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Jun. 19, 2019
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Vanderford's Travel Column


Budapest: A safe, beautiful European destination

In the past few years, most European cities have thrown their borders wide open to a mass migration of people with questionable character and extremely different culture from the war torn Middle East. Hungary, however, has been able to maintain their unique traditions by carefully screening the masses with strict immigration laws. Therefore, Budapest is today one of the most beautiful and safest destinations for tourists to visit in Europe.
 
The old Hungarian city of Budapest can take you back to medieval times with a simple turn of the head. One can easily walk to many of the most interesting historical places like the Margarate Bridge that was partly designed by the famous French architect, Gustave Eiffel, the Palatinus Buildings, the Lánczy House, the Haggenmacher House, and the Mahler House, where Gustav Mahler lived when he directed at the Opera House. Only a stone’s throw away stands the Western Railway Station where Gustave Eiffel’s name can still be seen on the iron columns of the glass hall. This area also offers evening entertainment, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops. Probably the most famous of these is the New York Coffee House, which is considered one of the most beautiful coffee houses in Europe. The Parlament, the St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Opera are all within walking distance.
 
The first settlement along the Danube at Budapest was around the time of the birth of Christ. Later the Romans came and built roads, baths and numerous other buildings. They were then defeated by the Bulgarians who built the fortress cities of Buda and Pest on each side of the river. The Hungarians finally captured the area around the 9th century, but didn’t join Buda and Pest until 1873.
 
To really enjoy any visit to Budapest, walk down to the Danube on the Pest side and follow the promenade along the river to the Chain Bridge, then take the walkway on the bridge across to the Buda side. Buy a ticket for the tram that is to the left of the tunnel. This unique vehicle travels to the top of Gellert Hill on a 48 percent grade for about the distance of a football field and affords you one of the most picturesque panoramas in the world!
 
The tiny side streets in the Castle District give a feeling of going back to the Middle Ages. Hidden courtyards, beautifully restored houses and colorful coat of arms along the way. All major streets in the Castle District meet at Holy Trinity Square which is right in front of the Matthias Church. In ancient times, this square was the main marketplace and the site of many public executions.
 
That anything survived after World War II is amazing ... considering the devastating air raids by Allied bombers during 1944 and 1945, and the Russian bombardment and siege of the city in early 1945. Also, after Hungary became a communist people’s republic in 1949, the government viewed buildings in the Buda Castle District as symbols of the former regime and destroyed most of them.
 
Despite all the wars and devastation throughout history, Budapest is still one of the most photographic cities in Europe. The Pest side of the Danube River is fairly flat and houses most modern commercial growth, while Buda contains the treasures of the past, including the royal history of the Hungarian people. The two cites joined become the phenomenal mixture of past and present known throughout the world as – Budapest!
 

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.




May 2019 column

Elachee - A natural for studying nature in our backyard

The language of my ancestors, the Cherokee Indians, had a word “Elachee” which translated to “New Green Earth.” The use of this ancient word is so appropriate for today’s mission of the Elachee Nature Science Center in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.
 
According to archaeological findings, Archaic Indians were the earliest human inhabitants in this area, Woodland and Mississippian tribes took their place and by the 16th and 17th centuries the area became home to the Creek and Cherokee nations. Because the Walnut Creek watershed’s geography was not ideal for farming, the area escaped the 1800s cotton cultivation phenomenon.
 
Nevertheless in 1927, Johnson and Johnson Company purchased most of the Walnut Creek watershed to construct the Chicopee Mill and Village, which indirectly protected the natural forest and its important water source. Chicopee Mill drastically reduced production during the 1970s and donated almost 3,000 acres of the pristine watershed to the Gainesville Area Park Commission.
 
Because of the vision of five local ladies (Becky Geiger, Rosemary Johnson (Dodd), Sissy Lawson, Ellen Odegaard and Julia Cromartie, the birth of Elachee Nature Science and Creative Museum, Inc. was nurtured. During these early days, Elachee had day camps for children on a small patch of woods on Lake Lanier near Woodland Circle. By the early 1980s, Elachee also offered hiking, camping and nature study activities for families. As part of its evolution, its board of trustees more clearly defined Elachee’s mission as a nature education provider, but made finding a more permanent home a priority.
 
Finally in 1984, The Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission gave Elachee permission to build a nature center in Chicopee Woods. Blending the concepts of taking the classroom experience outdoors, Elachee launched its innovative school programs in 1986, serving over 16,000 students from the City of Gainesville and Hall County schools. A 1989 Hall County one-cent local option sales tax raised funds to build phase one of the Elachee Nature Science Center that included the Visitor Center and classroom complex. Elachee Nature Science Center in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve opened to the public in 1990.
 
Today, Elachee has become a destination for kids from 9 to 90 to explore and become educated on so much of the outdoor and natural world. Visitors can enjoy the hiking trails, view the natural history and live animal exhibits or learn at the Chicopee Lake Aquatic Studies Center. Seasonal public programs include: Stars Over Elachee; Raptor Fest at Elachee; Trillium Trek Trail Run and Walk; Snake Day at Elachee; Camp Elachee for Spring Break; Summer Day Camps; PreK Educational Programs that offer school field trips; Elachee Outreach Programs and Home School Programs.
 
In this era of computers and sprawling urban development, Elachee Nature Science Center (www.elachee.org) provides a picturesque natural area for all people to connect with nature and learn about the fantastic outdoor world. This fabulous place is located in one of the largest protected green spaces in Georgia, and is well worth a visit!
 


April 2019 column

Find quality of life with outdoor experiences this spring

A few years ago, I took a young man fishing as a part of a “one-on-one” rehab program initiated by a retired Gwinnett County school teacher. The youngster was a hard-looking youth with tricolor hair and a gold ring in his nose. I can still recall how he shuffled his well-worn, Michael Jordan tennis shoes the length of the dock as he approached my boat. Despite being no more than 14 years old, the look on his face as he viewed the situation was one of complete indifference. His life experiences to that point guaranteed him that nothing was done for free, and that this “do gooder” with a baseball cap wanted something for his efforts.
 
Even the bass boat, with all of its complicated electronics, didn’t ignite any noticeable interest from the young man. However, when the old fishing guide fired up the big outboard and sped away toward some secret fishin’ hole with a burst of power and spray, a spark of life appeared on the kid’s face! Though almost imperceptible, the transformation had begun. The combination of nature’s beauty, the genuine concern of the older fisherman and the eternal competition between man and fish slowly opened a new world to the hardened young man. The final wall fell when he actually landed his first fish.
 
The youngster returned to the dock a changed person. Instead of the cynical youth who had started the day, a wide-eyed boy returned with his new friend. A definite look of happiness and contentment showed on his face, and there was a sparkle in his eye at the prospect of another outdoor adventure in his future.
 
This is simply a personal example of how outdoor recreation has a positive effect on people. In fact, a study that was conducted on a youthful offender’s program that featured outdoor sports and other outdoor activities had a far lower rate of repeat offenses than did participants in other non-outdoor programs. Outdoor recreation also contributes to family cohesion. It provides links between generations, such as when parents teach their children to hike, camp, identify wildlife, hunt or fish.
The outdoor environment enriches America’s culture as evidenced by books, plays, poetry and art featuring nature and outdoor activities. Additionally, this has stimulated public interest in the quality of the environment and helped generate public support for control of air and water pollution and the preservation of land, water and wildlife.
 
According to Charles Cook, a Pomona, N.Y.-based nature guide and author of Awakening to Nature, spending just few minutes of quality time in the outdoors each day can have a profound effect on both your psyche and health. Nature provides many of the things we need, like fresh air and sunlight, but there is also energy in living things that we connect with when we’re outdoors. One receives an endorphin high from being outside, which makes our bodies feel good. People who have trouble sleeping find that spending time outdoors often makes them sleep better. Going outside when you feel a cold coming on seems to make the cold symptoms evaporate.
 
By connecting with the Earth, we find our place in the universe and realize that we are just one of many species that are all joined through nature. We may not know what we’re going to do with our lives, but nature can help us find the way. One must commit to a sense of adventure. Go out … no matter what the weather. Bring rain gear. Bring warm clothes, but don’t be afraid!
 
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to experience a life of fun and outdoor activities, we are often guilty of taking it for granted. Just imagine what it would be like to return to your childhood and remove all of those wonderful days in the outdoors with friends and family. You would be a much different person, and probably not for the better. Therefore, whenever the chance is given, reach out to others and introduce them to the miraculous gift of nature. It’s a present that keeps giving throughout life, and makes everyone a better person!
 
I realize that this winter has been very harsh with too much rain and an abundance of miserable weather, but it is beginning to warm quickly, the rains are subsiding and a glorious spring season is on the horizon! So, collect your family and friends together and make plans to renew the lust for life through magical experiences in the outdoors together during the natural metamorphosis of the spring season!
 

March 2019 column

Southeast Louisiana is a special place to visit

Despite hurricanes, floods, bad politics, modern technology and a world thirsty for oil making faster changes to the land and occupations of Southeast Louisiana, the old traditions in this part of the country move to a slower beat. Cultural metamorphosis is not speedy, and because of this, visitors never experience a bad day in this part of the country!
 
It is the abundant diversities of the wonderful people that give the greatest character to this area. One only has to spend an evening of entertainment that includes local food dishes, Cajun music and traditional dance to know that it’s not just the lands and waters, but also the culture, history and people who make this part of Louisiana unique.
 
The Acadian French are given most of the credit for the Cajun ways, but in reality, the culture here has been shaped by the intermingling of a number of nationalities. These include French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Caribbean, Irish, German, Italian and African influences that have blended together for more than two centuries. This amazing evolution can be seen in the diversity of the faces of the local people, and exhibits a way of life that is both distinct and marvelously indefinable. Each separate culture retained some of its native heritage, yet inspired a shared life that is a perfect blend of all the other cultures.
 
From the early Indians to modern workers, the biggest reason that people migrated to Southern Louisiana was the scenic beauty and wildlife of the coastal swamps and marshes and a certainty that a living could be made from the many and varied renewable resources of the area. These days, the music, food, coastlines, wildlife, fish, game and everything else that makes this section of Louisiana unique is slowly being invaded by the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Conversations with activists, experts and local people lead me to believe that Southern Louisiana, as we know it, won’t survive without major changes. For thousands of years, the rich sediment of the Mississippi River and its tributaries continually built the fertile delta of Southern Louisiana until the construction of levees began in 1930 to harness the river for navigation and prevent seasonal flooding. Levees have literally halted nature’s delta-building process and left the coastline of Southern Louisiana open to the encroaching waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Over the past 70 years, Louisiana has lost over 1,500 square miles of marsh and is still losing 25 to 30 square miles each year. In layman’s terms, that is nearly a football field of beneficial wetlands every 30 minutes. 
 
Two of the most rapidly eroding estuaries on the earth are now in Southeast Louisiana … the Barataria and Terrebonne basins. The basins produce 30 percent of the nation’s seafood, provide wintering habitat for migratory waterfowl and serve as entry point for a large percentage of America’s foreign and domestic energy supply.
 
A variety of ideas have been put forward as partial solutions to the dramatic loss of barrier islands and wetlands along the Louisiana coast. Most ideas include soft engineering solutions such as coastal restoration through barrier island stabilization and nourishment. Also, sediment and dredged materials could be redistributed onto wetlands through beneficial use dredging and dedicated dredging projects.

Other ideas include the creation of new deltaic plains through large scale river reintroductions designed to mimic the natural hydrology of the region. And, there are always hard engineering solutions, such as building sea walls, breakwaters and levees, but these solutions are not only expensive but would all but eliminate the presence of natural wetlands and the resources and protection they provide.
 
Continued coastal land loss would certainly be catastrophic, but nothing is inevitable. Nevertheless, decisions being made will determine if future generations will enjoy the same coastal bounty that has made this region a national treasure. 
 
The perception of most tourists is that jazz, Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Saints and the 9th Ward in New Orleans are the most important interests in Louisiana. That’s because few have ever seen or experienced the overpowering ecological treasure and raw beauty of coastal Louisiana and its mixture of unique cultures!

February 2019 column

North Georgia Native American heritage honored at Lanier Islands

Sidney Lanier’s words from his famous poem, “Song of the Chattahoochee,” only reveal a small part of the fascinating history of the Chattahoochee River that is the heart and soul of Lake Lanier. Long before the European settlers came to this area, a very proud nation of natives roamed the foot hills and mountains of this picturesque land ... and that history is recognized at Lake Lanier Islands Resort in the form of exquisite bronze statues by sculptor Art Oldham.
 
The Cherokee Nation in Northeast Georgia was of Iroquoian lineage from the Great Lakes Region and the largest of the tribes in the Southeast. They called themselves “Ani’-Yun’ wiya” or “Principal People” and controlled more than 40,000 square miles in the southern Appalachians by 1650 with a population estimated at 22,500.
 
Their nation was a confederacy of towns ... each subordinate to supreme chiefs. When encountered by Europeans, they were an agricultural people who lived in log homes – not tee pees – and observed sacred religious practices. In most cases, the Cherokees were far better educated and civilized than the European settlers.
 
Though the Cherokees, as well as other Indian tribes, sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, they quickly adapted to the white man’s culture, and even volunteered to fight with Andrew Jackson against the British in the War of 1812. Nevertheless, Cherokee culture continued to flourish with the invention of the Cherokee syllabary in 1821. This system, in which each character represents a syllable, produced rapid literacy. It made possible their written constitution, the spread of Christianity and the printing of the only Indian newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix in 1828. The newspaper acted as the official voice of the Cherokee government for its first seven years before being silenced during the roundup to march the Cherokee Nation on the “Trail of Tears” to reservations in Oklahoma.
 
In 1830 Congress passed the “Indian Removal Act.” Although many Americans were against the act, most notably Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, it passed anyway. President Jackson quickly signed the bill into law. The Cherokee attempted to fight removal legally by challenging this law in the Supreme Court and by establishing an independent Cherokee Nation. At first the court seemed to rule against the Indians. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the court refused to hear a case extending Georgia’s laws on the Cherokee because they did not represent a sovereign nation. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee on the same issue in Worcester v. Georgia. In this case Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign ... making the removal laws invalid. The Cherokee would have to agree to removal in a treaty that would have to be ratified by the Senate.
 
Despite warnings by Chief John Ross and the support of most of the Cherokee Nation, several tribal leaders, who only had a following of around 700 of the 17,000 Cherokee in North Georgia, signed a treaty for the whole tribe. This action gave Jackson the legal document he needed to remove the Indians. Among the few who spoke out against the ratification were Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, but it passed by a single vote. So, in 1838 the United States began the removal to Oklahoma. When he was ordered to remove the Cherokee, General John Wool resigned his command in protest ... delaying the action. His replacement, General Winfield Scott, arrived at the Cherokee Capital on May 17, 1838 with 7,000 men and began moving the tribe.
 
In one of the saddest episodes in U.S. history, men, women and children were taken from their land, herded together with minimal facilities and food and then forced to march a thousand miles in horrible conditions. About 4,000 Cherokee died along “The Trail of Tears.” Ironically, a country formed 50 years earlier on the premise “that all men are created equal” brutally closed the curtain on a culture that had done no wrong.
 
I believe that the Cherokee Nation and my Cherokee ancestors would be grateful for this striking recognition at Lake Lanier Islands from the vision of Virgil Williams and the hands of Art Oldham!
 
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