Spreading across 18 north Georgia counties, this vast resource covers almost 750,000 acres. Within its borders are Georgia's highpoint, Brasstown Bald, the headwaters of every major North Georgia River, hundreds of waterfalls, abundant flora and fauna, and some of the best outdoor recreation in the United States. It stands as testimony to the good of federal government, which took what was essentially a disaster area and turned into Georgia's largest tourism asset.
Although the first land purchases that would become today's Chattahoochee National Forest were not made until 1911, the roots of this vast resource stretch back to the conservation movement that blossomed in the early 1890's. The Forest Reserve Act (General Land Law Revision Act), also known as the Creative Act, was passed on March_3, 1891, and in the same month President Benjamin Harrison established the first reserve. Designed to protect western lands, by the end of his term in 1893 Republican Benjamin Harrison had placed more than 13 million publicly held acres into the "forest reserve" category, including today's Yellowstone Park. Although this was the earliest federal effort many states had begun to preserve land for future use.
Conservationist Teddy Roosevelt became President in 1903 and things began to quickly change. In 1905 the U. S Forest Service was created and national forest reserves were passed to the Department of Agriculture from the General Land Office, a weak bureaucratic group who oversaw the reserves. The goal of the new-found Forest Service quickly changed from informational to managerial, with an emphasis on restoration.
Mounain view from Dukes Creek
In 1911 the Weeks Act passed Congress, allowing the purchase of land east of the Mississippi. That same year the Forest Service made its first purchase within the state of Georgia from saw mill owners Andrew and Nat Gennett. They paid $7.00 an acre for land on which most of the timber had been cut, mostly in Gilmer County, Fannin County and Lumpkin County.
Rangers, such as Roscoe Nicholson and Arthur Woody, advised the Forest Service as to what local lands might be the best to accumulate, and accumulate they did. On June_14, 1920 the purchases were incorporated into the Cherokee National Forest, covering southeastern Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. In 1925 Woody began to re-introduce native species to the land, including deer that he captured in North Carolina and animals purchased from a traveling circus. Over the next 16 years the replenishment of the forest became a major campaign platform of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
What became known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (or Roosevelt's Tree Army) was proposed at the 1932 Democratic National Convention. Over the next nine years this organization would have a major impact on the Chattahoochee National Forest, planting millions of trees on Georgia land devastated by hydraulic mining and lumber companies. (Complete list of CCC camps in North Georgia). Among the still standing CCC buildings: Blood Mountain Shelter, buildings at Lake Winfield Scott, Enota Lodge. April 6, 1936 was an important day for the Georgia Forest Service Rangers. Gainesville, Georgia, where their headquarters are located, was hit by an F4 tornado. Communication lines destroyed by the storm would take weeks to rebuild, but using their two-way radios the rangers set up a relay network to get messages out from local citizens to loved ones.
On July_9, 1936 the Forest Service was reorganized to follow state boundaries and the Chattahoochee National Forest was born. For the rest of the decade work continued on the restoration projects, with the most devastated areas getting the first attention. This included reforestation of watersheds and damming of rivers to prevent flooding downstream. Lake Winfield Scott is an example of a river dammed to prevent downstream erosion, especially in the fragile riparian zones.
Although the country's attention turned to war during the first half of the 1940's, active management of the resources in the Chattahoochee National Forest not only helped to win the war but also fueled Georgia's economy, which had suffered since the mid-1920's. The one-crop economy of the South was replaced by expanding the number of products thanks in part to the millions of board feet of lumber now harvested from the once barren forest land. Also produced, specifically from the Chattahoochee National Forest, were paper, turpentine, waxes and polishes, and fragrance.
After the war the efforts of the Forest Service began to pay dividends as virtually every lumber company abandoned their "cut and leave" practices that had stripped most of north Georgia and began to manage land. By 1990, through effective public and private management the total amount of forested land exceeded the amount of forested land in 1860. Other benefits were quickly realized as the forests of North Georgia came of age.
Hunters, fishermen, hikers and campers began to regularly visited this outdoor paradise, bringing themselves and their families as well. Cities like Helen, Georgia and Dahlonega geared their tourism efforts and events to attract these outdoors oriented tourists into town and a new type of travel, eco-tourism was born.
Today's forest covers 18 north Georgia counties, broken into 6 ranger districts for management. Rabun County, in the northeast has the greatest physical and percentage acreage, while Catoosa County has the least. Fannin County has the largest amount of area designated wilderness, which means that no management occurs -- the forest will never be harvested. The Chattooga Wild and Scenic River was among the first to receive this designation.
There are over 450 miles of trails, more than 1,600 miles of "road," and 2,200 miles of rivers and streams within the boundaries of the Chattahoochee National Forest. It is the southern extreme for many northern species. Much of the beauty of North Georgia is tucked away just a short walk from a major road. Some of the more popular natural attractions within its boundaries are:
The beauty and the pristine setting in which the Chattahoochee National Forest exists, however, is threatened by obvious and not so obvious issues. One major threat is Atlanta's (History of Atlanta, Georgia) urban sprawl, already reaching the southern end of the forest. Other threats may not be obvious to casual visitors, like the highly acidic rain that falls on the forest during the summer thanks to the polluted air. Forest managers are facing a problem they themselves created: rampant road-building that occurred to allow logging company access to the forest that has impacted sensitive areas. The southern pine beetle infestations are on the rise, destroying habitat for the broad spectrum of wildlife in the forest. Another issue is abuse of the forest by people do not follow the Chattahoochee National Forest's designations for permitted use.
However daunting the tasks of forest management in the 21st century may seem, the Forest Service is moving ahead. Some land is being re-designated as roadless to protect and preserve the environment, and state, county and local governments, along with private citizens, are working to protect more land through purchases and donations.
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