Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Hiking Around Dawson Forest
Winter is a great time for exploring the outdoors in north Georgia. The weather lends itself to hiking, the barren trees allow you to see things you might miss in the summer, and many times you will have a large area all to yourself. Such was the case on a recent weekday trip to the "Atlanta Tract" of Dawson Forest near Dawsonville. I hiked 3 different areas of the forest and did not see another soul in the process.
The area I was visiting is less than an hour from downtown Atlanta...in fact, this 11,000 acre tract is owned by the city of Atlanta and was originally purchased in 1972 to give the city an option of building a second major airport north of the suburbs. The plans for the second airport have never materialized, and the property is now under the stewardship of the Georgia Forestry Commission. A large trail system for hikers and equestrians has been developed along with a waterfowl preserve and wildlife management area.
Dawson Forest is a transitional landscape. The southern area of the property is a foothill area that rapidly changes to a mountain environment as you move north. It is interesting to notice the transformation as you hike through-you enter into a flat, swampy terrain with longleaf pines and as you approach Amicalola Creek you start noticing small coves with mountain laurel and rhododendron, more rock outcroppings, and a rapid change in elevation. There are numerous areas that invite you to leave the trail you are on and explore if you like, and plenty of small spur trails that have been created by hikers doing just that. The different types of environments available make Dawson Forest a good hiking destination for all ages and experience levels. You can stick to wide, mostly flat trails or wander through dense vegetation and boulders if you like-some or the rock formations are fun for light climbing or bouldering.
Some of the more interesting areas of the forest are the remains of Air Force Plant 67, which once housed a nuclear reactor. We profiled the history of the plant in the May 2008 edition of Mountainfreak. net, the achived article can be found here. The ruins of the plant seem very much out of place now, with cars and trucks with horse trailers parked just outside the barbed wire topped fences that keep visitors from getting too close to the decaying concrete structures...and a quarter of a mile past the fences you enter the waterfowl preserve with a beautiful little lake. Odd, but interesting all the same.
For those wishing to check out this sprawling and interesting recreation area, it is very easy to find. The main southern entrance is located at the end of Dawson Forest Rd, which intersects Georgia Hwy 400 just south of Dawsonville. From either direction on 400, turn west on to Dawson Forest Rd.. There are no costs for admission or parking, and plenty of informative signage concerning rules and directions.