Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Unicoi State Park Camping

March Camping at Unicoi State Park

I took my two sons and two of their friends up to Unicoi State Park for a couple of nights of tent camping, hiking and sightseeing just this past weekend, March 21-23. We started out setting up camp when we arrived on Friday afternoon and it couldn't have been nicer, probably 65-70 degrees. The boys had a lot of pent up energy from the ride up so we decided to hike the Bottoms Loop Trail that winds around the Unicoi Lake. It follows Smith Creek from near the camping area and winds its way on a wide path that made for an enjoyable hike.
Boys being boys (the 4 range in age from 12-15), they were hungry when we made it back to camp so we had a little lesson in fire building, which is when all else fails use charcoal lighter fluid! The wood we had brought from home was damp and I had forgotten kindling, so we gathered up some fallen twigs out of the woods and eventually got a fire going. After all the lighter fluid burned off we set about cooking some hot dogs and hamburgers, which were not as good as they would have been had we remembered to bring BUNS. Can you tell I don't camp very often? But it gets better. I had purchased a brand new Coleman multi fuel, top of the line lantern specifically for this trip. I had gotten a Coleman stove for Christmas from my wife (a hint?) that runs on small propane canisters. In my haste to pack and get ready I had purchased 4 canisters of propane and not a single drop of the liquid fuel required to burn the lantern. It was going to be a dark night spent with 4 boys who had just filled up on bunless burgers and beans. Fortunately we made it through and were able to buy some fuel at the trading post in the morning.
We had a lot of fun hiking some of the Smith Creek Trail, driving to Anna Ruby Falls and spending some time in Helen. While in Helen I was able to talk the boys into having a proper sit down meal inside a restaurant, and explain to them that the first camping trip of the year is kind of like a shake down cruise, or a dry run to make sure your equipment is working properly and that you have your packing list trimmed down to only what your need.

Michael (Clark W. Griswold) Allen

Flowery Branch, GA

Betty's Country Store/Supermarket in Helen

The Best Grocery Store In North Georgia

My husband and I recently rented a condo in Helen, Georgia for a much needed weekend getaway. I had found as we were researching things to do while in the mountains and had decided to see if I could contribute to the site something interesting about our trip, hoping we would see many interesting things!
As it turned out, the weather did not cooperate and we spent most of our time in the condo instead of carousing all over the mountains as I'd hoped. We did find a real unexpected pleasure however. The condo we rented had a wonderfully equipped kitchen, even an indoor grill, which sent us off in search of steaks on a Friday afternoon. I asked a full-time tenant in one of the adjacent condos where to go in Cleveland to buy some decent steaks and was somewhat surprised when she told me the best steaks around were available within walking distance, at Betty's Supermarket. We were thankful for the tip yet still dubious about the information as we made our way to Betty's. My husband's comment upon parking in the gravel lot across from Betty's was that it looked like a fancy feed & seed store, boy was he wrong! I wish Betty's was within walking distance of our home in north metro Atlanta!
We went nuts. We purchased 2 huge, thick hand cut Black Angus strip steaks, fresh salad ingredients, freshly baked bread, wild rice and some cheescake for dessert. The selection of local favorites combined with items from all over the world really impressed us both. We found 2 of our favorite wines and my husband's favorite micro brew beer as well. I'm sure many of your readers are aware of Betty's but for people like us who are just now discovering the north Georgia mountains we wanted you to know about it!

Contributed by Charlene Vecchio- Roswell, GA

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fly Brothers at Wylie's 3/21

Seeing and listening to a good, tight band is one of the best ways I can think of to spend an evening. The Fly Brothers and Wylie's in Dahlonega provided both of those ingredients on a recent Friday night. A little blip about the venue-(see story on Eat & Shop page for more) Wylie's hosts local and regional bands and musicians in a very intimate and informal setting right on the square in downtown Dahlonega. Live music happens in the "Down Under" bar area below the main street level restaurant every Friday and Saturday night, with occasional weeknight shows.

The Fly Brothers are an Atlanta based band who, in the words of bassist/lead singer Justin Powell, "Love to play in the mountains every chance they get". They make the trip to play at Wylie's on a fairly regular basis in between dates all over the southeast. Joining Justin are lead guitarist Stephen Hendrix, drummer Scott Phillips, and Ben Farmer providing a second guitar and background vocals. The Fly Brothers create a sound that is hard to pin down-On this evening I heard the influences of reggae, funk, jazz, rock, bluegrass and even hip-hop within the first two sets. The guys worked off each other seamlessly to create a unique and energetic sound that is built around Powell's excellent 6 string bass foundation and vocals. This is fun music played by talented musicians..they can take you from jazz to reggae to bluegrass and back again within the space of minutes, all the while keeping the crowd into it and involved.
I was able to speak briefly with the band members between sets. They come across as nice, affable guys who love what they are doing and were happy to be there. That comes across in their music.
I would encourage all of you live music fans in the north Georgia mountains to get out and see the Fly Brothers on April 11, when they will be downstairs at Wylie's again-or check out their MySpace page for more dates, venues and information about the band.


Wylie's in Dahlonega

I had the pleasure of dining and enjoying some good music with my son at Wylie's in downtown Dahlonega last weekend. The first thing that strikes you about Wylie's is the vintage three story building and how they have used the space to create three different atmospheres. The main restaurant is on the second (street level) floor, the third story with it's great view of the downtown square is used for larger parties and special events, and the downstairs houses a full service bar with tvs for sports viewing, the music stage and tables for drinking and dining. I didn't get a chance to ask the busy staff much about the history of the building, but with the plank floors, trim and high ceilings I would guess it to be around 100 years old if not older.
Wylie's has a varied dinner menu featuring but not limited to steaks, fish and seafood. The special while were were there was a mahi mahi dish that looked really good. We ate in the downstairs area, also known as "Wylie's Down Under", while watching the Fly Brothers set up for their show and some NCAA tourney action on the big screen. I had eaten a pretty big lunch earlier, so I wanted to keep it somewhat light for dinner. We started by splitting an order of fried jalapeno poppers (which led to an embarrassing moment involving hot cheese all over my arm which really amused my son) that were delicious. I ordered the "Southern Fried Chicken Salad" with some Greek dressing on the side and was able to sample some of the ribeye steak ordered by a friend who met us. I was really impressed with the steak, it was very tasty-made me second guess my choice of a "light" dinner. My light dinner was excellent as well..mixed fresh greens and tomatoes topped with chunks of well seasoned fried chicken. I only regret that I didn't order some of the fresh baked Portuguese bread to go along with the salad after seeing and smelling some of it being served at an adjacent table.

The Fly Brothers took the stage between 8:30-9:00 and put on a great show (see the Mountainfreak Music page). Overall it was a very enjoyable evening..good food, good music and excellent service. Wylie's serves Bass, Guinness, Sweetwater 420 and Bud light on tap along with a good selection of bottled beer. The downstairs bar is full service with a well rounded wine list . A lunch menu including burgers and sandwiches is available till 5 pm (except for Sundays). For more information see their website:

Wylie's is located at 19 North Chestatee St, Dahlonega, GA 30533

Phone: 706.867.6324

The World Famous Yonah Burger

Ok..maybe not "world" famous..but in the world around Cleveland and Helen in the north Georgia mountains, everybody knows about the Yonah Burger. For 40 years, the Yonah Burger restaurant has occupied the same spot on Georgia hwy 75 just north of Cleveland and in the shadow of Mt. Yonah. My father used to bring me here when I was a child-and very little has changed. It was a globally warmed 31 degrees with a little snow on the ground when I visited the Yonah Burger in early March on my way to Helen for a little hiking at Unicoi State Park-I needed some fuel. I didn't have to look at the menu, I ordered the Yonah Burger deluxe with fries for $3.99. Yonah burgers do not hit the grill until you place your order, no heat lamps or microwaves-just cooked to order on a very well seasoned steel griddle that imparts the flavor of every burger that has gone before, and that is a good thing. I had mine all the way and it was ready in about 5 minutes. The fries are sprinkled with a special seasoning salt as they come out of the deep fryer which helps distinguish them from your run of the mill burger joint fries. Service is quick and friendly and business is always brisk.
Burgers are not the only thing the Yonah Burger is "world" famous for...they serve a full breakfast that includes home made biscuits with "city" ham or "country" ham, bologna, tenderloin, steak, eggs, hot links and about 10 other options which can also be ordered on white bread toast as a sandwich. Biscuits and sandwiches run around $2 and a full plate breakfast can be had for less than $5. If you are not in the mood for a Yonah burger at lunch, other options include salads, hot dogs, deli sandwiches, bbq and chicken. Ice cream and shakes are also available. My one complaint with the Yonah Burger are their "world" famous fried pies...they are a tad greasy and the fruit filling comes out of a can..very average to me, but they have been serving and selling them since 1968 so I must be one of the few. The Yonah Burger is located at 2051 Helen Hwy. (GA 75), Cleveland, GA 30528. Phone-(706)865.4791

Trout Season Opens in North Georgia

Visitors the the north Georgia mountains, and even folks who have lived in Georgia all of their lives, can be surprised to learn that there are nearly 4000 miles of fishable trout streams in the northern third of our state. From kids and beginners, to "corn dunkers", to expert fly fishermen after trophy trout on one of our public or privately managed streams-there is truly something for everyone. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is responsible for managing the public trout water and operate two hatcheries where rainbow, brown and brook trout are raised for stocking. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates a hatchery on Rock Creek (below) that helps stocking efforts in Georgia and North Carolina.

Trout season opens this year on March 29 and will run until October 31 on seasonal waters. We thought we would, in conjunction with opening day, offer a bit of info and some helpful links for both resident and visiting fishermen (and women!).
I think the most valuable advice I could give to anyone at this moment (5 days before opening day as I type) is DON'T GO TROUT FISHING ON OPENING DAY! I say that partly in jest..some anglers actually seem to relish not being able to find a place to park or fish your favorite stream without 30 of your closest friends casting to the same pool or eddy! All joking aside-there are plenty of fish to be caught and this is the first chance to wet a hook in most of our streams since last October. Savvy trout fishermen will be on the water when the sun comes up or do a little hiking to have some time to themselves, and with 4000 miles of trout water there are certainly good spots that are not as well known if you do your homework. Some of the more popular streams I expect to draw big crowds on opening day include Wildcat Creek, Cooper Creek, the Chattahoochee in and north of Helen, Dukes Creek and the Toccoa and Tallulah Rivers. I plan to go to either Cooper Creek or the upper 'hooch a few days after the season starts and catch whatever is left!.
My favorite method of catching north Georgia trout is ultralight spinning gear and small spinnerbaits. My largest to this point was a 4.5 lb. rainbow caught on a 1/16 oz Panther Martin spinner (black/yellow spots/gold blade) in the upper Etowah River. I am a decent to mediocre fly caster..but I find the smaller streams in to mountains to be frustrating to fly fish for someone of my skill level. These streams are generally shrouded in rhododendron and mountain laurel that doesn't leave a lot of room. I stick to a 5' graphite rod/spinning reel combo in these situations and save the fly rod for the larger creeks and rivers. There are many methods used for catching north Georgia trout..from kids, beginners and beer drinkers who bank fish with canned corn and nightcrawlers on the more popular and heavily fished streams to folks fishing guided private water for huge trophy trout and everything in between (like me!). A great place to start in your exploration of trout fishing north Georgia is NGTO (North Georgia Trout Online-linked below). Up to date, sometimes up to the minute info, photos, advice and locations to fish can all be found on their site. If you want to skip straight to the trophy trout arena I would check out Unicoi Outfitters in Helen or the Brigadoon Lodge on the Soque River near Clarkesville linked below.
North Georgia lakes also hold some trout, especially Lake Burton. My friend Robb, who lives near Lake Burton, sent me this photo of some trout he landed in Lake Burton last season-

I hope to be joining Robb for an outing soon! Whatever your skill level may be, there are plenty of trout fishing opportunities in the north Georgia mountains. Spring is a great time to visit and make fishing a part of your trip...and when you catch a few, send the pics and your story to and we'll share them with our readers.

Some helpful links-

GA Dept. of Natural Resources- license, regulations, etc.
NGTO- the best resource for Georgia trout fishing
Unicoi Outfitters- tackle, equipment and guide service
Brigadoon Lodge- The "Augusta National" of GA trout fishing
Smithgall Woods - Reservation only fishing operated by GA State Parks

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Articles we are working on for May:

Nuclear Reactor in Dawson Forest..Georgia's Area 51?

State of the Live Music Scene in the N GA Mountains-with help form the folks at Music Matters Entertainment

Report from The Bear in the Square Festival in Dahlonega

Stay tuned....;-)