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 enjoyment..it 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: