Goin’ to the Coast

Coastal Georgia: Fragile and Unique

Brian Brown Photography 

Kim Davenport – Visitor Services Associate and Nature Exchange Naturalist

Georgia has approximately 100 miles of coastline from Savannah to Saint Mary’s. The coast is made up of myriad river estuaries, tidal creeks, salt pans, and barrier islands. The unique curve of the coast, known as the Georgia Bight, makes high tides average about 7 feet above low tide levels. Salt marshes are covered by huge swaths of Spartina and other salt-resistant grasses. The tides flood the salt marshes and tidal creeks with brackish water. The thick, black mud and grasses are home to countless fiddler crabs, periwinkle snails, polychaete worms, and other invertebrates. These creatures glean any nutrients from the muck. Many species of birds find their food in among the grasses. During high tides, dolphins, sharks and other fish, crabs, jellyfish, manatees, alligators, and other creatures hunt, play, and breed in the coastal marshes and creeks.

The Georgia coast is protected by a line of barrier islands which are built and eroded by hurricanes and tides. Sea turtles and shorebirds build their nests on these islands.

Humans help and hinder the fragile ecosystems on the Georgia coast. We build resorts, golf courses, and homes, trawl for shrimp (which is very destructive), drain marshlands, and pollute the environment. However, we are also recognizing the importance of the salt marshes and barrier islands to fisheries, biodiversity, and clean water and are taking vital steps to preserve large areas and reducing our impact on the Georgia coast, so that this beautiful landscape may be enjoyed and appreciated far into the future.


Playing in the Plains

Nutty GeorgiaChristie Hill, Naturalist Coordinator

South Georgia is one of the nicest places to be in fall. And one of the best fall treats is harvested in Georgia’s Coastal Plain beginning in October. Georgia is the nation’s largest harvester of pecans, supplying a third of U.S. production. An average pecan harvest in Georgia is about 88 million pounds – enough to make 176 million pecan pies. The Coastal Plain of Georgia, making up about 60% of our state, begins at the fall line where the Piedmont ends, and stretches to the Atlantic Ocean.


Some say Pee-can. Some Pe-kan. However you say it, pecans have been an important part of southern diet and culture since before the arrival of European settlers. Pecans are sweet, full of texture and versatile. Some favorite ways to eat them include raw out of the shell; baking in pecan pie and served warm with vanilla ice cream; in pralines, those rich delicacies found in Southern Georgia’s roadside gift shops, and in many southern recipes like sweet potato casserole and broccoli salad.


Pecans grown from seedlings do not produce trees identical to the parent. In fact, each seedling tree is unique and will have extremely variable nut quality. Therefore, grafting is used to grow pecans. In order to successfully produce pecans, low-input management is the way to go. The Coastal Plain has the right climate and conditions for the most successful pecan growing. Peak months for Georgia pecans run from October to December.


Head to the Hills

Homegrown Georgia: The Mountain Regions

Kim Hakimian, Outreach and Partnerships Coordinator

Georgia, at 59,425 square miles, is one of the largest states east of the Mississippi. The size of our state, many land forms, amount of precipitation, and average yearly temperature work together to create different habitats called “Ecoregions.” North Georgia is home to three of these Ecoregions: the Appalachian Plateau region is just a small corner consisting of Lookout Mountain; the Ridge and Valley region has long parallel ridges covered with forests overlooking wide rolling valleys used for farming.

The third region, the Blue Ridge Region, contains the highest elevations east of the Mississippi River, including Georgia’s highest mountain – Brasstown Bald (4784 feet above sea level). This region also contains a rare habitat, the mountain bog. A mountain bog is a small wetland situated in a relatively flat area with poorly drained soils. They vary in their appearance due to the amount of water flow to and from the bog. The rare pitcher plant and swamp pinks call this habitat home. In 1995, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA) was formed to preserve this special habitat in Georgia. CNC is proud to be a part of this organization and boasts having one of the “Bogfathers” on our staff, Henning von Schmeling.

A day trip to the Blue Ridge could include visiting an apple farm in Ellijay and then taking Rt 52 to Rt 183 to check out a sunflower farm. Continuing east along Rt 52, you will come to Amicalola Falls State Park, where visitors can hike the trail to the top of Amicalola Falls and take in the view.

Cooling off with the Chattahoochee

By Maureen Aikin, Naturalist and Visitor Services Associate

Have you ever wondered why the Chattahoochee River is so cold, even in the summertime?  While it’s true that the Chattahoochee’s headwaters are in the Blue Ridge Mountains, that isn’t the reason for the chilly temperatures we see in its North Atlanta section.

Strangely enough, the reason has to do with the construction of Lake Lanier and the Buford Dam.  Since their completion in 1956, the water we see in the ‘Hooch below the dam is much colder than it used to be.  This is because it comes directly out of the bottom of Lake Lanier, which is up to 160 feet deep and contains its coldest water!  So the construction of the lake and dam have actually changed the River’s ecosystem, effectively splitting it in two.

Parts of the Upper Chattahoochee (north of the lake) have warmer water – making it suitable for bass, bluegill, and other warmer water fish. South of the dam, in North Atlanta, the water temperature is around 50-55 deg. F year-round, making it ideal for trout. 

It’s also great for a multitude of recreational opportunities on those hot summer days.  The Chattahoochee offers a refreshing place to cool off by swimming, tubing, kayaking, canoeing, sunbathing, and even hiking.  The water is so cold that it actually creates a cool breeze at times.

We are so fortunate to have this wonderful water playground right in our backyard!

Bog Turtles and Wildlife Preservation the Chattahoochee Nature Center

Rosie Walunas/U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service

Did you know there is a turtle in Georgia measuring only 4.5 inches in length?

The bog turtle, the smallest turtle in the U.S., is facing extinction due to predators and unscrupulous wildlife collectors. If you are lucky enough to see a bog turtle out and about during your summer adventures, you might recognize them by their prominent orange, yellow, or red blotch on each side of the head behind their eye.

Sadly, their populations are continuing to dwindle and are now separated by 400 miles along the east coast into northern and southern populations, mainly inhabiting areas of New York and Georgia. In 1997, the bog turtle was placed on the Endangered Species list and has since then faced the illegal pet trade, as well as habitat loss of their wetlands.

Currently, there are estimated to be 2,500 to 10,000 bog turtles in the wild, and efforts are being made to protect and grow their populations.

The Chattahoochee Nature Center has been committed to preserving the habitat of bog turtles through work with community partners and environmental agencies. In 2005, staff from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Tennessee Aquarium, U.S. Forest Service, Atlanta Botanical Garden, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service successfully released bog turtles into a restored mountain bog habitat in North Georgia. Today, they are still committed to preserving the habitats of bog turtles in our communities.

The Chattahoochee Nature Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center helps rehabilitate a variety of wildlife after these animals are unable to live in the wild. You can help preserve the habitats of bog turtles and other endangered and threatened species. Visit here to help make a difference in the lives of our Georgia wildlife.

Sundays on the River Concert Series

What better way to wrap up the weekend than an evening under the stars listening to live music with friends?  Live music fills the stage at CNC every second Sunday, 6-9:30pm from May through September. Bring a picnic and enjoy a cool evening on the lawn at CNC listening to great live music!

Come listen to the smooth jazz sounds of Bob Bakert and his six piece band on May 14, July 9 and September 10. This year look for a high energy show including songs from Sting, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, Buffalo Springfield, and even some favorites from the American Songbook.

The opening act is John Cable, a member of John McEuen’s String Wizards which is currently performing all across the country. Americana, country and folk influences in his songs.


On June 11, Billboard Smooth Jazz Artist Carol Albert will be Performing Selections from her New Album including current Smooth Jazz hits “Mas Que Nada” and “On My Way” with her band.  Keyboardist and Vocalist Carol Albert, an Atlanta native that has been featured on WCLK, SIRIUSXMWatercolors and National Smooth Jazz Radio Stations Worldwide.

Opening act, Cadyn Lexa is an 11-year-old pop, rock, & soul singer/songwriter from Atlanta, Georgia.  With a voice well-beyond her years, she has been performing professionally since she was 8 years old.  Cadyn also writes original compositions with her family and friends that she can’t wait to perform on the CNC stage!

On August 13, come listen to the American jazz sounds of Gwen Hughes &“Grit Hits!” Gwen & The Native Land Band put your favorite hit records in an exhilarating, funky setting that will make you dance and sing along. Gwen Hughes brings everything from the birth of the blues in Mississippi to the birth of jazz in New Orleans to country music in Virginia, the funk of Georgia and the Southern rock of Florida. In-between songs, Gwen leads the audience on a freewheeling and fun history lesson of why The South is such a breeding ground for iconic recording artists.

Tickets are on sale now and CNC members save 10%. Learn more here. Book your tickets now and plan a great evening with CNC this summer at the Sundays on the River Concert Series.

Green and Blue Trails – heart of the community

Did you know that green trails and blue trails can improve your outlook, benefit your health, give you access to recreational opportunities, all while increasing the real estate value of your home?  Imagine, all of these things can be done through your donations, as well as through tax dollars, by supporting park acquisition to improve the quality of life for all while making your region or city more desirable.

At the Chattahoochee Nature Center we work with the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (National Park Service NPS) and their friends group (CPC – the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy); the Georgia River Network and Georgia Water Coalition as well as Park Pride and many other organizations.  The Georgia River Network in particular is working on Georgia Water trails.  The Georgia Conservancy and the Georgia Trust for Public Lands are two other groups involved in this work.  The Trust works to acquire property.  The primary focus of our collaborations is on the topic of preserving and conserving greenspaces while also helping our river.  That river, by the way, provides 70% of the metro region’s drinking water.  Without that precious resource, we could not develop, grow or support our growing population of humans, plants and animals that call this place home.

You’ve heard of the Atlanta Beltline by now, but did you know that the Chattahoochee River provides a network of trails that connect to many city owned trails and that these are now spreading throughout the metro region into an exciting ‘web’ that connects you, by bike or by your feet, to many beautiful places to enjoy yourself.

Did you know that the Chattahoochee River Water Trail was the first nationally designated River Trail in the country?   It travels through the entire Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) area; starting south of Buford Dam, and winding through multiple counties and cities, with almost 48 miles of river frontage.  The public green space it provides is 65% of the total in our region.  In fact, one in 5 acres along that stretch is park land!  The park and water trail contain at least 18 developed public access points that connect to our local city and county parks and the good news is, these are being further developed by local governments to provide a strategic network of connectivity.  The goal is to build this ribbon of green entwined with blue, which ultimately, will allow you to travel, without a car, from one end of the state to the other.

Trail building for recreational purposes, enhances our collective quality of life and increases an area’s economic vitality while creating exciting recreational opportunities for citizens. The benefit to real estate values and to tourism is significant.  Creating places for hiking, biking, or walking; providing access to our rivers for paddling in canoes or kayaking; for fishing or just gazing at beautiful scenery is a worthy pursuit that takes a lifetime of work and vision.  These trails, both greenways and blue trails, take work and cooperation between multiple jurisdictions.  Understanding how these trails all work together and properly ‘branding’ them so that people know where they are, what amenities are provided, what they will need to know before they go and where they can go is going to take some work too.

You can always visit the Chattahoochee Nature Center, where they provide easy woodland or river boardwalk hiking trails with native wildlife to view along with way.  The LEED Certified Discovery Center also serves as the interpretive Center for the entire Chattahoochee River Watershed Corridor.  Check out the River Gallery, visit the Nature Exchange – the only one in the SE – or see the film that orients you to the Chattahoochee River.

Just imagine this; in view of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area’s economic impact alone, they reported over 3,168,137 visitors in 2015 who spent over $125,842,200 supporting over 1,775 Metro Atlanta jobs.  That competes with the Atlanta Braves for economic impact! Learn more about this amazing string of pearls that connects us all.

Recreation is essential for our health, what we do with our leisure time to refresh our minds, bodies and spirits and reconnect with each other and have fun is important to our region’s increasing population.  People value green space, connectivity, trails (both greenways and blue trails) and the beautiful places that connect them to each other.  That is a value that impacts real estate values daily, the essential ‘cool’ factor.  What trail do you live closest to?



Healthy pollinators begin in the garden

We’ve all heard the stories of bees dying out in large numbers. It’s a mysterious phenomenon, however our buzzing friends are not the only ones facing difficulties in populations.

Pollinators of all kinds – including bees and butterflies – are relied upon heavily in the plant world to, well, pollinate. The relationship between pollinators and flowers is one that most people understand.  Butterflies rely on nectar, the sweet liquid found hidden within flowers. As a butterfly lands and sips nectar, it does the flower a favor by moving its pollen around the garden and ensuring another generation of blooms. While a butterfly may visit a variety of flowers for nourishment, they look for specific plants – called “host plants” – on which to lay eggs. A caterpillar is choosy; it will not munch the leaves of just any plant.

One famous example is the milkweed species of plant. Monarch Butterflies, those bright orange and black butterflies, will only lay their eggs on milkweed, making it essential to their survival. However, if the milkweed is not present when the Monarchs make their annual migration to Mexico, they cannot breed. Likewise, the Tiger Swallowtail, Georgia’s state butterfly, looks for tulip poplar trees, on which to lay their eggs.

Henning von Schmeling, with the Chattahoochee Nature Center, said planning is needed to invite pollinators into a garden.

“Everybody always says that you have to plant flowers since adult butterflies eat nectar, but you won’t raise butterflies unless you have the specific host plants that each species of adult butterfly needs to lay their eggs on,” said von Schmeling.

Even if you live in a subdivision where there are covenants with strict landscaping guidelines, von Schmeling suggests locating a section in the back for a natural garden. Butterflies are repelled, and often endangered, by herbicides and pesticides. They prefer overgrown areas, especially with native plants and flowers of the host and nectar plants they prefer and where they can lay their eggs where the caterpillars will thrive.

Make Memories at Camp Kingfisher

Summer is almost here, and of course that means that kids will be out of school and looking for summer fun. Come experience Camp Kingfisher at CNC this summer, and see what a “True Outdoor Nature-Camp” looks like. Adventuring and learning in nature is what summer is all about. Campers get to enjoy CNC’s 127 incredible acres and activities include hiking, swimming, seeing wildlife, canoeing, arts and crafts, educational activities and experiments and more.

A little known fact about Camp Kingfisher is that not only do campers love it, but so do our counselors. We have a very high retention rate each summer with our LITs (High School Leadership Training Program) coming back to become Junior Counselors, Counselors and even Head Counselors. This has facilitated an environment with long-lasting relationships. Here is what many of our long-time camp counselors have to say about their favorite experiences at Camp Kingfisher.

Morgan Leslie of Canton, current Sophomore at Mercer University, says her favorite memory from Camp Kingfisher is:

“I vividly remember one of my campers from Week 4 last summer. She spent hours drawing me a picture at home to give as gift the next day for being her favorite.” 

Christina Boyd of East Cobb, a current Sophomore at Wafford College, says her most memorable experience at Camp Kingfisher is:

“During the power outage we had at the Nature Center one day, the kids managed to still have fun and smile through all the indoor activities we improvised. They didn’t care where we were, they just wanted to be with us and each other.”

Hudson Tsay of East Cobb is a marketing major at the University of Georgia. He started off as an LIT when he attended Walton High School and has worked his way up to Head Counselor at Camp Kingfisher. Here is what he said about the impact Camp Kingfisher has had on him:

“Camp Kingfisher has given me a huge platform for my own personal growth and development while getting direct interaction with the kids. As an LIT, I honed in my leadership and public speaking skills. Camp Kingfisher each summer has managed to challenge me in new ways and strengthen my capacity. In all honesty our Assistant Camp Director Alexander [has had a lasting impact on me]. I aspire to have half the wit he does daily. The campers [bring me back every year] by far. They give me life and make my drive here exciting in the mornings.” 

Elena Weigelt of Canton is a Freshman at the University of North Georgia. She worked as an LIT for three summers while she attended Creekview High School and she has worked her way up to Junior Camp Counselor here at Camp Kingfisher. Here is what she has to say about her experience at Camp Kingfisher.

“Each summer I have developed valuable leadership skills which I can apply to many other aspects of life. I have also made memories and relationships that will last a lifetime. Each year I return, Camp Kingfisher has facilitated my growth as an individual. My LIT coordinator and now my boss, Debbie Head has made a big impact on my life. I have always looked up to her and her great love for camp. I am always grateful for the opportunity she gives me each summer to come back and work at my favorite place. The kids [keep me] coming in every morning. I enjoy every moment when I am able to put a smile on their faces, as it gives me a feeling that is irreplaceable. The Nature Center has always been an amazing place and I call it my second home.”

Drew King of Easton Cobb is a current Sophomore at Kennesaw State University. He attended Camp Kingfisher as a camper for 9 years and 2 more years as part of the travel program, then he worked one year as Junior Counselor and an additional year as a Counselor, making that a total of 16 years here at Camp Kingfisher.

“Camp Kingfisher has helped me build my character to be kind to others. It also has helped me to make stable friends that I still have today. Amy, the Camp Director at the time [made an impact on me and] was my favorite person at Camp. She was always happy and full of energy, and that is who I strive to model. When I was a kid, I enjoyed every activity and always had a blast at camp. I come back as a counselor to pass on the joy that my counselors brought me. [My favorite memory was when] it was superhero day when I was a Barn Owl. I wore a pretty solid Nature Nerd costume and was excited to try and win the costume competition. I came down with a cold in the middle of the day so Amy said I won the competition and gave me a prize which made me feel so much better.”

Camp Kingfisher is truly an incredible place that encourages personal growth, teamwork, and environmental stewardship in campers. Learn more here and registration is open here. Contact camp@chattnaturecenter.org or call    770-992-2055 ext. 232 with any questions about Camp Kingfisher at CNC this summer!

On Fire for Interpretation

CNC Naturalist Christie shares insights from her trip to the Regional NAI conference in March, 2017


What happens when you bring together naturalists, park rangers and folks from cultural and history centers all over the Southeast for a conference about Interpretation? You get a lot of good stuff — that’s what!

I was fortunate to attend the National Association for Interpretation’s “Sunny Southeast” Conference, March 7 -10, 2017, in Shepherdsville, KY (near Louisville).  We had 3 ½ days and nights of seminars, networking and meals together to share ideas and the latest trends that are working well for us in our field. 

One session I attended was about hosting a 36-hour “Bio-blitz;” an event we have considered having at CNC. The bio-blitz was in a Pisgah National Forest park, called Cradle of Forestry Heritage Site, near Asheville NC. Can you imagine organizing an outdoor event for volunteers–school and community groups, to come in specified time slots over a nonstop 2-day event, to count every different species each group could find in a small designated area for 2-4 hour shifts? The event turned out to be amazing and revealing; including the staff being unprepared for a few things: groups who showed up at unexpected times, cold and rainy weather conditions, not enough experts to cover each section to confirm species, and folks leaving before they reported all of the data.  

Overall though, it was an amazing and successful experience.  


Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource. – NAI 2000.

Christie Hill has been the Naturalist and Docent Coordinator at the Chattahoochee Nature Center for 10 years, and has been integral in the education and training of staff and volunteers, She has been a Certified Interpretive Trainer since 2009.