Spring Discoveries at Ft. Yargo

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 30, 2014.

This is a beautiful time of year for walking in the woods, and last week we had an especially fun hike at Ft. Yargo State Park. Besides the weather being perfect, we discovered wildlife, blooming flowers and a new trail.

After studying the map of Ft. Yargo, I have learned that one of the trails we walked on is not on it. Right across the big bridge, the Lake Loop Trail splits and if you head right, it’s not marked on the map, but there is a clear trail with yellow blazes. At the end of it, we turned right and headed up a bike trail.

Now I have learned from the park’s website that hikers are discouraged on these bike trails because of the speed of some cyclists, but I’m glad we didn’t know hikers were discouraged from walking there because it ended up being a beautiful trail and parts of it were right along the lake. I guess it’s fortunate we went on a Monday, and I only remember passing one jogger and one cyclist going at a slower speed.

It’s on the west side of park and passes through an area called Deadwood Hill. It was named so because many of the trees in this area are dying due to disease and lightning, but everything we saw was still quite pretty.

The dogwoods were blooming, looking like points of white light peeking out from between new spring green leaves. There were pink and white flowering bushes right along the edge of the lake, and when I got closer, I could see they looked like a kind of honeysuckle.

I only had my son’s point and shoot on this walk, but at least I was able to capture one turtle before he escaped into the water!

We have never seen so many turtles before in one place. There was one fallen tree in the water with eleven turtles lined up on it, and as we got closer, all but one brave little turtle plopped into the water. We found many other turtles along the way, but they were too far away to identify. I’m guessing some of them were yellow-bellied pond sliders, though.

Several geese live around Ft. Yargo. On another hike a few weeks ago we found a nesting goose near the dam, and on this particular walk we heard some fierce squabbling from two geese that were either mating or protecting a nest.

We spied a bright red wild honeysuckle, which I also have growing wild in my backyard. We found where the fish were hiding along the edge of the lake (those fisherman on the bridge said they weren’t catching many), and some kind of large wasps were making nests in the brambles on the edge of the water – not something I like to see at home but interesting enough to watch with little boys on a trail.

I also found a fern growing in the underbrush that is new to me. From my search on the web, I think it is a Woodwardia areolata or Netted chainfern. If I’m right, it grows all along the eastern U.S. and as far west as Oklahoma and Texas.

It is fun to return again and again to a favorite park or trail and watch the seasonal changes. Over the past few years we have seen other wildlife at the park such as a great blue heron, and once we heard wild turkeys gobbling at some distance in the woods. I’m sure if we could get ourselves out of bed at an earlier hour, we might get lucky to find the more elusive animals, but for now we’re content to find deer tracks on our afternoon hikes. And despite how common they are, I’m still thrilled every time I catch sight of a red cardinal or a flash of blue from that bossy blue jay.

Ft. Yargo State Park

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on November 15, 2012.

Autumn is the perfect time for getting out into nature, and we residents of Barrow County can’t forget the treasure that is in our own backyard: Fort Yargo State Park.  At least 400,000 people visit Ft. Yargo every year, and aren’t we lucky to have it so close that we need travel only a few minutes to get there?  It’s located one mile south of Winder on Highway 81.

We love exploring Georgia’s various state parks and outdoor recreation areas, but as the boys grow up, I intend to make sure they feel at home in Ft. Yargo.

I went on one of my first dates with my husband to Ft. Yargo, and even before we had children, we would sometimes go there and hike to the fort, which was tucked away in the back of the park.  Now it has been moved to a more accessible location, and the Ft. Yargo Living History Society has begun fixing up the blockhouse, and according to their website, they will be building a blacksmith’s shop, hunter’s cabin and enlarging the cookhouse.

The last time we went by the fort was on a Saturday, and we were lucky to meet the living history demonstrators. (They are onsite the 3rd Saturday of every month.) The demonstrators, who were in period dress, were heating up the mud oven to bake bread, and there was a pot of venison stew simmering on the stove.  My picky boys weren’t eager to try it.

Back in the day, Fort Yargo was located in the border area between the Creek and Cherokee nation.  According to the Georgia State Parks website, “The state of Georgia contracted with the Humphrey brothers to build a string of four forts across north Georgia to protect white settlers from Indians.”  Fort Yargo was one of them.

According to roadsidegeorgia.com, “The western push of settlers from the Georgia coast had slowed during the Revolutionary War, but not long after the war ended, settlers once again began to encroach on Creek land. Near the Creek town of Snodon settlers created tiny Jug Handle, essentially a tavern and inn at the intersection of a heavily traveled north-south Indian Trading Path and an east-west trading route.  To protect the settlers from the Creek Indians, Fort Yargo was built in 1792 by a Virginia settler…Captain Joseph Humphries.”

You can read more about the history and legends associated with Ft. Yargo at the Living History Society’s website: http://www.fylhs.com/history_and_legends_.html.

Today the park encompasses 1,816 acres, and has a beautiful 260-acre man-made lake with fishing, boat ramps, swimming and a beach open during the warmer seasons.  There are 18 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers, and events take place there throughout the year.  Campsites, cottages, and yurts are for rent, and there are at least three playgrounds, picnic shelters, tennis courts, disc golf, basketball and so much more.

Fort Yargo is an oasis in Barrow County, and I’m so thankful to have it nearby. My boys don’t need most of the amenities that it offers, though.  We go there to walk on the paths and sit by the water while they throw rocks and twigs into the lake. I’m not sure there will be any more pebbles left on the shore by the time they grow up.

Another perk to having a state park so close is that my son can easily participate in the Georgia Junior Ranger Program, which is recommended for children ages 6-12. I’ll write about that in my next column.

Go to http://www.gastateparks.org/FortYargo to learn more about the park and plan your visit, but take note that it will be closed to the public on Dec. 4-5 for managed deer hunts.

What is your favorite state park?

Hiking 101: Getting the Family Into Nature

One of my best Christmas presents was a request from my husband that we buy ourselves some new hiking boots and begin to make hiking a priority and a ritual in this family.  Yahoo!  A mutual love of hiking was part of why I fell for my fella, and we used to go on day hikes in the mountains often before we had children.  Though I know people who are serious hikers and strap their babies to their backs and hit the trails, that’s not us.  I had a hard enough time managing breast feeding, diaper changing and all the other demands of babies and toddlers here in a comfortable house let alone out in the wild.  But I’m thrilled my boys are getting older, and we can be more intentional about getting out into nature.

So we got our boots earlier this month, and we took advantage of the warm weather December decided to bring this year in Georgia. We wanted to break in our boots and start off easy by visiting some local parks and gardens.  It’s a good thing we did that too because we learned that with a five and two-year-old, our “hikes” are going to be more like strolls punctuated with a lot of stops, snacking and complaining.  But that’s okay.  We’ll make hikers out of these boys yet.

And hiking with my boys gives the photographer in me great pleasure.  They gave me plenty of time to find the light while they played by the water.  You can see those photos by clicking here.

The photos here are from Ft. Yargo State Park and The State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

Getting children into nature is very important, and I consider it a goal in our homeschooling lifestyle too.  For more information about getting kids and your family into nature, you might like to look at these links (which I posted in my Worthy Reads a while back):

What’s your preferred way of getting out into nature?