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Mother Nature's jewels
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From shades of red, to golds, to purples and oranges the leaves are starting create their annual jewel-tone extravaganza in the North Georgia mountains.

From the nip in the air to the slight breeze and longer nights - all signs show that fall is here. So to enjoy this wonderful time of year, why not take a trek to the North Georgia mountains to enjoy what the scenic drives and beautiful parks have to offer.

"You want to experience something that you can't experience somewhere else," said Cheryl Smith, the Northeast Georgia Mountain regional tourism representative with the Georgia Department of Economic Development. "Our mountains are definitely different than other mountains ... Someone said, ‘Well, they're not the Rockies', but I say they are older, wiser and gentler. There is a treat behind every curve in the road."

Of Georgia's 48 state parks, six of the most popular for leaf watching include Amicalola Falls, Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Tallulah Gorge, Unicoi and Vogel, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Amicalola Falls in Dawsonville, offers a 729-foot cascading waterfall, many hiking trails and a lodge for its guests.


"It is absolutely our peak time," said Bill Tanner, Amicalola Falls park manager. "We see a busy park from spring tothe summer but October and literally through November are the busiest.”


Tanner adds that the peak of the fall foliage color is still a few weeks away.


“I don’t believe anybody can truly predict it,” he said. “But I have a feeling that from the third weekend of October literally through November, that folks will be able to visit the mountains and see some pretty foliage.


“We are definitely not seeing the early color we saw last year. The trees are still predominately green but we are seeing obvious spots of color. You’re seeing the sourwoods anywhere from a pink to a deep maroon and interestingly enough at the same time you’re seeing the flowers showing.”


So while you are enjoying the mountains and their beauty, remember that the month of October is one of the busiest times of the year in the otherwise sleepy towns.


Lily Creek Lodge in Dahlonega is experiencing a record number of guests this year.


“The majority are going to see the leaves and they are going to the wineries,” said Sharon Bacek, part owner of the Lily Creek Lodge. “The second most obvious is the romantic getaway and weddings. I’m seeing more younger people, from 30 to 45 ... just wanting to get out of the city and away from the stress.”


Another stress-relieving and beautiful locale to visit is Black Rock Mountain, the highest elevation state park in Georgia at 3,640 feet. The park in Mountain City provides delightful vistas for leaf watchers.


“The mountain is the view,” said Tracy English, Black Rock Mountain park ranger. “There are just so many spots. As you come up the mountain we’re just totally covered with trees so when the leaves really start changing it’s just like a blanket of color that you are driving under.”


English suggests stopping at the Cowee Overlook in the park, which has a view of the Sky Valley area, and the Black Rock Overlook at the visitors center, which gives a southern view over Clayton.


“This cold spell that we should have this weekend seems to really bring out the color,” added English. “We’ve had about three-quarters of an inch of rain in the past few days so maybe that and the temperature change will give us some nice color next week.”


The park has many overlooks, streams and small waterfalls along with 11 miles of hiking trails, including the recently completed 0.85-mile Black Rock Lake Trail.


There are many state parks for guests to visit but don’t forget about the Chattahoochee National Forest, which boasts Georgia’s tallest peak, Brasstown Bald.


“Things are starting to change now; it’s been a little bit cooler,” said Mitch Cohen, public affairs specialist with the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. “These are the perfect conditions for the next couple nights ... by this weekend the color should really start developing.”


To keep up with daily reports of fall color the state parks and national parks have help out there for everyone.


For Leaf Watch 2007, run by Georgia State Parks, visit www.gastateparks.org and each week rangers will send updates on how leaves look at the time along with a Webcam from Black Rock Mountain.


For national forest updates there is a toll free Fall Color Hotline that provides visitors with weekly fall foliage updates. A Webcam showing the views at Brasstown Bald, from the north and the south, also is available.


Cohen said one of the most popular questions that guests have is how the drought will affect the colors of the leaves.


“Generally, the colors aren’t as vivid; and because the trees have been under stress the leaves are starting to shut down and it goes real fast,” he said.


So as you hurry off to the mountains, don’t forget to plan a scenic drive to complete the leaf-watching experience.


“From my experience, driving up in the mountains it can be pretty and at its peak in one part of the region, like Rabun, and then go the very same day over to Union and it’s not there yet,” Smith said.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has some suggestions, listed on www.dot.state.ga.us, for the perfect mountain drive.


The Cohutta-Chattahoochee Scenic Byway begins in Whitfield County and heads 54 miles around Chatsworth ending at a mountaintop overlook.


The Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, which is located in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Northeast Georgia, is a 41-mile loop that includes views of Brasstown Bald and Helen.


The beautiful drives and the splashes of color along the way are ready to relax and rejuvenate all visitors this month, according to Cohen.


“It’s a great break from our daily routine, and in the fall you get these crisp days and you can see forever,” he said. “ I think people really feel good when they get close to nature and away from all the development and the hazy air. ... You see the beauty of nature out there and there is a difference and it’s fleeting.”


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