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Vanderford's Travel Column


Clarksville is beauty along the Cumberland River

Watching a colorful sunset over the Cumberland River from the Riverwalk in Downtown Clarksville, Tenn., is unforgettable! Less than an hours drive north of Nashville you will discover a historic town that is famous for its diverse and picturesque walking and bike trails, a fabulous golf course with plenty of wildlife, a park dedicated to a natural cave, a civil war fort, a skyline of unique spires and mouth-watering eateries!
 
If you arrive in Clarksville in the evening, as I did, find the Cumberland Riverwalk as the sun begins fading to the west. This 1.5 mile riverfront trail, which will be extended in the future to connect with well-known Clarksville Greenway, has spectacular views along the wide and rolling Cumberland River. Both dogs and families love it, and the sunsets are inspiring!
 
For golfers in your group, I would highly recommend the beautiful and challenging Swan Lake Golf Course that is owned and operated by the City of Clarksville. Swan Lake is an 18-hole, 6,065-yard course located at beautiful Dunbar Cave State Natural Area. This par-71 course features Champion Bermuda grass greens, hybrid 419 Bermuda fairways and tees and features a dining facility. It also supports a very healthy population of deer and other friendly animals for those who bring their cameras.
 
Directly across Swan Lake from the golf course is Dunbar Cave State Park that has a set of interesting walking trails ... including one that dissects Swan Lake. Underground, more than eight miles of cave passages have been mapped here to date, and some are open to the public during certain seasons. Both the history of ancient Indians and the early settlers are found in these cave walls.
 
If you love hiking or biking through gorgeous forest areas, the more than five mile Clarksville Greenway follows an abandoned railroad bed cut through limestone bluffs on the outskirts of Clarksville north of downtown. It meanders along a creek and through a path canopied with large trees that are often shrouded with kudzoo. The greenway establishes a buffer along the Red River and nearby streams, while providing a habitat for diverse plant and animal species.
 
Another great place for hiking or mountain biking is Rotary Park which is about 10 minutes from downtown Clarksville. The trails here are more rustic and much harder to navigate, but have an abundance natural beauty including a beautiful stream. The park has more than five miles of trails and a large playground for kids.
 
Many refurbished downtowns are not done well and become quickly boring, but Clarksville’s historic restoration is not disappointing. Most shops are locally-owned, diverse and quite interesting. Also, the eateries in the old downtown area offers quite a few options. The absolute best for me, however, is the Blackhorse Pub and Brewery! This local watering hole is pure Clarksville! It is popular both for its great menu and its locally famous brews on draft. Following a great dinner, I fell for the Big Cookie, which is a gooey chocolate chip cookie pizza topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. This place is a family-friendly restaurant and a hangout for enjoying the excellent draft beer!
 
Clarksville is also the birthplace of Olympic Champion, Wilma Rudolph, the winningest basketball coach of all time, Pat Summitt and the current quarterback at the US Naval Academy, Malcolm Perry. This Tennessee town is home to the huge US Army base at Fort Campbell and to Austin Peay State University, which always produces great sports teams.
 
Unfortunately for me, I just had a few days to sample all that Clarksville has to offer, so my suggestion is to consider this fascinating place more as a destination than a day or weekend visit.
I found the people of this area to be both friendly and helpful, the natural beauty spectacular and the outdoor adventure possibilities practically endless! For more information on this area, visit their website at: www.visitclarksvilletn.com.
 
 

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at jfish51@aol.com or at his web site: www.georgiafishing.com.




November 2019 column

Little Ocmulgee State Park is a hidden gem in Middle Georgia

Just 30 miles south of I-16 near Dublin, Ga. is a natural oasis in the middle of farm country that can be enjoyed by everyone.  Little Ocmulgee State Park is a secluded 1,360-acre Georgia State Park located two miles north of McRae-Helena on the Little Ocmulgee River. The park’s origins date back to the 1930s, when it was first constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which created the lake around a natural oxbow of the Little Ocmulgee River. This 256-acre lake has a white sandy beach, fishing docks, a visitor’s center, camping and RV sites, rental cabins and a boat ramp.
 
The most unforgettable part of Little Ocmulgee State Park is the Wallace Adams Golf Course that is surrounded by loblolly pines, willows, magnolias and small lakes in a picturesque but secluded setting. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the beautiful scenes complete with Spanish moss and plenty of wildlife.
 
Starting with the first hole, which is breathtaking, golfers quickly learn that accurate shots are paramount to making a good score on this course. Most of the front nine is designed for the best shotmakers. The back nine opens up ... but continues to present challenges with smaller, sloped greens and doglegs on the fairways. All 18 holes feature Bermuda fairways and greens. The full-service pro shop at Wallace Adams also offers all golf accessories and a snack bar. The entire staff is friendly and helpful at all times.
 
One of the distinctive features of the park is the soil, which, like the Ocmulgee River and the Little Ocmulgee River, is a fine white sand. The park also features the 2.6-mile Oak Ridge Trail, where hikers can admire a stand of turkey oaks as well as swamps laden with cypress and oaks. Two of Georgia’s rarest species, the harmless Indigo snake and the gopher tortoise may also be seen throughout the park.
 
Little Ocmulgee offers complete camping facilities and features 54 campsites for pitching tents, securing trailers, parking RVs. Cable TV hookups are available plus seven picnic shelters and two other shelters for group meals and gatherings.
 
The 10 secluded lakeside cabins at Little Ocmulgee State Park & Lodge range from efficiencies to two-bedroom cabins and are great for a quiet getaway. The cabins are ideal for families looking to strike a balance between rustic camping and hotel-style accommodations.
 
The Little Ocmulgee State Park & Lodge offers 60 rooms in the main lodge building with a refrigerator, microwave and a comfortable seating area. Guests may also enjoy sun-soaked days swimming in the private pool in front of the lodge.
 
In prehistoric times, this section of Georgia was under the sea, therefore the whole area is surrounded by hills of sand and lots of trees. This equates to beautiful natural scenery with opportunities for fishing, hiking, fantastic golf, a beach for the kids, boating and great camping and lodging. It is truly a getaway vacation destination with a very friendly atmosphere ... and is pet friendly! For more information or reservations, check out www.littleocmulgeelodge.com or 877-591-5572.


October 2019 column

Fall is coming to Prague, the most beautiful city in Europe

​From the main railway station in Prague, the comfortable Mercedes taxi seemed to wind its way through a maze of tiny streets in a circular manner similar to a labyrinth. Though it couldn’t have been more than a couple of blocks from the train station, it took more than 20 minutes to arrive in the heart of Old Town. The trip was a quick lesson that the best way to navigate this ancient section of Prague is by walking.​
 
​Despite the many wars that Europe has endured throughout history, Prague is the only city that has avoided most of the destruction. It is the largest city in the Czech Republic and part of Bohemia, which runs the gamut architecturally of Roman, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance influences. Visitors marvel at the massive churches, cathedrals, castles, theaters, bridges over the Vltava River, and art or sculptures on or around every structure. The wonders of Prague’s diverse art and culture keep newcomers’ heads turning constantly as though they were on a swivel. It would take months to see even half of this picturesque city.
 
​From the historical Old Town area, it’s a short morning walk through narrow, colorful streets lined with tiny retail shops to the famous Charles Bridge, which is the best place to begin your walking tour of Prague. This pathway across the Vltava River from Old Town to New Town is almost six football fields in length and was first built of sandstone blocks in 1357. It was originally named the Stone Bridge or the Prague Bridge, but was officially christened the Charles Bridge in 1870.
 
​Because of the magnificent construction, the huge towers at both ends, the more than 70 sculptures and the breathtaking views of either side of the river, the Charles Bridge is probably the most visited site in Prague. To enjoy the beauty and serenity, early morning is the best time, but the evening can be a very romantic period to stroll the bridge. During the middle of the day, however, hundreds of street vendors, artists, musicians of all kinds and a few unsavory types show up to vie for your money.
 
​The most famous statue on the Charles Bridge is that of Saint John Nepomuk, who King Wenceslas IV had thrown from the bridge to his death in the river because he wouldn’t reveal a confession that the queen had given. Therefore, tradition implies that anyone who rubs the statue in the right place will be granted a wish or become lucky. The brass plaque on the statue has been polished to a bright shine by all the people who have touched it throughout the history of the Charles Bridge. Only touch the part depicting Saint John Nepomuk being thrown from the bridge – not the other one with the queen and the dog – that is bad luck!
 
​After the bridge and during the picturesque climb over cobblestone roads and up steep, stone stairways to the Prague Castle, many interesting shops, restaurants and drinking establishments are passed. Looking backward during this sojourn, unforgettable vistas of Prague and the Vltava River can be enjoyed.
 
​The Prague Castle has been in existence for more than 1,100 years, is the largest castle complex in the world, and with the St. Vitus Cathedral is the defining structure of the Czech Republic. Despite numerous fires, changes of rulers, invasions and even world wars, the area has remained a living history. 
 
​The castle was originally built by one the early Czech rulers around 870 AD using only dirt and timber. Since then, it was rebuilt in the Romanesque style during the 13th century, the Gothic style in the 15th century and after a horrific fire in 1541, it emerged with a Renaissance look. The last change to its modern Baroque style was accomplished during the 18th century. Also, since 1918, the Prague Castle has served as official home to the president of the country. 
 
​After returning from the castle and going back across the Charles Bridge, take a left turn and proceed to the Jewish Quarter. You can visit synagogues, the cemetery and the remnants of the Jewish Ghetto where many Jews died during World War II. This is a beautiful and historical section of Prague.
 
​Walk in an angle to the right after the Jewish Quarter and you will be in the heart of Old Town which dates back to 1091. All of this section revolves around Old Town Square, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, and the Town Hall with its Astronomical Clock and tower. Highlighted by colorful pastel buildings and historical statues, the square is always active with tourists browsing the many portable retail shops or tasting the food from vendors in the square or outdoor restaurants.
 
​Though parts of Prague are very modern, the true beauty of this magnificent city is the practically undisturbed history. Add to that a culture, language, cuisine and lifestyle that is totally unique to the Czech Republic, and you have a destination that should be on everyone’s “must see” list – especially during the natural beauty of the fall season!
 


September 2019 column

History, nature meet at Cades Cove

A spontaneous visit that I made into the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains more than 40 years ago involved a trek through the unforgettable Cades Cove, which has kept me dreaming about a return for all this time. Recently, I fulfilled those beautiful reveries and returned to the natural beauty and historical setting of one of the most picturesque places in America.
 
In the language of folks from the Smoky Mountains, a “cove” is basically a flat valley surrounded by mountains. Cades Cove is that description and so much more with the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the Smoky Mountains including white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, coyote, ground hog, wild turkey, raccoon, skunk and other animals.
 
Artifacts from the past prove that for hundreds of years Cherokee Indians had hunted in the verdant valleys of what is now known as Cades Cove. Nevertheless, archeologists were never able to produce evidence of any major Indian settlements in the area. 
 
The first Europeans began settling in the cove sometime between 1818 and 1821, and by 1830 the population had grown to nearly 300. Because so much of this early history was preserved, Cades Cove now offers the widest variety of historic buildings in any part of the Smoky Mountains National Park.
 
The only way to really enjoy all of the natural beauty, history and wildlife is the Cades Cove Loop that winds for 11 miles through this special section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a picturesque drive with a backdrop of the blue-tinted mountain peaks and lush, green countryside. When traveling the scenic loop road, take the time to get out and visit the restored buildings that include three churches, log homes, cantilevered barns and a working mill.
 
You can access the Cades Cove Loop from Laurel Creek Road, Parson Branch Road or Rich Mountain Road ... the latter two roads are closed during winter. The Loop is a one-way (one-lane) paved road that takes approximately two to four hours to traverse. Because it’s a single-lane road, be prepared to stop frequently because those in front might have encountered a bear or other local wildlife. This slow pace makes it easy for everyone to enjoy the amazing mountain landscapes, wildflower meadows and diverse wildlife.
 
The gently winding road offers many places to stop, park and stretch your legs while taking in the scenery. Halfway through the Loop, make a point to stop at the visitors center to take photos of many restored buildings.
 
From early May through late September, only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the Cades Cove Loop until 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Vehicles can enter on Wednesdays and Saturdays after 10 a.m.
 
Many problems caused by bad management during the early days of Cades Cove have now been rectified. Ditches are now being plugged and wetlands restored for all wild creatures. Native wildflowers and grasses have been re-established from nurseries built in Cades Cove to preserve the true character of this gem of nature.
 
Cades Cove is the perfect way to see a picturesque mountain setting complete with wildlife and history. There are some amazing locations to have a picnic lunch and just take in the views. This area of the Great Smoky Mountains should be a prime destination on every person’s travel plans! For more information visit www.smokymountains.com/park/cades-cove
 
 
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