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Dec. 12, 2018
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Vanderford's Travel Column


Fall at Lake Lanier produces unforgettable panorama

Now is the time that the path of “Old Sol” begins sliding more toward the Southern Hemisphere and the days are becoming shorter. The sweltering heat of summer is subsiding and Lake Lanier is magically changing. It is a quieter, calmer lake during the fall season that allows birds, wildlife and fish to again appear in greater numbers. Kids are back in school, hunters have taken to the woods, football is again part of the weekly routine and the cooler, receding waters have many people putting their boats in storage until next spring. For folks who love the peace and quiet, enjoy the diverse flora and fauna or simply want to fish without huge boat wakes, the fall season is the best time of year!
 
A couple of years ago I found a family of bald eagles in a remote section of the Chattahoochee River above Lake Lanier. Since that discovery, I have had the pleasure of seeing them and sharing their breath-taking presence on many occasions throughout the lake as their numbers continue to increase. 
 
Ospreys are also relative newcomers to much of Lanier, but these gorgeous birds of prey have become more prevalent in this part of Georgia since the stocking rates of striped bass were increased. Because ospreys are normally larger than hawks or falcons and have a white head, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle. Upon closer inspection, one can easily see that the osprey has a dark band across its face and a smaller, less colorful beak than his more well-known relative. Also, the osprey has white breast feathers while bald eagles are quite dark underneath.
 
Probably the most unique part of an osprey is the rough textured feet that are perfect for grasping slippery prey. The osprey is the only bird of prey that is able to grasp with two toes in front and two in back rather than the usual three and one toe arrangement.
 
Ospreys often grab fish that are too big to carry, and they may not be able to let them go, which usually causes these birds to die prematurely. Some experts believe that the excitement of the catch stimulates a locking mechanism in the feet, while others surmise that the claws simply sink into bone and become stuck. Regardless of the reason, occasionally, fishermen catch large fish with osprey feet still attached.
 
Nevertheless, ospreys that survive are magnificent birds that are fascinating to watch as they go about their daily task of catching and eating fish. So, if you are lucky enough to see one of these fabulous creatures floating on the wind currents above Lake Lanier this fall, watch for a few minutes. You might be in for a great show!
 
As the nights begin to feel cool each fall, my seasonal love affair with a beautiful and mysterious visitor from the North begins again. Though I’ve certainly known more than my share of unique ladies in my time, this one can fly, dive, swim like a fish and has a haunting song that penetrates the morning fog on Lanier like the beam of a powerful searchlight. I’m referring to one of the most fascinating birds in the world ... the common loon!
 
Just a few years ago, loons suddenly appeared for the first time on Lanier’s blue-green waters. Loons are divers that are normally 24 to 40 inches in length and have an elongated body and sharp, pointed bills. They are strong swimmers that propel themselves when diving by using their radically webbed feet. Their legs are attached far back on their bodies, a characteristic that permits ease of movement when swimming, but causes great difficulty when attempting to walk on land. Loons are unique among living birds because their legs are encased within the body all the way to the ankle. They can actually out swim most fish. Loons are also good fliers but become airborne only after an extensive run along the top of the water.
 
In keeping with their uniqueness, loons rarely live or feed in areas that have been polluted. These gorgeous creatures are also very family-oriented, and always mate for life. Often, we at Lanier are privileged to observe parts of their courtship, but they fly back to their homes in Canada, Alaska, or northern areas of our country before actually laying eggs. 
 
When most of the jet skis and mass humanity of summer have gone, and the cooler weather brings a quietness to the lake, it becomes an entirely different environment. Soon the sounds of loons, eagles, ospreys and other birds and waterfowl fill the fall air with a symphony of sound and natural beauty that again brings sanity to the beautiful waters of Lake Lanier!

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 770-289-1543, at jfish51@aol.com or at his web site: www.georgiafishing.com.



November 2018 column

Fall at Lake Lanier produces unforgettable panorama

Now is the time that the path of “Old Sol” begins sliding more toward the Southern Hemisphere and the days are becoming shorter. The sweltering heat of summer is subsiding and Lake Lanier is magically changing. It is a quieter, calmer lake during the fall season that allows birds, wildlife and fish to again appear in greater numbers. Kids are back in school, hunters have taken to the woods, football is again part of the weekly routine and the cooler, receding waters have many people putting their boats in storage until next spring. For folks who love the peace and quiet, enjoy the diverse flora and fauna or simply want to fish without huge boat wakes, the fall season is the best time of year!
 
A couple of years ago I found a family of bald eagles in a remote section of the Chattahoochee River above Lake Lanier. Since that discovery, I have had the pleasure of seeing them and sharing their breath-taking presence on many occasions throughout the lake as their numbers continue to increase. 
 
Ospreys are also relative newcomers to much of Lanier, but these gorgeous birds of prey have become more prevalent in this part of Georgia since the stocking rates of striped bass were increased. Because ospreys are normally larger than hawks or falcons and have a white head, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle. Upon closer inspection, one can easily see that the osprey has a dark band across its face and a smaller, less colorful beak than his more well-known relative. Also, the osprey has white breast feathers while bald eagles are quite dark underneath.
 
Probably the most unique part of an osprey is the rough textured feet that are perfect for grasping slippery prey. The osprey is the only bird of prey that is able to grasp with two toes in front and two in back rather than the usual three and one toe arrangement.
 
Ospreys often grab fish that are too big to carry, and they may not be able to let them go, which usually causes these birds to die prematurely. Some experts believe that the excitement of the catch stimulates a locking mechanism in the feet, while others surmise that the claws simply sink into bone and become stuck. Regardless of the reason, occasionally, fishermen catch large fish with osprey feet still attached.
 
Nevertheless, ospreys that survive are magnificent birds that are fascinating to watch as they go about their daily task of catching and eating fish. So, if you are lucky enough to see one of these fabulous creatures floating on the wind currents above Lake Lanier this fall, watch for a few minutes. You might be in for a great show!
 
As the nights begin to feel cool each fall, my seasonal love affair with a beautiful and mysterious visitor from the North begins again. Though I’ve certainly known more than my share of unique ladies in my time, this one can fly, dive, swim like a fish and has a haunting song that penetrates the morning fog on Lanier like the beam of a powerful searchlight. I’m referring to one of the most fascinating birds in the world ... the common loon!
 
Just a few years ago, loons suddenly appeared for the first time on Lanier’s blue-green waters. Loons are divers that are normally 24 to 40 inches in length and have an elongated body and sharp, pointed bills. They are strong swimmers that propel themselves when diving by using their radically webbed feet. Their legs are attached far back on their bodies, a characteristic that permits ease of movement when swimming, but causes great difficulty when attempting to walk on land. Loons are unique among living birds because their legs are encased within the body all the way to the ankle. They can actually out swim most fish. Loons are also good fliers but become airborne only after an extensive run along the top of the water.
 
In keeping with their uniqueness, loons rarely live or feed in areas that have been polluted. These gorgeous creatures are also very family-oriented, and always mate for life. Often, we at Lanier are privileged to observe parts of their courtship, but they fly back to their homes in Canada, Alaska, or northern areas of our country before actually laying eggs. 
 
When most of the jet skis and mass humanity of summer have gone, and the cooler weather brings a quietness to the lake, it becomes an entirely different environment. Soon the sounds of loons, eagles, ospreys and other birds and waterfowl fill the fall air with a symphony of sound and natural beauty that again brings sanity to the beautiful waters of Lake Lanier!
 
October 2018 column

Gadsden, Ala. is hometown America with extras

“In the great cities we see so little of the world, we drift into our own minority,” said W.B. Yeats. “In the little towns and villages there are no minorities; people are not numerous enough. You must see the world there where every man is himself a class; every hour carries its new challenge”... this is the feeling I had while visiting small town America in Gadsden, Ala. (www.greatergadsden.com).
 
For a long period following the Civil War, Gadsden was Alabama’s second-most important center of commerce and industry behind the seaport of Mobile. During the span from 1970 to 1990, however, a financial decline occurred, many businesses closed and part of the population moved to other places. The downtown occupancy dwindled to 60 percent, but because of a local Main Street program, Gadsden has seen a rebirth and now boasts more than a 90 percent occupancy that is growing fast.
 
Despite this renaissance that includes a multitude of new restaurants and other businesses that are appealing to both locals and tourists, the Gadsden area has retained its warm, friendly small town atmosphere. This is especially apparent during the many events and festivals that are held in and around the county.

One of the most popular of these is First Friday, which draws thousands of people to the downtown area to see very rare and unique antique cars on display in the streets that are closed to vehicle traffic on the first Friday of each month from March to November. Other events including the Downtown Art Experience, the Third Thursday Concert Series and annual history and ghost walks draw crowds to the shopping district throughout the year, as does the Hadrin Center for Cultural Arts, located in an old department store in the heart of downtown. This catalyst for revitalization attracts visitors to its children’s museum, youth orchestra, dance conservatory and art exhibits.
 
While visiting downtown Gadsden, I was fortunate enough to dine at the elegant Blu Chop House (www.bluchophouse.com) that boasts gourmet farm-to-table dining, inspired by seasonal produce from local suppliers. I also had the opportunity to sup at the unique Sugar Moon Restaurant (www.sugarmoon.me) which has four star quality food in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Also, the best place for a home-cooked breakfast is the Choice Restaurant (256-546-9055).
 
Not far from downtown is one of the prettiest and most historical venues for families and outdoor enthusiasts. Noccalula Falls Park (www.noccalulafallspark.com) has a beautiful water fall that drops some 90 feet into the Black Creek Gorge that has caves with Indian carvings. Overlooking the famous falls is the statue of Indian Princess Noccalula who is said to have fallen to her death from the top of the falls over a departed lover. In the park are beautiful rocks and gardens with an array of shrubs and flowers that may be viewed from the park’s paved trail system or when riding the authentic Huntington miniature train. 
 
Children can get up close to the animals in the Petting Zoo and learn about life in the past in the Pioneer Village. Other offerings in the park include picnic pavilions, souvenir shop and a children’s playground. Noccalula Falls Miniature Golf Course features beautiful landscaping with cascading waterfalls and natural rock formations.
 
The campground has over 120 sites from primitive tent camping to RV sites with complete hook-ups. A swimming pool, laundry facility, picnic pavilions, playground and rental cabins are available. The campground sits along Black Creek Gorge and offers awesome views of the Falls, the gorge and the creek below.
 
The Black Creek Trail is a 1.7 mile crushed stone path with beautiful scenery along the Black Creek Gorge as it works its way down from Noccalula Falls campground to Black Creek Road. The Trail starts at Noccalula Falls Wedding Chapel and allows over five miles of groomed, single-track trails perfect for walking, running and mountain-biking.
 
Golf is a big attraction in the Gadsden area with the challenging Twin Bridges Golf Club (www.twinbridgesgolf.com) right in downtown along the Coosa River. Golfers and nature enthusiasts alike delight in the natural beauty and diverse wildlife that are experienced on the golf course.
 
Only about 20 minutes from downtown is one of the most picturesque golf courses in the Southeast at Silver Lakes, which is one of the courses on the Robert Trent Jones Trail (www.RTJgolf.com). This stunning landscape includes 36 holes of forests, wetlands, grasslands and dramatic elevation changes at Silver Lakes. The Heartbreaker, Backbreaker, Mindbreaker and The Short course provide challenging and scenic varieties of holes to play.
 
Fantastic fishing for largemouth bass and crappie in Neely Henry Lake on the Coosa River in downtown Gadsden (www.cityofgadsden.com) is another huge draw to the area. Many tournaments are held out of Coosa Landing on the east side of the river next to the Broad Street Bridge. They have parking for approximately 125 trucks/boat trailers plus overflow parking if needed. The bait shop has refreshments, tackle, fishing licenses and restrooms.
 
The absolute best place to stay in the Gadsden area is the Holiday Inn Express (256-691-0225) located just off exit 181 on I-59 and Highway 77 and near a variety of Gadsden attractions. They have the best service you will ever find in a lodging facility and a full breakfast that will make you want to get up early everyday. Katrina is the morning server in the breakfast area, and she will keep you smiling the whole day!
 
This is but a small portion of what ignited all of my senses during the whirlwind trip in and around the feeling of home in Gadsden. I was about a month too late for the Longest Yard Sale in the world during August (www.127yardsale.com), but like those before me, I know that a yearn to see and experience more of this part of hometown America will bring me back again and again!
 


September 2018 column

Kingwood in Rabun County is still a special place

Many weekends in the days prior to super highways, I would drive up old US 441 to the tiny mountain town of Clayton, Ga. before hitting the backroads in search of huge trout in a multitude of productive Rabun County streams. Just the trip to Clayton back then would take several hours, but times have changed. Even if you abide by the speed limits, Atlanta residents can use I-985 and Highway 365 to Clayton in less than two hours and discover a place that offers great wines, tasty food, affordable lodging and a picturesque golf course! This perfect mountain venue is Kingwood Country Club and Resort (www.kingwoodresort.com) on Highway 76 East only two miles from downtown Clayton.
 
Meticulously sculpted into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Kingwood offers fine and casual dining prepared by an interesting chef named Gus, an immaculate full-service spa, plenty of meeting facilities, a gorgeous swimming and picnic area, tennis courts and a walking trail to the beautiful Laurel Falls. The rooms are spacious and clean, staff is extremely helpful and courteous and dogs are welcome. Free breakfast is part of the lodging price including eggs, sausage, grits, biscuits and gravy.

Also, within several miles of the resort, one can do whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, fishing, visit three state parks, enjoy horseback riding and do tasting at several wineries.
 
For those who love golf, however, the star attraction at Kingwood is the challenging par 71 mountain course that is ideal for any skill level from four different tee locations. Though only 6,016 yards in total length from the tips, the rolling hills, rippling brooks, huge hardwoods trees, smaller, lush, bent grass greens, many turns with elevation changes and strategically placed bunkers require accurate, well-placed shots to score.
 
This was not my first visit to Kingwood Country Club and Resort, and it brought back special memories. I was first introduced to this gorgeous golf course when it was still private by the late Mr. Dillard of the famous Dillard House Restaurant north of Clayton. Many years later, I came to the resort with my family to ring in the New Year while listening to great music performed by a friend, so I have a long connection to this fabulous property.
 
It is often said that you can never go back to a place from your past and be happy, but in the case of Kingwood Country Club and Resort, that is not true. Some changes have been made that have left the area more attractive to visitors without destroying the best of the past. I was impressed and pleased enough that I know I’ll return soon!

August 2018 column

Brasstown Valley Resort at the top in North Georgia

The mind of a Cherokee Warrior surveying the lush valley below from atop the 4,784-foot summit of Brasstown Bald (Georgia’s highest mountain) must have been running wild as he contemplated the multitude of possibilities below. Though my ancestors, the Cherokees, were forced off these lands many years ago and the outside world has changed completely, the outdoor experiences that await any visitor into Brasstown Valley today would certainly bring a smile to that early sojourner.
 
In reality, the Brasstown Valley Resort near Young Harris, Ga, is built around the site of an ancient Cherokee village the Indians referred to as “The Enchanted Valley.” Thanks to extensive planning, this property blends naturally with gorgeous surroundings without disturbing the historical significance or original flora and fauna. Therefore, the resort’s fieldstone-accented lodge appears to ascend from the forested hills as though it had always been a part of the picturesque, mountain landscape.
 
Designated as a bird sanctuary, the 503 acres of Brasstown Valley Resort is home to more than 100 species of birds, including bald eagles, hawks and peregrine falcons. Other regular visitors like red foxes, black bear, deer, and numerous species of smaller animals enjoy the protection provided by prolific oak, sycamore and white dogwood trees. 
 
Though not easy, fishing for rainbow and brown trout is possible on-site along the clear, spring-fed waters of Brasstown Valley Creek, but a small pond on the resort property better affords kids and elders a chance to catch bass and bream. Other outdoor activities include hiking on the Brasstown Trail, which winds along forested paths that pass babbling brooks and beautiful vistas. Boating, fishing or other water sports exist nearby in Lake Chatuge or Lake Nottley.
 
The most impressive part of Brasstown Valley Resort, however, is the championship, Scottish links-style golf course. Constructed in the hills below and within sight of Brasstown Bald, this challenging golfing venue is one of the most environmentally sensitive facilities in the country because of the efforts that were made to preserve and protect the local animals and the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountain surroundings. Despite the constant test of golfing skills needed to play well here, the panoramic views at every hole have most people stopping frequently to drink in the beauty with their eyes and their cameras.
 
In addition to the natural beauty that surrounds this golf course and resort area, one is equally impressed upon entering the Lodge’s Great Room. It has a hexagon shape highlighted by a very impressive fieldstone fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows that frame spectacular mountain scenes. Massive chandeliers made from naturally-shed antlers hang from soaring ceilings with exposed wooden beams. The unique fireplace seems to have a perpetual fire that automatically makes guests feel right at home!
 
Accommodations at Brasstown Valley Resort include rooms, suites and cottages. The lodge proper contains spacious and well-appointed guest rooms and suites. One may also choose to stay in secluded cottages on the property that feature large guest rooms and a grand parlor with a wood-burning fireplace, kitchenette and hillside verandah.
 
Abundant regional recipes and ingredients are always a part of any culinary experience in The Dining Room of the lodge. I enjoyed one of the best steaks I’ve ever tasted! For those who prefer a more laid-back atmosphere, Brassies Grill is perfect for a relaxing lunch, quick afternoon snack or cozy fireside dinner. Guests are invited to play a game of pool or darts, or catch the latest game, race or news of the day on the big-screen TV.
 
Other offerings include: A fitness center, Equani spa, a picturesque wedding venue, tennis courts,  an arcade, indoor-outdoor swimming pool and equestrian stables. For corporate and business people, the resort offers more than 14,000 square feet of meeting space. For directions, more info or reservations at Brasstown Valley Resort, visit: www.brasstownvalley.com.
 
This naturally spectacular place is a part of Georgia that would enhance anyone’s itinerary. It offers some of the finest scenery in the Peach State, and affords one a unique experience while taking in the beauty of the North Georgia mountains!



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