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Out on the trails
Celebrate states trails Saturday with workshops, hikes, cleanup
A biker rides along a trail at Unicoi State Park, which will be celebrating National Trails Day on Saturday with workshops, trail maintenance and a Southern gospel concert.

There are about 200,000 miles of trails in the United States, and that's a cause for celebration.

Saturday is National Trails Day, an annual observance launched by the American Hiking Society in 1993. Last year, more than 1,100 registered Trails Day events were held nationwide. At least that many are expected this year, including several in Northeast Georgia.

Gainesville's Elachee Nature Science Center will have its regular trail maintenance day, and the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association will work on the Mountaintown Creek bike trail near Ellijay.

For people who want to learn more about trails but don't necessarily want to get their hands dirty, the place to be Saturday is Unicoi State Park near Helen.

The park is offering a full day of activities, with something for everyone in the family.

"We've been working with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club on putting this together," said Jessica James, recreation director at Unicoi. "Our staff will be leading hikes and doing some of the programs, and there will be some presentations by volunteer groups. Trout Unlimited, for example, will be doing a trout fishing demonstration."

The Georgia ATC is the official caretaking organization for the 75 miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through Georgia. But because most of the trail is not easily accessible to the public, for National Trails Day the group does a work project at a state park.

Volunteers who want to join the work group Saturday at Unicoi can park in the Lower Smith Creek area and start registering at 8:30 a.m. Maintenance work will take place from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on the Bottoms Loop Trail.

"We'll be putting in a culvert under a small stream so it doesn't wash out the trail," said Ken Estes, a Georgia ATC member who is coordinating the events at Unicoi. "We'll also replace a boardwalk over a marshy area. And if there's time and we have enough people, we may also replace a small footbridge."

If that sounds daunting, don't worry. Club members are experts in trail work, and they'll show you what to do.

"People don't have to come out and do trail work," Estes said. "They can work as much or as little as they care to."

Volunteers do get a payoff: a free lunch provided by the Friends of Unicoi State Park organization.

For those who choose not to do the hard labor, there are plenty of other ways to stay busy. Programs will be offered on craft-making, wilderness first aid, trail safety, survival skills, shelter building and getting up close and personal with snakes.

Winton Porter, owner of Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi, a hiking store near Blood Mountain, will be giving the safety presentation.

"It's based on a 4-H project that my 11-year-old daughter put together," he said. "We're aiming it at children, but it's advice that could be applicable to anyone. We'll talk about using the trail register, letting someone know where you're going, safe places to camp and what to do when you encounter strangers."

Porter said National Trails Day is a way to help nurture the next generation of hikers. "It's focused on bringing everyone, but especially children, into the outdoors."

For those who want to actually get out on the trails, two hikes are scheduled Saturday. A walk on the three-mile Unicoi-to-Helen Trail begins at 10 a.m. from the Unicoi Lodge parking lot. Participants should register in advance and bring a lunch.

When they reach Helen, hikers can either turn around and walk the three miles back or return to the park by shuttle.

If that sounds too taxing, there's a one-mile interpretive hike through Unicoi's bottomland forest at 1:30 p.m.

And if you still happen to be in the park at 8 p.m., there's an entertaining way to end your day. The Southern gospel group Reconciled will be performing at Unicoi Lodge, with admission by "pass the hat" donation.

For more information about any of these events, call Unicoi's programming department at 800-573-9659, ext. 305.