boggs Creek Campground is one of the National Forest Campgrounds that doesn't close..and there is no running water to cut off. It's cheap ($8 a night-self pay), close to Turner's Corner and civilization, which makes it an easy drive from metro Atlanta where my friend lives, and it's beautiful.
The campground straddles Boggs Creek, a nice sized stream with tumbling rapids and still pools shrouded in a valley of pines, oaks and rhododendron. There are 26 camper/tent sites and 6 tent only sites, all with fire ring grills and lantern posts. There are vault (outhouse style) toilets but with no running water there are no sinks/showers. Boggs Creek is haul it in, haul it out camping-take your fresh water and trash bags in and haul all of your trash home with you.

Outdoors Safety in the North GA Mountains (Feb 2008)

Outdoors Safety in the North Georgia Mountains

The January abduction and murder of 24 year old Meredith Emerson, who was kidnapped while hiking in the Blood Mountain area of north Georgia, is a tragic reminder that we cannot take our safety for granted while participating in outdoor activities. Violent crimes are rare in the public recreation areas in north Georgia-and hikers, campers and fishermen have no reason to shy away from enjoying themselves in our woods and on our trails and streams.
We have enlisted the help of some experts this month to advise us and remind us of some things we can practice to help insure a safe experience while taking part in our favorite outside adventures. Pete Sadel and Charles Dean of Atlanta Single Hikers were kind enough to offer their opinions and advice on hiking in north Georgia. Atlanta Single Hikers was founded in 1995, and they schedule regular hikes for their members all over north Georgia and elsewhere. These guys have logged quite a few miles on our local trails. I asked Pete and Charles to comment on the relative safety of hiking in the mountains and for any tips they would offer.

Pete: "I would say that hiking in north Georgia is fairly safe, IF you follow some basic safety rules. Things like not hiking alone or at the very least leaving specific details of your hike with a friend or relative. Carry a cell phone and some means of protection."
"Hiking alone is pretty risky for a male or female, you can twist an ankle or fall down a rocky trail pretty easily. I've heard more than one story of people being attacked on the trail....Personally I tend to hike at the back of the group (usually 5-25 hikers) to be sure no one is left alone. As an old Boy Scout I lean on some of the tried and true safety rules; Don't hike alone or if you must leave details with someone as I mentioned. If hiking with a group, stay together. Bring a mini-survival kit with you in case you wind up hurt or lost. Bring a really loud and obnoxious whistle. Don't forget a compass and maps are your friends. Pepper spray is a good idea-some of it is even made to work on bears. I occasionally feel that I'm being a bit paranoid, but unfortunately recent events have justified that-a little paranoia can go a long way."

Charles: "I agree with Pete on much of this, especially following the basic safety rules. I would add that I think hiking in north Georgia is pretty safe. If you look at the crime rates among people hiking, the rates are very low. A very public incident like the murder of Meredith Emerson can give people the impression that something is more dangerous than it is-like the way the movie "Jaws" affected beachgoers. Of course one can be attacked in the woods, just like anywhere else, but the actual number of incidents is low. Any incident like the recent one is terrible and very sad."
"I carry a knife and pepper spray on the trail. I haven't used either on human or animal. I'm an old Boy Scout, too, so I try and follow the rules Pete mentioned."

For another perspective I posed some of the same questions to Stuart Taylor, a friend who is an avid hunter and fisherman, and also works for a local law enforcement agency. I specifically asked Stuart about fishing and camping alone in the mountains...means of protection...and any other advice he might have to offer.

Stuart: "The main thing is (if you are alone or in a small group) always let someone know exactly where you plan to be and for how long you will be going. Make sure that person knows how to contact the Sheriff's office or local patrol post/ranger station in that area. Use common sense and don't put yourself in places you may not be able to handle. Be in shape for the terrain and carry a basic "Oh Crap" bag with some survival items in case you get lost or hurt. Carry a cell phone and a good map and compass you know how to use."
"Use caution when you are approached by another person in a remote area. Trust your gut instinct-if something doesn't seem right, it more than likely isn't. If confronted, the first rule is RUN!, disengagement is always your best option. Run with a purpose-to get to your vehicle or to create distance so that you can defend yourself, and if you have to fight use your pepper spray (with at least 10% OC Concentration, the higher the % the better). If there are or could be other people in the area, scream and make noise."
"As far as the safety of being alone while in the wilderness, I would not hesitate to fish, etc. alone in north Georgia...but I wouldn't take off to the middle of the Cohutta Wilderness by myself unless I knew that area very well. Some warning signs that an area might not be safe include groups of people who don't seem to fit the area..signs of marijuana cultivation or drug manufacture..if you know the area, you notice changes or something out of place. Trust your instincts."

I really appreciate Pete, Charles, and Stuart adding their insights and knowledge. We all need to beware of complacency concerning any activity that may involve risk..but risk, by definition, can be calculated. A careful assessment beforehand is advised for anyone heading out to the woods, no matter the level of experience. Being aware and prepared only adds to the comfort and enjoyment we can experience while taking part in the outside world.