Over the past month, I’ve totally fallen off the blogging bandwagon. But don’t worry; I have plenty of excuses lined up to justify the absence of personal musings!
After six years of calling Chicago my home, I have relocated to Atlanta. I also got engaged (yes, the to-be-married kind), the holidays were squeezed in there somewhere, and I vaguely remember having a fever. Boo hoo and such.
But excuses aside, I’ve found the transition to southern living remarkably easy and have been out and about exploring what Atlanta and the surrounding nature areas have to offer. Which brings me to my first hike as a newly licensed Georgian – Sweetwater Creek State Park.
This is one of the closest state parks to metro Atlanta, so it was a logical pick for a first point of outdoor exploration. The park spans 2,549 acres, including a 215-acre lake, visitor center with gift shop, picnic shelters, fishing docks, and a bait shop. There are nine miles of trails here: the red, trail, yellow trail, and white trail.
There are three parking lots, but we settled on the third one for better access to the white trail. There’s a nice little visitor center and gift shop up front with a little museum about the wildlife inside and the old mill. We sprung for a Georgia State Parks annual pass, figuring that we’d be making quite a few visits to these parks to get our money’s worth and would make use of the campground discounts too. Gosh I can’t wait to go camping…I’ve sleeping in a warm, comfy bed for far too long.
The white trail is the longest – a 5.2 mile loop that takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to hike. It’s rated “moderate to difficult,” but it was definitely tamer than that rating would suggest. Winding through stream coves on a wide dirt path, the white trail is the most remote and least crowded of the three.
Armed with a slightly-less-than hardcore manatee backpack (manatees!) and a picnic lunch, we hiked through the wooded area with lots of tall, skinny trees. My parents gave us a tree guide book for Christmas, but I haven’t really figured out how to transition it from being a coffee table book to a useful field companion. There has to be an app for that…
The creek flowing across the rocks slabs was really beautiful, and I had to keep reminding myself that this really was January. There is definitely nothing about Chicago weather that I’ll miss! After scarfing down the sandwiches and fruit I’d packed for lunch, we continued hiking to where the white trail met up with the red one. The red trail leads to the intriguing ruins of the five-story New Manchester mill, which was the most interesting feature of this hike. Discovering this mid-hike mill reminded me of the ruins of the Ney Springs Resort in Mt. Shasta, California.
Another fun and notable feature of this state park were all the dogs! I’m slowly coming to realize how dog-friendly Georgia is. Although I don’t have a dog of my own yet, I run a dog-sitting side business through Dog Vacay. It’s a fun way to get to know different types of dogs and dog personalities while life if still a little too uncertain to commit to a full-time pooch of my own. Finding parks, patio bars, and even driving ranges to take the dogs-on-loan to makes the side gig even more fun. And in this particular park, I almost felt out of place NOT having a four-legged friend tagging along beside me.
The red trail is the most congested trail in this park because it provides the easiest access to the historic old mill. As the stroller crowds trudged along en mass, I came to realize that we weren’t the only ones to have the brilliant idea of a mid-day hike in the mild sunshine. Now fenced off and lined with “no trespassing” signs, this mill was part of a mid-nineteenth century town called New Manchester. The Civil War destroyed this town, but remnants of this mill are still standing today. Apparently, park rangers lead guided hikes on certain days and times inside the fences and tell the history of this crumbling textile mill.
But even if you don’t catch one of those tour times, there are some signs posted around to catch you up with the Cliff’s Notes. With water rushing in all directions in the background, it really does make for some photo-worthy views.
Actually just yesterday, I went on my second Georgia hike – to Panola Mountain State Park, also in close distance to Atlanta. And this time with a boxer that I’m dog-sitting for the weekend!
It feels great to get out and active in the middle of winter, and it feels even better to explore a new place that I call home. It’s a new phase of my life and I’m glad to be in an area where there are lots of trees and non-stressful spaces to reconnect with the environment around me. I expect these to be the first of many more hikes as a newly southern gal as I slow down my pace and start taking notice of the new, exciting, and beautiful things around me.