Albany, Georgia on a Budget

 

Ray Charles Piano StatueLocated in southwest Georgia off of I-75, Albany has lots of fun places to visit that won’t break the bank or, in some cases, even crack the wallet. Stroll the six-acre RiverFront Park anchored by Ray Charles seated at his baby Grand and grab a piano key bench for an evening “concert.” As the sun goes down, the lights go up on this one-of-a-kind sculpture. Take a nature walk along the three-mile Riverfront Greenway Trail System that follows the scenic Flint River or at Radium Springs, one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, with crystal clear waters, historic courtyard, indigenous and exotic flora and casino garden. Turn the kids loose at the fountain and at Turtle Grove Play Park or shout “fore” with a round of disc golf at Chehaw. Free Albany attractions include the movie, “From the Heart of Southwest Georgia,” at the Albany Welcome Center, which is tucked inside the Historic Bridge House/Welcome Center – a great place to pick up a souvenir bargain, like a stuffed turtle. Also free: the Albany Museum of Art and its growing permanent collection comprised of African, European and American art, including one of the most impressive collections of sub-Saharan African art to be found in the Southeastern United States; and Thronateeska Heritage Center (NOTE: there is a charge for the planetarium show).

While in Albany, try these budget-friendly boredom busters:

  1. Picnic at Albany RiverFront Park.
  2. Explore Ray Charles Plaza and walk along the Greenway.
  3. Paint the town at Albany’s Art Park on Pine. Bring your own paint; rules of “open” walls are posted. Musicians and other artists are welcome, too. Open Monday to Sunday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
  4. Stroll through Radium Springs Gardens.
  5. Take it to two wheels. Rent a bicycle at the Albany Welcome Center.
  6. See the wild animals at Chehaw animal and adventure park, providing nearly 800 acres of fun, including a 100-acre, AZA-accredited zoo. Noted naturalist and Albany native Jim Fowler of TV’s “Wild Kingdom,” originally designed the park and is still involved with updates and expansions. The park features BMX bike racing, disc golf, campgrounds, nature trails, petting zoo, a miniature train and one of the state’s largest play parks for kids.
  7. Stargaze at Wetherbee Planetarium. Regularly scheduled shows plus fun evening special showings.
  8. The Albany Museum of Art serves as Southwest Georgia’s only fully accredited art museum. Six galleries offer a wide array of styles, artists and themes. Collections from across the country combine with showings by local artists, and exhibitions from AMA’s extensive permanent collection offer visitors an entertaining and educational museum experience. Free admission.
  9. Tour the historic Carnegie Library, which houses the Albany Area Arts Council. While there, view art work exhibitions of regional artists.
  10. Step back in time at the Albany Civil Rights Institute – where the Freedom Singers perform the second Saturday of every month.

Albany meerkats low resKids can romp to their heart’s content at RiverFront Park with Turtle Grove Play Park and its Dino Dig, Tot Lot and fountain; at Legacy Park (fishing pond – with poles available, soccer, baseball and softball fields, 8 tennis courts, sand volleyball, a mile and a half walking track, recreational facilities and more); and at the All American Fun Park with arcade, go-carts, bumper boats, miniature golf and cosmic bowling.

Fun family eateries include The Cookie Shoppe and Harvest Moon for pizza, among other kid-friendly places. Young shoppers will want to spend their mad money at the gift shops at the Flint RiverQuarium and Chehaw animal and adventure park. Albany has more than two dozen hotels – and many include complimentary breakfast and have the all-important swimming pool, among other amenities.

FREE attractions:  Turtle Grove Play Park and fountain at RiverFront Park; Thronateeska (NOTE: there is a charge for the show); the Albany Museum of Art; Legacy Park; and the movie, “From the Heart of Southwest Georgia,” at the Albany Welcome Center.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Ready, Set, Camp at Stone Mountain Park

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Stone Mountain Park is a Georgia family tradition. I can look back on many fond childhood memories of summer days and nights spent enjoying the historic landmark. Now, as a mom, I’m creating new memories at this unique destination that has grown a lot over the past few decades.

The addition of the Crossroads District has enhanced the old-fashioned, family-friendly charm of Stone Mountain while the Natural District still preserves over 15 miles of serene hiking trails for nature-lovers. What I have learned to appreciate most about Stone Mountain Park is the bridge between the natural world and modern family fun.

candycook_stonemtn_002Camping at Stone Mountain Park is truly like nowhere else. The campground is a tranquil lakeside spot nestled among loblolly pines and frequented by geese and ducks. Upon awakening, campers may be treated to the breathtaking view of deer hopping along or a Great Blue Heron fishing for breakfast. Exploring the park proves a thrilling adventure as visitors hike to the top of the mountain, relax on train rides, complete the SkyHike aerial obstacle course and picnic near the Carillon bell tower during its daily concerts. As the sun sets and the moon comes out of hiding, everyone settles down on the lawn to watch the Lasershow Spectacular. There’s no better way to put this day to bed than drifting to sleep to the sounds of nature.

The abundance of outdoor recreation, kid-friendly activities, intriguing natural features and full service campground make Stone Mountain Park the perfect place to get started on the road to family camping adventures. With the park’s “Ready, Set, Camp!” program it’s easier than ever for families to get a taste of sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors. The quiet campground provides all the amenities that may have campers homesick. Campsites are available with running water and electricity, a picnic table and grill. The sites are within walking distance of restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities. There’s even a camp store, on-site, in the event that essential items are left at home.

candycook_stonemtn_003Thanks to “Ready, Set, Camp,” new campers can jump right into the fun spirit of camping without the added difficulties of choosing gear & struggling to set it up on site. Campers arrive to brand new 4-person tent, pitched just for them, with 4 comfortable sleeping pads inside. The tent is a one-door, two-window tent with shock-corded poles. The mesh roof increases air circulation and allows for stargazing on clear nights and a rain fly for less-than-ideal conditions. The lightweight sleeping pads give a nice barrier between campers and the unforgiving ground. All in all, it’s a great setup that campers take home with them to use on their next family campout.

Reserve your “Ready Set Camp” experience at Stone Mountain Park, today!

candycookCandy Cook is a professional writer & photographer who enjoys adventuring outdoors with her two sons. She draws inspiration from the natural world releasing it through written word and award-winning photography on her blog LongLiveLearning.com, as well as digital & print publications.

Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class

BulletinAs road trip travel bloggers, my sidekick Jerry and I spend a lot of time driving the backroads of our amazing planet, and we frequently find ourselves drawn to the AmericusPlainsAndersonville area of South Georgia because there is so much to see and do in that 15-mile radius. We typically make the historical Windsor Hotel in Americus our home base because it is centrally located between the Andersonville National Historic Site and the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains.With two major national parks in such close proximity, this area of the Presidential Pathways region of Georgia is rich in culture and history.

When you visit the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site you will be transported back in time to the Boyhood Farm, Plains High School, and the Train Depot presidential campaign headquarters. You will drive away having spent a rewarding day learning about the 39th President of the United States.

But not so fast.

Jimmy Rosalynn HowardIf you leave now, you will leave town having missed the best part—the opportunity to meet the President himself.

Yes, you heard me correctly. You can meet President Jimmy Carter in person!

Although most Americans know President Carter as a humanitarian and spiritual man, many people do not know that he has been teaching Sunday School for most of his adult life, and he still teaches most Sundays at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains. We have been privileged to attend on two occasions, and those visits rank among the most memorable moments, not just of our travels, but of our lives. If you plan your South Georgia travel accordingly, you can attend Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School class, too.

Here’s how it works:

1. The church doors open for seating at 8:30 AM, and Sunday School begins promptly at 10:00 AM.

2. You must pass U.S. Secret Service screening, including bag searches, metal detection, and a bomb-sniffing dog.

3. Prior to Sunday School, Miss Jan, a retired school teacher, will give a stern, but highly-entertaining, orientation so you will understand presidential protocol and how to behave in church.

4. After a short prayer, Jimmy Carter will rise, greet the congregation, comment on current events, and begin his hour-long lesson. (If you peek during the prayer, you will see the President enter the sanctuary from a side door.)

5. As the best souvenir, you can have your picture taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn, but you must wait until the end of the hour-long morning worship service.

President CarterJimmy Carter will be 90 years old on his next birthday, and although he is in excellent health and still very active in diplomatic missions and humanitarian causes, I would encourage you to make the Americus – Plains – Andersonville area of South Georgia your next road trip destination. Before you plan your visit, however, be sure to verify Jimmy Carter’s teaching dates at the Maranatha Baptist Church web site.

Howard BlountHoward Blount’s passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. He is a writer, consultant, and published author with Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. Although his road trips are financed by his day job as a middle school teacher, Howard would much rather be scouting waterfalls on the North Georgia mountain backroads near his cabin in Blairsville. You can reach Howard @backroad_planet on Twitter or at his road trip travel blog BackroadPlanet.com.

The Grand Columbus Whitewater Paddle

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On August 9th, the Georgia Conservancy and partners Uptown Columbus and Whitewater Express are putting a GRAND on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia. To commemorate last year’s opening of the world’s largest stretch of urban whitewater and to celebrate the Chattahoochee’s reemergence in Columbus, join 1,000 adventurers on the river for a day of whitewater rafting.

What you’ll see during The Grand Columbus Whitewater Paddle would have been impossible just two years ago. Whitewater rafting in downtown Columbus?!

For more than one hundred years, the Eagle and Phenix, and City Mills dams impeded the southerly flow of the Chattahoochee and brought its once mighty rush to a snail’s pace as it passed through Columbus. Though hidden for decades, the rocky floor that rested beneath the calm waters was well known to those who understood the history of the city.

Whitewater Express PhotoThe treacherous shoals of the fall line, the geologic formation that divides Georgia’s piedmont and coastal plain regions, was the northernmost point of travel for vessels traveling the Chattahoochee and the perfect location for hydro-powered industry and inland markets. It made economic sense that river towns like Columbus, Macon and Augusta laid their foundations at the fall line. As the industrial age ignited across America, dams were built and mills were constructed along the river. At the heart of the Chattahoochee,where once there was a natural wonder, a thriving city rose.

In 2013, the dams came down. The power that they had produced was no longer needed to fuel the city’s economy. However, the economic potential of the long-submerged rocky shoals remained, and forward-thinking civic leaders knew that with an undammed river, the power of the fall line could again be harnessed.

It is now the outdoor adventurer, not the industrialist, who seeks the world-class, free-flowing rapids of the Chattahoochee – rapids that, for so long, lay silenced. With the opening of the Columbus whitewater course on the Chattahoochee in 2013 – the longest stretch of urban whitewater in the world – Columbus is again looking to its river to fuel the future.

Leading the action on the water for The Grand will be the experienced rafting guides and support team from Whitewater Express, the official outfitter for the Columbus whitewater.

Seven different rafting time slots will be offered at a deep discount for participants throughout the day from the first run at 10 a.m. to the last high water run at 5 p.m.

2014.Grand.Poster.Final.smallIn addition to the day’s events on the river, there will be plenty to do on land. Some of the available time slots also give guests the option to go on a guided Riverwalk bike tour for a small additional fee, and many of the groups involved in the event will have areas set up for fun and games.

Registration, while already deeply discounted, includes an invitation to an after-paddle party hosted at the Whitewater Express Outpost in Uptown Columbus and features live music from Sailing to Denver, local Columbus food trucks, an outdoor splash and play fountain, games, prizes, and activities hosted by the Atlanta Hawks Flight Team. Uptown Columbus will be shutting down the street for the after-paddle party between Whitewater Express and Woodruff Park at 1000 Bay Street.

All rafting guests and sponsors will receive a “drink ticket” for a free SweetWater beer (and a beer wristband) or a soft drink. The after-paddle party gets kicked-off at 5:30 p.m. and wraps up at 8:30 p.m. and includes a brief speaking engagement from Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

For those who wish to enjoy the evening without having paddled the river, tickets for the after-paddle party will be available to the general public for $5.

GC Logo JPEG MedTo continue its celebration of Columbus, the Georgia Conservancy is honoring civic leadership from the city with its Distinguished Conservationist award at ecoBenefete, the Conservancy’s annual gala, on September 26th for their vision of a city that embraces its natural amenities.

 

To register for The Grand Columbus Whitewater Paddle, please visit: www.georgiaconservancy.org/thegrand

Presenting sponsors for The Grand Columbus Whitewater Paddle are PricewaterhouseCoopers and TSYS.

Brian Foster kayakBrian Foster is Communications Director for the Georgia Conservancy. Founded in 1967, the Georgia Conservancy is a statewide, environmental nonprofit whose mission is to protect Georgia’s land and water through its programmatic work in sustainable growth planning; advocacy and outreach; coastal initiatives; outdoor stewardship and exploration; and public and private land conservation.

Chronicles of a State Park Journey: Part 2

Spring in Ga State Parks

My family and I are on a mission to visit every state park in Georgia, one a month, until we have explored the ins-and-outs of each one. Each quarter over 2014, we’ll share with you a sample from our diaries on this journey. May you be encouraged to explore the hundreds of thousands of acres that make Georgia beautiful.

April 28 – George L. Smith State Park in Twin City, Georgia

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I’m sitting on the screened-in porch, listening to the rain fall; we’re hoping for a break in the clouds in order to canoe on the lake. In the meantime, I watch the kids play in the expansive backyard of our cottage, running through the puddles.  Earlier this morning we hiked around Parrish Mill and Pond.  The mill, originally built in 1880, is a grist mill and saw mill, as well as a covered bridge and dam.  Wait! I think the rain has stopped!

The boys and I returned from a canoe excursion on the pond, elated.  It was their first time canoeing, and my oldest has declared it a new love.  Cypress and tupelo trees towered from the black water, and Spanish moss hung low. Blue heron and white ibis flew low along the edge of the water. Long periods passed without a word from either boy; we were awe-struck.

April 29 -  After a restful night sleep, we piled in the truck for a 20-minute ride to Magnolia Springs State Park.  The natural spring flows with 7-9 million gallons of water each day, and I was determined to see this natural wonder.  The alligators and turtles – hundreds of turtles – captured the boys’ attention.

After ogling the wildlife on the boardwalk, we explored near the visitor center.  I was astonished to learn that Camp Lawton was on this site. It served as a prison during the Civil War, and the artifacts and stockade wall were only recently unearthed. We learned about the new limited edition Civil War Jr Ranger Badge, on which the boys are now diligently working.

May 2 – Unicoi State Park in Helen, Georgia

 

UnicoiOur original plans were to stay in the Lodge at Unicoi State Park, but once the boys caught a glimpse of the “barrel” cabins they begged for a change of plans.  Luckily, one had just become available. It was a little older than other cottages we have stayed in (the Unicoi GM told me that renovations are coming soon,) but it was fun!

We could see the lake from our porch, and it called to us.  Just as the sun was setting we opted for a hike around the lake; the trailhead was just a few yards from our door.  Solar lights along the trail marked our way. We crossed a creek and a playground as we wound by the campground, but we kept walking to the dock, beckoned by the throaty call of a bullfrog.

May 3 – We slept-in this morning and had coffee on the porch; the boys wondered aloud about the bullfrog we scouted last night.  After breakfast, we took a short ride to Anna Ruby Falls.  It isn’t in Unicoi State Park – it’s run by the US Forestry Service – but it is just on the border of the park.  The wildflowers were in full bloom, dotting the walk with bright colors against the lush green forest.  The boys confidently walked the short hike to the falls, and it was worth every step.

June 17 Black Rock Mountain State Park in Mountain City, Georgia

Black Rock Mountain

The clouds were rolling in as we settled into our cottage; we talked about the “cotton balls” hanging in the mountains while we sat on the back porch. After unpacking our bags and answering a multitude of questions about the “awesome” stone fireplace that stood as the cottage centerpiece, we decided to hit the trail.

Ada-Hi is a half-mile trail, but we worked diligently on this hike because of the steep slope.  Dense thickets of rhododendron and mossy-covered rocks were our reward as we marched to the falls at the end of the trail. It reminded me of Smithgall Woods State Park.  We were lucky enough to visit the falls the day after a rainstorm, so the water was flowing generously.

June 18 – Early this morning we drove less than a half-hour to Tallulah Gorge State Park. The boys have a few more years before they can hike the gorge floor or the suspension bridge, but we enjoyed the North and South Rim Trails. A series of falls along the gorge floor grabbed our attention, as well as the towers used by Karl Wallenda when he walked across the gorge via tightrope.

Back at Black Rock Mountain we relaxed by taking a walk around Black Rock Lake, then visiting Foxfire Museum.  Foxfire isn’t part of the Park’s system, but it is on property adjacent to the park. Our favorite part was ringing the bell at the Chapel. It was a truly unique way to teach the boys about Appalachian life.

You can click through here to read about our winter Georgia State Parks journey.

lesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s Destination Expert for Trekaroo and founder of 365 Atlanta Family. She is a homeschooling mom to 2 young boys and bonus mom to two teenagers. From her home base of Atlanta, Lesli spends her time life-learning with the kids one road-trip at a time, and sharing her experiences along the way.