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Nov. 23, 2017
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Cherokee Bluffs Park popular with hikers, rich in history

By Jane Harrison
 
When it opened in late 2015, Hall County’s newest park already had a lot going for it: 2.37 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, grassy fields, picnic tables, pavilion, and community gathering areas on 168 acres in a history-rich setting. The latest addition at Cherokee Bluffs Park, a reassembled frontier-style log home, presents visitors opportunity to step back in time. New amenities – a nine-basket disc golf course, playground and dog park– ­are in the works this winter for the popular South Hall gem. 
 
“It has everything,” Pat Denote remarked recently after leading about a dozen Gainesville Newcomers Club members on a regular hike at the park. She ticked off the attractions: easy trails, a lake, amphitheater, meadows and of course, the namesake bluffs that sheltered Native Americans and pioneer families.
 
Last month county crews at the park hammered wood shingles over a two-story cabin originally built long before Hall County was formed. Known as the Robert/Orr log cabin, the structure once stood at the intersection of Hog Mountain and Wade Orr Road, a few miles from the “The Bluffs” on Blackjack Road. The structure dates back to the early 1800s and housed, among others, Col. James Roberts, a Civil War militia officer, according to records provided by Orr and Roberts family researchers.
 
This month, visitors can walk inside the house where the Friendship community’s pioneers got their mail and provisions and Col. Roberts signed up soldiers. Chris Robinson, who supervised county workers re-assembling the cabin, said the logs – 12-inch hand-cut timbers – were stored in a tractor trailer for years awaiting resurrection.
 
The Friendship community’s devotion to its roots also shows in the park’s history room, where resident Teresa Owens acted as curator to present photos, artifacts, family archives, and clothing replicating pioneer garb. The history room, housed adjacent to an 89-person capacity “lodge” or banquet room, is open by request on weekdays by calling the Hall County Parks and Leisure office.
 
The park’s most striking feature, a huge rock ledge hanging over the woodlands, offered a refuge on the border of Cherokee and Creek tribes and later became a temporary abode of early settlers of then Franklin County in the 1700s. Visitors are warned not to climb on the rocks. But, they can get up close on the trail that passes just underneath and alongside the stone outcrop.
 
The tread way, which doubles as a mountain bike course, brings in the most visitors, said Hall County parks director Mike Little. “It’s heavily used,” he said, not just by folks who drive in but also by residents of the adjacent Sterling on Lanier development who walk in on the back acreage.
 
On a crisp sunny October weekday afternoon, the Newcomers Club hikers shared the path with at least three trail runners who jogged gingerly over a few exposed roots. The 2.5 mile Bear Paw, which traverses above a small pond and through a predominately oak and pine forest, is just beginning to show the wear of hundreds of hiking shoes and fat tires that have traveled through the woods and underneath some old blackjack oaks standing sentry. Benches on the .08 mile Lake Loop invite hikers and bikers to recline for a packed lunch or a moment’s repose. Anglers can fish in the pond, but signs inform them to release their catch. A .04 Connector Trail provides a short cut between  Lake Loop and Bear Paw, plus a side-trip along a scenic creek.
 
The park director said the 90-person amphitheatre and lodge are becoming popular wedding and reception sites. However, he said a concert at the amphitheatre brought a disappointingly small turnout.
 
Two “practice baskets” tempt disc golf players at the edge of the meadow near the bluffs. Little said work should commence on a nine-basket course this winter for opening in the spring. He expects a play ground and dog park with separate areas for small and large dogs, similar to the one at Laurel Park, to be ready by December. There are currently no plans for new trails.

Posted Online 10/30/17
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