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My boys and I love to camp. I’ve been a camper my whole life and I’ve taken my own sons camping since they were babies. It comes quite naturally to us since none of us has never known a life without the thrill of living in a tent, cooking over a fire, and falling asleep in a cozy sleeping bag to the sounds of crickets chirping.
It’s a wonderful adventure for kids and adults alike. We get the benefits of being outdoors non-stop as well as the chance to explore our lovely state without breaking the bank. But for those who aren’t experienced, getting started can be intimidating and costly.
That’s why Georgia State Parks began the First-Time Campers Program in 2012. Now beginning it’s 3rd year, the program has helped almost 200 families discover the joys of camping. Through this program, new campers get a chance to try a new outdoor adventure with the help of a ranger and without making a big investment in equipment.
The First-Time Campers program is available at eight parks throughout the state and for $50, you will be set up to camp for 2 nights with a tent, chairs, stove, sleeping pads, roasting forks, and a lantern. Of course, you’ll need to provide your personal items and bedding but you’ll get a handy checklist to make sure you’ve got everything you need for a great first experience. The best part of this program is that a park ranger will help you set up and provide some Camping 101 tips to get you on your way as a camping family.
This program is a easy way to get started on outdoor adventures, especially since Georgia State Parks campgrounds are quite comfortable. Campsites are equipped with picnic tables, fire rings and grills, as well as electrical and water hook-ups. Plus the campgrounds themselves have bathrooms, showers, and playgrounds, among many other amenities. Most parks even sell some basic supplies, just in case you’ve forgotten something. This includes locally-supplied firewood since transporting firewood is not allowed for the sake of minimizing foreign pest invasions.
Campsites in Georgia State Parks typically run about $25 per night, give or take a few dollars, so at this price you’re essentially getting your equipment rental for free thanks to some generous program sponsors. The First Time Campers program is a tremendous value in and of itself, but camping in general is one of the most cost-effective ways to travel and vacation.
And beyond the budget-friendly nature of camping, your can’t put a price on the experience itself. Participants of the program so far have been amazed by all of the new adventures they’ve had at our state parks including hiking, geocaching, wildlife viewing, ranger-led programs, cooking over a fire, kayaking, biking, and even wagon rides. The rangers have gotten great compliments on their friendliness, helpfulness, and pre-camping instructions, making first-time campers feel welcome and comfortable.
Many first-time campers loved the family time and meeting new people. Those are certainly two of the perks that have always embraced in my love of camping. But whether you bring friends, make new ones, or simply enjoy the company of your family, camping together creates incredible bonds that will keep you coming back for more.
For more information on the First-Time Campers Program, visit the Georgia State Parks website. Happy camping!
Val Joiner is an outdoor and educational travel blogger based in Roswell, GA. The former geologist turned road-schooling mom chronicles her adventures at Val In Real Life. When Val isn’t on the road with her two boys, she can frequently be found honing her Southern Appalachian Naturalist skills in the Great Smoky Mountains.
February is a time for love. Candy hearts and boxes of chocolates fill store shelves. Valentine’s dinner reservations are made. You take a trip to the cemetery.
Yes, the cemetery. Atlanta’s Historic Oakland Cemetery is full of love stories. Oakland is the final resting place of nearly 70,000 people, and almost all of them loved — or were loved by — someone. Here are just a couple of the stories.
Clyde and Clara Belle King
Clyde King owned the Atlanta Plow Company, later known as the King Plow Company, which is now the site of an arts community and performing arts venue. He and his wife Clara Belle lived in a lovely home at 1010 Ponce De Leon Avenue. Clara Belle loved that house so much that she wanted to be buried in the back yard. City ordinances prevented the burial at her home, but Clyde had a plan.
Clyde so loved his wife that he commissioned a monument replicating the house so that she could lie forever in its shadow. Though the street number has changed — it is now 1386 Ponce De Leon Avenue — the house still stands, as does this monument to Clara Belle.
Marion and Sarah Kiser
This love story actually began at Oakland. Marion Kiser was one of Atlanta’s most prosperous businessmen. He is interred in his mausoleum with his three wives. His first wife, Octavia, died in 1873 when she was only 34, and Marion quickly remarried, choosing Hessie Scott, who was not yet 20. Unfortunately, she also passed away in her mid-30s, making Marion a widower for the second time. And that’s when the Oakland romance bloomed. Marion was there, paying his respects to both former wives, when he met Sarah Turner Ivy, a widow who was visiting the grave of her deceased husband, Michael. They began courting, he soon proposed marriage, and she accepted, though she had a request that could have been a deal breaker. Sarah made it quite clear that she would not share the mausoleum with his first two wives unless her first husband was also there!
Marion agreed and had Michael Ivy’s remains moved. The mausoleum walls must hear some interesting conversations!
These people lived, laughed and loved just like we do now. Join us as we share these stories and many more on our “Love Stories of Oakland” tour. Led by our costumed docent, the tours will be offered Sunday, Feb. 9; Friday, Feb. 14; and Saturday, Feb. 15, at 5 p.m. Tours are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. No reservations required.
Historic Oakland Foundation, founded in 1976, partners with the City of Atlanta to preserve, restore, enhance, and share Oakland Cemetery with the public as an important cultural resource and an island of tranquility in the heart of the city. For more information on our tours, events, and opportunities to give please visit our website at oaklandcemetery.com.
Just two hours north of Atlanta is a gorgeous state park with a romantic twist. Fort Mountain State Park may be best known for its mysterious rock wall, but only those with a keen eye will find its heart-shaped stone. It’s the perfect Valentine’s Day destination for active couples.
During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps was tasked with building a 38-foot fire tower atop Fort Mountain. A young stone mason named Arnold Bailey led the team while missing his sweetheart back home. To show his love, he carved a heart-shaped stone and centered it above a window. His romantic gesture must have won Margaret Reece’s heart, because they were married 59 years until his death in 1994.
Today, park visitors can hike lush mountain trails to where the fire tower still stands. Along the way, they’ll pass an ancient stone wall with an unknown origin. (Be sure to read about the “moon-eyed people” theory!) Eighty years later, the historic fire tower is still the perfect spot for stealing a kiss.
Fort Mountain State Park is also a popular destination for weekend getaways and longer vacations. Fully equipped cabins have lake or forest views, while a campground offers hot showers and cozy campfires. The park features 14 miles of trails, ranging from an easy lake loop to a challenging backcountry trek. Mountain bikers can show off their skills on some of the top singletrack in Georgia. During summer, guests can also enjoy a sandy swimming beach and boat rentals at the small lake.
Click here or call 706-422-1932 to learn more about this 3,712-acre park near Chatsworth. Fort Mountain State Park is open daily and parking is just $5.
Kim Hatcher is the Public Affairs Coordinator for Georgia’s State Parks and Historic Sites. She works with numerous reporters and travel writers, manages the park system’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and serves as a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. She and her husband enjoy camping, hiking, paddling and exploring Georgia’s great outdoors.