Although turkey hunting and a state outdoor writers’ convention were the initial reasons for visiting Unicoi State Park, unexpected events caused an expansion of interests to include trout raising, birding, local wines and a hike through gold-mining country.
North Georgia and nearby areas of the Carolinas were the site of North America’s first gold rush. The Spanish explorer, DeSoto, did not find any gold in his trek through what was to become the Southeastern U.S.; but there was gold there. North American Indians used and valued native copper, but if they found gold, they paid no attention to it.
Nonetheless, gold was discovered and this caused the relocation of Native Indian tribes from the region during a four-year period generally called the “Trail of Tears.” Federal Mints were established in the towns of Dahlonega, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Gold was periodically mined from underground, placer and surface workings through the early 1800s and subsequently when there was a significant rise in the price of the precious metal.
Now the area is more valued for its scenic qualities, recreational opportunities and watershed protection than gold production. John Kollock, a local artist, returned from a military tour in Germany with the vision of establishing a Bavarian tourist destination in the North Georgia mountains. Some local merchants shared his vision, and today the town with its Bavarian theme storefronts features European crafts, foods and culture in a North Georgia setting.
The area’s natural environment inspired the creation of the Unicoi State Park as a convenient get-away from the Atlanta metro area. This part has a state-operated lodge, restaurant and meeting accommodations as well as a lake and 12 miles of hiking trails adjacent to the Chattahoochee National Forest. One of these was the Smith Creek Trail which I walked with Jimmy Jacobs and Polly Dean who are working on a new guide to Georgia’s 500 miles of hiking trails. Concurrent with the meeting of the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association (GOWA), the Georgia Mountain Bird fest was being held, and from 70 to 130 enthusiasts participated in events concentrated on the Spring migration.
My interest in birds was focused on a scheduled turkey hunt, but my and another hunter’s efforts with our flintlock guns were foiled by a drizzling rain which later turned into a downpour. Fellow GOWA member Ben Baker related his recent hunt with a percussion Civil War era Colt revolver which failed on a large boar hog, and P.J. Perea gave one of the best renditions of turkey calls on my homemade wing-bone call that I have heard. With no further turkey hunting opportunities, I visited the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery where trout are raised to stock in Georgia streams.
Joining the birding group, I interviewed event organizer Ellen Graham, who is a Resource Manager at the park, and participant Jamie Hawk, who is the head of the Atlanta Audubon society. Exhibitors at the event included Joe La Fleur who has a series of DVDs including live footage of North American birds with sound recordings collected from all U.S. states and Canadian Provinces. This is a remarkable body of work and is made more accessible to the average birder because he also has DVDs featuring the most common 150 bird species from each state.
For those interested in Helen as a tourist destination, I also visited the Convention Center and Visitors Bureau where an enthusiastic young receptionist in Bavarian costume filled me in on local history, tourists activities and events. This is followed by a trip to Habersham Winery in nearby Nacoochee where I sampled wines and later discussed them with Steve Gibson. Although they grow and make wines from European varietal grapes, they also feature their “Southern Harvest White Muscadine” as among Habersham’s best-selling products. This wine has an excellent acid-sugar balance, and it is not nearly so sweet as many muscadine wines.
Ads on this show included Misty Mange, the hair-care product that you and your pet can share and SIN, Inc.’s (Synthetic Industrial Non-Nutritives, Inc.) bottled water from wells located at Trash Mountain on edge of the Los Angeles Basin. This water is sold at expensive prices in recycled bottles. It is now available with added sugar, heavy metal flavor accents and salvaged citrus peelings