Lumpkin County, situated in northeast Georgia, is a destination for outdoor adventures, especially hiking. The northern part of the country is located in the Chattahoochee National Forest and is home to a web of scenic trails, some of which lead to the Appalachian Trail or are a part of the AT.
While there is a growing wine industry in the area and gold is what originally drew settlers to the region, many consider outdoor activities, and especially hiking, to be something that continues to draw in visitors.
Neels Gap, which sits on the border between Union and Lumpkin counties, is a popular hiking destination, featuring Mountain Crossing, a historic mountain store, that is still in operation today.
Neels Gap is a unique place to experience the community feel of hiking culture. Between the store and the trails nearby, many day hikers are drawn in for a nice, Saturday afternoon activity. The gap, which is between Blood and Slaughter Mountains, is also on the Appalachian Trail, which means that during peak season, it sees through hikers daily, on route to Maine.
The mixture of hikers that frequent the surrounding trails is a good representation of community that can be found – from friends and family spending an afternoon outside together, to through hikers meeting new companions during the first several days of their months long journey.
Terry Jeffcoat, aka Scout, was on day four of his hike to Maine on Saturday, March 30, 2019. Jeffcoat, who is from Waxahachie, Texas, has spent the past several months preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail, an adventure he has dreamt of for the past 40 years. Just two years ago, when on a hike with his family, Jeffcoat was mistaken for a through hikers and the experience prompted him to take the plunge.
“Everyone thought I was a through hiker and just to be treated that way and to be part of that community just for a brief moment, for me, was extremely special, and just kind of put something in mean that said, I wanted to go, I want to do this, so here I am,” he said.
Jeffcoat, who plans on being done with the trail by mid-August to mid-September said he has already experienced an overwhelming sense of community, making new friends each day. He also said its neat to finally be doing this, after years of watching through hikers complete this journey.
Day hikers are not uncommon on this part of the trail, families and friends out on a sunny afternoon. Taylor Stanfill and his kids are one such example of the day hikers that frequent the area.
Stanfill, who is an avid trail runner, said he wanted to give his kids a taste of the outdoors and share with them something he loves so much. Although, he pointed out, the process of hiking with three children, aged seven, five, and three, can be slow moving, getting to spend that sort of time with his kids is great.
“I have no agenda out here except to enjoy time with them and just, you know, let them experience nature and get some exercise,” he said.
Stanfill said he also enjoys the ability to let his kids just run free and be kids without having to say no all day. The connection to nature draws both day hikers and through hikers from all over the country.
Charles Dement, who is from Fayetteville, Arkansas, had learned about the Appalachian trail about five years back and decided it was time to spend six months in nature.
“I’m looking forward to seeing a road and not knowing what is beyond it and then going to it,” he said.
Although Dement is admittedly not the biggest fan of hiking, he said he is excited for the experience and the things he will see and the people he will meet while he completes the trail.
The hiking community in North Georgia is made up of people from all over the place. There are trails that offer families from the Atlanta area a chance to get out into nature and enjoy some quality time, while others, like the Appalachian Trail, are a bit longer, they still provide a space for people to spend time in nature and share that with others on the Trail. The sense of community is what makes the hiking culture in North Georgia particularly significant and that community can be felt throughout Lumpkin County.
Ellie Bramel is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. This story was produced during the 14th Annual Woodall Weekend Workshop in Dahlonega, Georgia.
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