Friday, May 30, 2008

North Georgia's "Area 51" in Dawsonville Forest

Remains of the Reactor Building-photo by Robert Elzey

North Georgia's "Area 51"

It was actually known as 'Air Force Plant #67", 45 miles north of Atlanta....A 10 million watt unshielded nuclear reactor initially used in research trying to develop nuclear powered aircraft during the Cold War. From the mid 1950s until 1971 the reactor and associated out buildings, a rail line, bridges since dismantled and roads since closed, were spread out within what is today one of our most popular north Georgia recreation areas-Dawson Forest in Dawson County. Stories abound even today about other possible uses and effects of Air Force Plant #67, which was also known as the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory.
A friend of mine from Pickens County adjacent to Dawson County sent me a fantastic article recently. "Inside Dawson Forest" was initially published by the Pickens County Progress newspaper in January of 2007. The article was written by Dwayne Keith Petty and can be read in it's entirety Here. Mr. Petty's article covers the entire factual history of the reactor/plant, the lore surrounding it, and it's affects on the area. The article prompted me to do some more research and visit Dawson Forest recently for a first hand look at the aging concrete monoliths and other remnants or this former top secret nuclear facility.

Old Concrete Remains are Scattered Throughout the Forest- Photo by R. Elzey

I had been in Dawson Forest on prior occasions for fishing and canoeing on the Amicalola Creek. I had seen the old bridge foundations from the creek and a strange loading ramp looking structure near the entrance, but I just never really gave them much thought. I knew the area was purchased years ago by the city of Atlanta with the thought of a possible second major airport on the location, which never happened. Maybe I just associated the ruins with some aborted construction project related to that era. Having read the article mentioned above and done a little investigation, I now approached Dawson Forest with an entirely different perspective.
I had an strange feeling as I entered the forest on a recent Saturday morning. I was now armed with real facts about nuclear experimentation in the area along with rumors of a cyclops deer, strange red skies and remnants of Cobalt 60. As I climbed over and around some of the remains I found myself looking for stunted plant life and listening for the songbirds-to make sure they were still around. There were high barbed wire fences and mounds of soil that kept me out of certain areas-I felt like I was being watched. At one point I remembered the elementary school drills I participated in as a child, the preparation for incoming Soviet nukes......then I came upon Amicalola Creek.

Amicalola Creek in Dawson Forest- Photo by R. Elzey

Nothing could have snapped me back to reality faster that the sound of a rushing mountain stream and it's adjacent environment. This was the Dawson Forest I remembered. No more daydreams about Geiger counters or mutant wildlife-just the dogwoods and native azaleas in full bloom and a couple of kids with their dad hiking along the water's edge.
Some things did happen in Dawson Forest in decades past. There were nuclear experiments done on the animal and plant life as the aircraft project was winding down...some areas within the forest were subject to massive doses of radiation. Some things might have happened-a little internet research can take you to some sites where Air Force Plant #67 is mentioned in the same paragraph as alien abductions or secret paramilitary training. The local lore from some of the folks who were around Dawson County in the early 60s contains some interesting stories as well. I'll continue my efforts to learn more, but I think the history added something to my last visit to Dawson Forest. Not only is it 10,000 acres of a user-friendly natural area there for our has a story to tell. And, so far anyway, I'm not glowing in the dark-


More About Dawson Forest:

Dawson Forest is owned by the City of Atlanta and is one of three tracts of land, totaling over 25,000 acres, that comprise the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area. Throughout the property are miles of trails, both marked and unmarked, that are used by hikers, hunters and horseback riders. The Etowah River and Amicalola Creek provide fishing and watersport opportunities. Primitive camping is free and encouraged. Dawson Forest is a haven for wildlife and hunting is allowed during certain seasons. Access off of GA 400 is easy for visitors coming from Atlanta or the mountains...and east- west access is available via highways 52 and 369.

For more in depth information visit their website:


Fast Food Decadence in Dawsonville

We haven't reviewed a chain restaurant for up till this point, but not many fast food restaurants make the Zagat Survey while being located right on one of the major thoroughfares we use to get up into the North Georgia Mountains. Five Guys is a no frills, cook to order hamburger joint that gives you a little bit more of everything you order-almost to the point of being decadent.
First of all, the regular burger comes with two fresh grilled patties of fresh (never frozen) ground beef with an amazing number of add-ons at no extra charge. The fries, also fresh cut and never frozen. A regular order was more than I could eat on a recent visit. A large styrofoam cup is loaded with hot fries and then they throw a large handful in the bag along with your order for good measure. A large order might feed 3-4 folks. You can order your fries "Five Guys" style or cajun style. Kosher Hot Dogs and sandwiches are available on the menu-but make no mistake, this is a burger joint with the emphasis on making a good hamburger. I admit to having a little sticker shock the first time I ate at Five Guys. A burger, fries and regular drink will run you about 9 bucks. Everything is relative, however. When compared to pre-frozen then microwaved/heat lamped burgers and frozen fries that will run you close to $6 at other burger chains, Five Guys is a value.
The Dawsonville Five Guys is located in the Dawsonville Commons shopping center right off of GA front of the Walmart and across 400 from the huge gaudy outlet mall Dawsonville has become semi-famous for. Very easy access if you are heading up to the mountains west of Dawsonville or up to Dahlonega and beyond.


1st Annual Horsin' Around Barbecue Showdown

1st Annual Barbecue Festival Coming to Brasstown Valley

The First Annual Horsin' Around Barbecue Showdown
will be held from May 23-25 at Brasstown Valley Resort in the North Georgia Mountains. $6500 in prize money is awaiting contestants from all over Georgia and the southeast as the compete in the categories of Brisket, Pork Ribs, Pork Shoulder and Chicken.
Along with the barbecue contest there will be an Arts & Crafts Fair, Bike Show, Kid's Corral Fun Zone and numerous concessions. We also hear there will be live music and entertainment-all for an admission price of $3 per person. The main activities will be held at The Stables area of the resort.
The barbeque contest is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society and proceeds benefit S.A.F.E. will be there to enjoy the festivities, we hope to see you there! For more information and directions, visit the Brasstown Valley Resort website:

Camping Around Helen, GA

Camping Around Helen

Low Gap Creek and Andrews Cove

Visitors start flocking to the Helen, Georgia area this month as the weather improves and the kids get out of school. Helen has good restaurants, bars, shopping for the adults and amusement parks, tubing on the 'hooch, and a variety of other activities for the kids. Plenty of lodging accommodations are available throughout the area for whatever taste and budget you desire. The main attraction here is the beautiful setting in the Chattahoochee valley of the North Georgia Mountains, and there is no better way to enjoy the mountains than camping. All the campgrounds in the area will be open in May, and like other overnight opportunities, there is something for everyone. We decided to focus on some "real" camping this month-tent and small RV camping at Low Gap Creek Campground in the Mark Trail Wilderness, and Andrews Cove Campground just north of Helen on GA 75.

Low Gap Creek Campround

Waterfront Campsite on Low Gap Creek

Only about 5 miles from Helen, but a world away in the wilderness, Low Gap Creek Campground is a real jewel. 13 spacious campsites lie either next or adjacent to Low Gap Creek as it tumbles down to meet the Chattahoochee. This is "real" electricity, one water source, no showers. There are chemical restroom facilities on site. The sites here are certainly large enough for a big pop up camper to medium sized RV, but most of what I've seen here is tent camping.

Low Gap Creek

Low Gap Creek itself is a pretty good trout stream, and fishermen use the area as well as hikers setting out for Low Gap Falls upstream. Access is easy from Poplar Stump Rd. just west of the Chattahoochee off Alt 75 in Robertstown-across from Cool River Tubing and the Helen Flea Market. Poplar Stump Rd. turns into Forestry Rd. 44 (well maintained gravel) that will lead you to the campground. The fee for camping is $10 per night. The bathrooms and campsites are wheelchair accessible.

Andrews Cove Campground

Entrance to Andrews Cove Campground

Consisting of 10 padded sites along Andrews Creek and situated just off GA 75 a few miles north of Helen, Andrews Cove is a bit more known and popular than Low Gap Creek. Also the beginning of the Andrews Cove Trail, which leads 2 miles to the Appalachian Trail, this campground is a good jumping off point for many mountain activities. Amenities are very similar to Low Gap-chemical toilets, limited water water source and no electricity. These campsites are not RV friendly at all, anything larger than a pop up would have trouble with the fit and negotiating the roadway. For folks with larger campers I would suggest checking out Unicoi State Park, Moccasin Creek State Park, or Yonah Mountain Campground which is a privately owned campground about 4 miles south of Helen. The nightly fee for Andrews Cove is $10 per night, first come first serve.
If you would like to plan a camping trip to the Helen area..or anywhere in the North Georgia Mountains... don't hesitate to email us if you have any questions we can help with We have a good deal of experience in the area, and if we don't know the answer to your question it is very likely that we know someone who does. If you have a camping experience or advice you would like to share with our readers, use the same email link and let us know about it so we can share

Mountainfreak Music Review-John Sosebee

Mountainfreak Review:

John Sosebee

John Sosebee says that he first heard Jimi Hendrix at age 14 and decided then he wanted to play the guitar for a living. John has reached back into the roots of Hendrix and countless others to the native American blues of Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson in his one man show I recently took in at Wylie's in Dahlonega.
Armed with 3 guitars, a foot drum and a tambourine, the Jasper, Georgia native puts on a good show of delta based blues. He combines excellent finger picking and slide work with a voice made for singing the blues. This isn't "blues fusion" or some modern take on old standards, this is American music at it's very core.
Sosebee is also a member of the band Dripping Theater, where he says he does venture out into other musical areas. Check out John's MySpace page for more background, history, songs and information-and keep checking with Mountainfreak Music for upcoming dates so you can get out to see John either solo or with his band.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Big weekend May 24-25..Eco Music Festival and BBQ.. has finalized plans to attend the 1st annual Horsin' Around Barbecue Showdown in Hiawassee and the Eco Music Festival near Dawsonville. We will have reports from both in the June issue. Links with information about both events can be found in the May issue of

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Follow up on The BBQ Place in Dahlonega...

I was by there a few days ago and it looks like The BBQ Place is no more. Totally cleaned out and up for rent. That's too bad-N Georgia needs more good BBQ joints and The BBQ Place had a chance to be pretty good with a few changes here and there. We are trying to get up to Blairsville this month to check out a new BBQ joint there that comes with some pretty good recommendations..stay tuned!