Sunday, March 1, 2009

Black Falls is not Off Limits

Black Falls is a spectacular waterfall on the upper Etowah River about 25 minutes outside of Dahlonega. It may also be one of the least visited of the north Georgia mountain waterfalls because of where it is located-within a training camp for our Army Rangers.
Camp Frank D Merrill, named for the commander of Merrill's Marauders in Burma during World War 2, is the where the mountain phase of training takes place for the 5th Ranger Training Battalion. I first read about Black Falls a couple of years ago while perusing J. Anthony's website, Waterfalls of North Georgia. At that time access to the waterfall and the camp was sporadic due to heightened security in the wake of 9/11/01. In January I decided to find out whether Black Falls was still off limits and ended up visiting twice. Both times I checked in with the gate security guard to ask permission (and directions on the first trip) and was welcomed. You don't have to pass through the security gate to gain access to the falls, and I'm not even sure you have to ask for permission..but I would advise it. There is a second gate at the top of the road that leads to the base of the falls which was closed and locked on my first trip. The guard had told me it might be but advised it would be ok to park along the road and walk down to the falls. On the second trip the gate was unlocked and we were able to drive right down to the river's edge very close to the base.
The rappelling wall used by the Rangers (and pictured above) is less than 100 yards from the waterfall, and there are other buildings and training structures in the area. A footbridge with a hand rope crosses the river near the bottom of the falls and should be used to get the best vantage point for viewing. I tried to climb up closer to the top of the falls on my second trip, but the rocks had all iced over and it was a little too dangerous.. care should be taken at any time of year because the rocks are wet when it is warmer. Black Falls is definitely worth the visit, and being inside the Ranger camp just adds to the interest. For more information about the camp you can visit their website- Camp Frank D. Merrill

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