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.

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.

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

Richard B Russell

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. 

Day Trip to Callaway Gardens

VegGarden 177_CG

Pine Mountain and Callaway Gardens were recommended to me by a coworker and I’d like to pass on the recommendations.

The Tourism Office in Pine Mountain was super helpful in recommending what to see in Pine Mountain, at Callaway Gardens and the food options in town.

Covering thousands of acres, the Gardens offer something for everyone. Attractions include the Birds of Prey show (with multiple birds flying just overhead), Day Butterfly Center and Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden (recognizable to PBS viewers).

callaway (1)While it would take days to cover all the land by foot, there is ample parking throughout the park as you hop from attraction to attraction.

The Discovery Center is a great starting point for your trip. The Ida Cason Memorial Chapel is a work of art and not to be missed. There are many trails which offer the opportunity to observe the gorgeous gardens. Depending on the season, each experience is bound to be different.

In addition, Callaway Gardens offers scenic drives, gorgeous views and golf. If you are looking to fish, bike or zip line, Callaway has you covered.

10 MastersWaterSki 094Don’t miss the beach at Callaway! The Masters Waterski and Wakeboard Tournament is held every year on Memorial Day Weekend. Pack some chairs and a picnic and you’re set for hours. When the tournament isn’t happening, I’m told there are lots of opportunities to get into the water.

We chose The Bakery and Café at Rose Cottage for dinner. Great choice! Starters and mains were delicious. For a starter, I highly recommend the Darden’s Smithfield ham, thin sliced with olive oil and shaved Manchego cheese!

lorisusslebonanniLori Sussle Bonanni spent her career in New York City and relocated to Atlanta in December 2013. Lori loves immersing herself in local culture and going off the beaten path. She is excited to explore all that Atlanta and Georgia have to offer. Lori earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a Specialization in Advertising and Public Relations from Rowan University. Say hi to Lori @smplythreecents on Twitter or visit her blog, simplythreecents.com.

Hike the Hooch!

East Palisades Trail

Explore the banks of the Chattahoochee River on these five Chattahoochee hikes near Atlanta. From historic bridges to tucked-away islands and rushing whitewater, these trails visit the river’s most beautiful stretches.

The Chattahoochee River is one of Georgia’s great rivers. The river, nicknamed the “Hooch”, begins as a tiny trickle in North Georgia’s rolling Appalachians before pooling in Lake Lanier and flowing wide and mighty toward Atlanta.

South of Lake Lanier, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area spans 48 miles of shady, forested river banks. This enormously long chain of parks offers over 70 miles of hiking, running and biking trails managed by the National Park Service.  For a great hike, walk or trail run near Atlanta this summer, explore the Hooch! But with over 70 miles of trails in the Chattahoochee River NRA, where should you begin?

Explore the best of the river and several tributary creeks on these five fantastic Chattahoochee hikes north of Atlanta. New to hiking? No problem: these hikes travel under five miles on well-traveled, easy to moderate trails. Take a hike to explore beautiful Chattahoochee River views, a mid-river island, historic mill ruins and a rushing spillway waterfall.  And watch for wildlife: the Chattahoochee’s forested banks are home to deer, heron, turtles and geese that frequent the river’s shore.

Parking: $3 (daily), or included with a Chattahoochee River NRA annual pass.

East Palisades Trail

Hike a 3.4 mile loop on the East Palisades Trail to explore one of the Chattahoochee’s most scenic stretches near Atlanta.

The Hooch cascades through small waterfalls and whitewater at the Palisades, rushing over angular rock rising from the river. The East Palisades trail treks to stunning overlook views from towering bluffs and hikes through a bamboo forest on the river’s banks.

Vickery CreekVickery Creek Trail

Explore historic mills, a waterfall and steep river banks on this 3 mile hike near a Chattahoochee River tributary.

The Vickery Creek Trail hikes rolling forest near the banks of Big Creek in Roswell. The hike visits a spillway waterfall where Big Creek tumbles over a historic, stacked-stone dam that once powered the Roswell Mill downstream.  The trail arcs to cross a wooden covered bridge to explore the Roswell Mill Ruins in Old Mill Park, a mill complex destroyed in the Civil War.

Sope CreekSope Creek Trail

The kid-friendly Sope Creek Trails explore a boulder-studded creek, a historic paper mill destroyed in the Civil War and a serene pond on the banks of Sope Creek, a Chattahoochee tributary.

This 1.5 mile trail descends through a young pine and deciduous forest to the banks of Sope Creek where the ruins of an 1855 paper mill rise, cathedral-like, from the forest floor.  The hike explores Sope Creek’s rocky bed before trekking through a stream-filled forest. Watch for wildflowers and wildlife along the trail as it rises to Sibley Pond, where it loops the glassy pond’s banks before returning to the trailhead.

Powers IslandPowers Island Trail

This 2.4 mile trail explores an island on the opposite banks of the Chattahoochee from Cochran Shoals, a hugely popular biking and running trail.

The Powers Island Trail crosses a wide footbridge to loop around Powers Island, catching beautiful upriver views of the whitewater-filled Chattahoochee. Heron, geese and sunlight-basking turtles are a common sight in the smooth-flowing inlet on the island’s eastern side.

Jones BridgeJones Bridge Trail

The Jones Bridge Trail catches beautiful Chattahoochee River views in the City of Johns Creek, visiting a historic bridge and crossing wooden suspension bridges over trickling tributaries. Hike the Jones Bridge Trail on a cool summer morning for a chance to catch fog flowing downriver, illuminated by rays from the rising sun.

The 4.6 mile trail visits the remains of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century metal bridge that spans the Hooch. Other than the remaining metal shell, most of the bridge was heisted by thieves in the 1940s.

Eric ChamplinEric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, kayak and cycle Georgia’s beautiful outdoors. Eric is the author of Atlanta Trails, an online magazine that reviews the best hiking trails, running trails and outdoor adventures throughout Georgia. His objective? To inspire Atlanta residents and visitors to get fit outdoors and explore Georgia’s beauty.