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Savoring our autumnal bliss
Fall festivals, events and natural beauty lure visitors, boost economy and enrich local life
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If you don’t like fall in North Georgia, well, you’re pretty hard to please.

It is, in the minds of many, the best time of the year. The air is cooler and less humid — when it’s not pouring rain, that is — the leaves soon will burst into brilliant colors and the cornucopia of events offered can fill everyone’s off days from now until Thanksgiving.

Many of us spend our Friday nights at high school football stadiums, tailgating and cheering on our favorite local teams. That leaves Saturday and Sunday for Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets, corn mazes, hayrides, hikes by the lake and mountains and a slew of fall festival fun offering a wide menu of activities.

This weekend’s annual Mule Camp Market, which continues today, has filled the downtown square in Gainesville with artists, crafters, bluegrass pickers, fun for the kids and the aroma of corndogs and barbecue.

It is the latest movable feast in a parade of local festivals that includes Helen’s Oktoberfest, Big Apple Festival in Cornelia, Gold Rush Days in Dahlonega, Mountain Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville, Harvest Balloon Festival in Flowery Branch and any number of other car shows, cook-offs and craft shows in towns throughout the region.

There’s a common thread to many of these events; you can munch on a funnel cake, get your face painted and buy a homemade birdhouse at most of them. But they also include their own unique aspects tied to their communities and our common Appalachian roots, and the civic pride that goes into each sets them apart.

Such celebrations began back in the agrarian days when farmers would gather to celebrate the fall harvest. In the modern version, we add a little pumpkin spice to everything rather than haul pumpkins to market, and farms are where the more citified folk pick fresh fruit by the basket and wander blissfully through cornfields.

Whatever the preference, it all serves as a throwback to simpler times when the change of the calendar meant something. If nothing else, it gets folks out of their cocoons and away from their blinking screens for awhile to enjoy the bounty of the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Hall Countians have additional pastimes to enjoy this time of year. The Special Olympics of Georgia State Games and Horse Show returned to our area for a second year and will wrap up today at several locations around the county. The event not only draws hundreds of visitors and competitors to our area, it highlights the vital mission of Special Olympics to celebrate and elevate those who are developmentally or physically challenged. It is another source of pride for our area to call these events home, and we hope they will continue to return.

And for those who like their sports with an extra dash of speed, last weekend’s annual Petit Le Mans road race at Road Atlanta lured tens of thousands of visitors, as usual, despite the rain.

All this doesn’t hurt the bottom line, either. Georgia’s tourism industry earns more than $50 billion annually and is the state’s fifth largest employer, supporting some 10 percent of the state’s workforce, more than 400,000 people. After a few lean years during the Great Recession, the tourists have returned with a full Lake Lanier and stunning fall weather to greet them.

That infusion of cash into the local tills includes what visitors contribute to the tax digests, including the two pennies of every dollar in special purpose local option sales taxes for key infrastructure and school needs. When folks from Atlanta and elsewhere drop by to buy gas, food and fall fun, it helps ease the burden on local taxpayers.

The festivals and other events also help boost local nonprofits and the charitable efforts they provide. Mule Camp Market is sponsored by the Gainesville Jaycees, helping that organization raise funds for the many causes it supports. Most of the other fall events offer the same community benefit.

But economic gains aside, this fall bonanza we enjoy now adds flavor to local life and helps connect residents to their communities. We all lead busy lives and spend more time commuting and logged into work concerns than sampling the daily bounty right outside our door. The sights, smells, tastes and sounds of our autumn heritage take us back to the innocent days of childhood and remind us why we chose to live in this place we call home.

To send a letter to the editor, use this form or send to The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor Keith Albertson.

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