Pamela A. Keene 2016-12-08 01:53:38
A World Away in Our Backyard Towering hardwoods, evergreen pines, a sandy beach, meandering hiking trails and a nature’s paradise is Fort Yargo State Park. The 1,816-acre park is one of the most popular in the Georgia State Parks system and features cottages, yurts, camper cabins, campsites and the Marbury Lake. The state park is also home to a very special place, Camp Twin Lakes. EXPLORE THE PARK “Fort Yargo is a favorite because of the wide range of things to do here,” says Julia Autry, assistant park manager. “The majority of our day-use guests are local residents who like to come here to swim, hike, fish and go boating. Our camping attracts people from out-of-state who are looking for a variety of camping options, plus we are conveniently located between Athens and Atlanta.” The Georgia Department of Natural Resources operates nearly 50 parks and historic sites across the state. Each is distinct in its offerings, from settings in the rolling hills and mountains of Northeast Georgia to ecological parks on lakes. And for Fort Yargo, its lake seems to be one of its most important draws. According to TakeMeFishing.org, and endorsed by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Fort Yargo’s 260-acrelake made the list of the Top 100 Family Fishing & Boating Spots in America for 2015. Finding itself in good company, Fort Yargo was one of five Georgia State Park lakes to make the list. Anglers fall hook, line and sinker for Fort Yargo’s fishing opportunities and find this spot as one of the best, with easily accessible parks and family-friendly amenities. Fort Yargo was one of the first state parks to offer yurt camping in permanent canvas and wooden tents with furniture and electricity. There are six yurts, each accommodating up to six people, and can be reserved easily online. Each site has a picnic table, outdoor grill and a fire ring. Several of the camper cabins and cottages are pet friendly, allowing them within the park as long as they are on a leash. Group shelters, picnic areas and pavilions offer ideal locations for family reunions, weddings and other gatherings against the backdrop of scenic views. Reservations are required because of the park’s popularity at all times of the year. More than 20 miles of beginning, moderate and challenging bike trails traverse the property that became a state park in the mid-1960s. Hiking trails, some that are shared with bikers, provide beautiful views and glimpses of wildlife. “The half-mile Bird Berry Trail is ADA-accessible and many of the plants and trees are labeled,” Autry says. “We often host nature hikes and naturalist-led educational tours that include bird and wildlife sightings.” Other activities include geocaching, disc golf, and boat rental. Park staff also presents a number of programs throughout the year, such as summertime’s Junior Ranger Camp, part of the interactive and educational Fun at the Fort, along with guided paddle boarding and kayaking tours. There’s an amphitheater between the camping areas. Tennis courts, a basketball court and miniature golf are also available. Designated boat launches and fishing areas provide outdoors enthusiasts with plenty to do. Boat rentals from paddleboards, kayaks and fishing boats less than 10 horsepower get day-use and overnight visitors on the water. Fort Yargo’s history dates back more than 200 years, when the wooden fort – more like a home than a military fort – was built by settlers for protection against the Native American Creek and Cherokee Indians who lived, fished and hunted nearby. The Fort Yargo Living History Society has restored and preserved the fort and several outbuildings on the property. It presents a Market Faire each year with members reenacting the life of those early settlers, including music, arts vendors and various demonstrations of crafts from the time. “Musical get togethers, Easter egg hunts, festivals in the fall and events for Halloween give people lots of reasons to come out to Fort Yargo,” Autry says. “Whether you’re coming to hike, swim, geocache, camp or just take a break to get back to nature, Fort Yargo has something for everyone in the family.” CAMPING WITH A PURPOSE Within the boundaries of Fort Yargo State Park, a very special camp offers hope for youngsters with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges. Camp Twin Lakes, an independent non-profit, occupies two peninsulas and 54 acres along the lake. The camp partners with other non-profit organizations including the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation, Camp Sunshine, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Muscular Dystrophy Association of Georgia and pediatric autism’s The Marcus Center, allowing more than 10,000 campers each year to have life-changing experiences through medically-supportive camping, day camps and other programs. “Our goal is to provide year-round camp experiences for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and life challenges to help them become confident and experience the joys of childhood,” says Ashley Henderson with Camp Twin Lakes. “Here they learn that they are braver than they think while having the freedom to be creative and explore in a safe environment.” Camp Twin Lakes provides handicap-accessible facilities, recreational and activities programming, counselors, therapeutic recreation specialists, a medical coordinator, plus three meals a day and snacks under the direction of dietary staff. It is accredited by the American Camp Association and has served as a model for similar camps across the nation. “Our partners have the expertise within the challenges of their populations and we collaborate with them to ensure that all the campers’ needs are attended to,” Henderson says. “Together with our staff, we make it possible for campers to have fun and for their families to network with other families with similar challenges.” The camp in Barrow County is known as Camp Twin Lakes at Will-A-Way and opened in 2009 in partnership with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in a non-public area of Fort Yargo State Park. The camp operates year-round. Weeklong summer camps and weekend activities provide programming for youth ages six to 17. It has a state-of-the-art swimming pool adaptable for wheelchairs and easy access, beach volley ball, Bocce ball, plus lakeside activities such as sailing, kayaking and fishing. Staff assists campers with various outdoor activities, including high ropes, team challenge course, zip line and climbing tower. Having Fort Yargo State Park and all it offers in your own back yard is extraordinary. A weekend getaway to another world is simply a few miles from home. Both Fort Yargo State Park and Camp Twin Lakes enable visitors and campers to withdraw to nature all year long, right here in Barrow County. For more informationon Fort Yargo State Park, visit its website at gastateparks.org/fortyargo.For more information on Camp Twin Lakes, visit its website at camptwinlakes.org.
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