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Mar. 26, 2019
8:30 am


New trail at Don Carter State Park

By Jane Harrison
Visitors at Don Carter State Park often come to fish and frolic in Lake Lanier, but there’s more in store on land at Georgia’s only state park on the popular lake. Plans are finally coming to fruition for new hiking and horseback riding trails already cut through the park’s straggly backwoods.
A new park naturalist is leading hikers on sneak previews of the soon-to-open two-mile Dog Creek Trail, a foot-travel-only path that traverses near 12 miles of equestrian trails. No dates have been set for official opening, but word is the new paths will be ready for feet and hooves before the end of the year. They will be the first additions to the four miles of paved and dirt walkways that greeted guests when the park opened in July 2013.
Park officials said the trails are ready, but marking and map making is still underway. They discourage visitors from hiking the new territory until the trails are blazed and the park officially opens them. Park workers have already rescued three hiking parties that got lost. Until opening day, guided tours offer a look at what’s to come.
Park naturalist Julie Dyer’s Sunday afternoon preview hikes on the Dog Creek Trail draw families with teenagers and elementary school children, seniors, and single hikers on the leisurely trek that loops through pine forest, young hardwoods, and occasional old growth trees. The trail spurs off the Woodland Trail near the primitive campsites toward its namesake Lake Lanier tributary.
The quiet, remote pathway leading to the meandering creek provides a nice respite from park’s paved paths, RV hook-ups, beach, boat ramp, and cottages. Dyer calls a serene creek section overhung with beach trees and studded with boulders her favorite “quiet place” at the 1,316 acre park. She points out native plants and geologic features like “fool’s gold” and shares forest lore enroute to and back from the creek.
The moderate course runs up and down a couple of hills, but is relatively flat and easy to walk. Similar to other Don Carter trails, it passes through some scrubby forest, with dead trees and broken branches decaying off-trail.
Dyer said the park lost at least 100 trees when winds from Hurricane Irma whipped through North Georgia last September. An observer noted those only add to the hundreds already resting in the park.
After the preview hikes, Dyer invites participants to Picnic Shelter 4 near the beach to toast marshmallows and make s’mores. The park provides the fixin’s.
Dyer and Park Manager Cliff Ainsworth speak excitedly about the upcoming season at Don Carter. With the lake back up to full pool, the beach gleams with white sand extending into the water, unlike last year when drought sunk the water past the swim buoy line.
Ainsworth said visitors trickled in over the winter. Visitation spiked in February and March, traditionally slows month at state parks, for rowing events and a national fishing tournament. Rowing crews and anglers filled cottages and campsites. The park’s star attraction, Lake Lanier, brings in most guests during the warm months.
Dyer plans numerous new programs, including canoe and kayak tours on the park’s water trails along the lake’s shoreline. Visitors bring their own paddle craft or rent kayaks from the park to tour the mostly calm courses on the mouth of Dog Creek and to Lost Cove, Flat Creek Island and the Whales Tail peninsula.
Also expect more family activities and hiking excursions, including a haunted hike with tales of woe from Lake Lanier next fall.

Julie Dyer: New Park Naturalist
  • Background at Don Carter State Park: Dyer began working at the check-in kiosk at the park entrance when the park opened in 2013. She graduated to the Visitor’s Center and was thrilled to get an outdoor job as naturalist in January. “I’m excited to get out of the office finally and into the woods,” she said. She loves her work. “Who wouldn’t like getting to walk through the woods for your job?”
  • Age: 20. “I’ve been here since I was 16,” she said. Dyer lives just a few miles from the park on Clarks Bridge Road, where her family has a farm. Her dad, Mike Dyer, used to ride horses on the land where the park now sits.
  • Outdoor interests: Dyer grew up camping and hiking North Georgia woods. Her family camped annually at Vogel State Park, near Blairsville, continuing her father’s boyhood tradition of yearly pilgrimages to Vogel.
  • Favorite part of Park: Dyer enjoys the woodsy trails, especially the quiet Dog Creek tread way. Although the lake is the park’s main draw, she’s awed by the natural lure of the woods, including two sets of deer triplets and a bald eagle’s nest.
  • Future ambitions: Dyer is working part time as park naturalist while pursuing a degree in early childhood education at Truett McConnell College.
  • Goals for Park: “I’m excited. We’ve got a lot of things planned,” she said, including paddling tours, scavenger hunts, group hikes, and a raft race.

Cliff Ainsworth: Park Manager
  • Background at Georgia State Parks: Ainsworth came to Don Carter State Park last May after two years at Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge. The park on Lake Lanier “attracts a different kind of traffic” from the busy day use park in Metro Atlanta, he said. Don Carter, with more than 60 overnight facilities (eight cottages, 44 tent, camper and RV campsites and 12 primitive campsites) attracts visitors for longer stays. “I have more time to build customer relationships and speak to people who come into the park,” he said.
  • Education: Ainsworth has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Marketing from American International University.
  • Age: 39
  • Family: Ainsworth, his wife, Lisa, and their 12 year old son, Jason, live at the manager’s residence at the park. “I love being on the lake and the access to the beach fishing and trails,” he said. He also enjoys meeting visitors on his security rounds.
  • Favorite Part of Park: Besides interacting with visitors, Ainsworth likes the Dog Creek Trail. “It’s a short snippet of what’s to come,” he said.
  • Goals for Park: “We’re working on getting the horse trails open and the hiking trails completed,” he said. Signage and mapping are in progress. He believes the new trails, especially the equestrian courses, “are really special and will be a big draw.”

Upcoming activities at Don Carter State Park 
Dog Creek Search Hike. Moderate 2-mile ranger-led hike to search for aquatic creatures in Dog Creek, 3-6:30 p.m. Apr. 4, 8, 29. Open to ages 10 and older. $5, plus $5 parking.
Creative Crafts. Join naturalist for craftwork using natural materials, 3-5 p.m. Apr. 5. Children younger than 4 need parent to assist. $3, plus $5 parking.
Night Hike. Guided hike after dark, 8-9:30 p.m. Apr. 5, 7, 20, May 4, 18, 25, Picnic Shelter 4. $5, plus $5 parking.
Animals and Their Signs. Naturalist-led hike to look for reptiles, mammals, insects and birds; cast animal footprints at end of hike, 4-6 p.m. Apr. 6, May 19. Boat Ramp. $5, plus $5 parking.
Campfire Stories. Gather around campfire with camp staff to tell stories, make s’mores, 9:30-10:30 p.m. Apr. 7, 20, May 4, 18, 25. $3, plus $5 parking.
Pooch on the Hooch. Walk your dog on 2 mile guided hike along Lake Lanier shore, 1-3 p.m. Apr. 28, 5-7 p.m. May 26, $5, plus $5 parking.
Family Hike. Guided hike in woods to discover native plants and wildlife, 4-6 p.m. May 6, 3-5 p.m. May 27. $5, plus $5 parking.
Dog Creek Hike. Moderate 2-mile guided hike to preview new trail, 3-5 p.m. May 20, Primitive Camping parking area. Ages 10 and older. $5 parking.
Beach Bash. Join park staff for summertime fun with paddleboard races, sand castle contests, games and more, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. May 26. $2-$4, $5 parking.
Early Bird Hike. Naturalist led hike to encounter wildlife on new trail, 8-10 a.m. May 28. Primitive camping parking area. Ages 10 and older. $5, plus $5 parking.
Flotilla Raft Race. Construct raft of recycled or household materials, test sea-worthiness, 11 a.m. June 9. $7. Info: 585-732-6992.
Love to hike? Naturalist Julie Dyer needs volunteers to hike “sweep” (walk behind program participants on trails) while she guides scheduled hikes. For info, contact her at or 678-450-7726.

Posted online 3/3018
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