Story and Photos By: Bonnie Helander
One of the positive outcomes of 2020 is the emphasis on getting outside—for your health and for your sanity! People are rediscovering nature and fun activities in the fresh air. Camp sites are hard to reserve, fishing and kayaking equipment keep selling out at the local stores, and parks are becoming more popular places to congregate. As the pandemic lingers, why not explore some beautiful, outside spaces less than an hour from home? Let me recommend a couple spots that will inspire you and the whole family.
Melvin L. Newman Wetlands Center, Hampton
The creation of a wetlands center was first envisioned by Melvin L. Newman, former General Manager of the Clayton County Water Authority, as an educational tool to highlight the significance of wetlands in managing our watershed and to inspire residents to conserve these important habitats. The land, formerly used for timber harvesting and as a Boy Scout camp for African American scouts, was purchased in the 1970s to be cultivated as a wetlands mitigation site to replace other wetlands flooded by the Shoal Creek Reservoir. Since opening in 1995, the center has become a haven for wildlife and sensitive plants that thrive in a wetlands habitat and a serene spot for people who want to enjoy this beautiful setting.
Your first stop will be at the Learning Center, where you will find that all-important public restroom, as well as an engaging exhibit area to learn about the significance of wetlands. Pick up a trail brochure while at the center. Picnic tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis outside the center, so pack a picnic and prolong your stay!
The trails at the center are easily accessible for people of all ages and abilities. The half-mile, flat boardwalk trail is an enjoyable stroll along a winding, wooden boardwalk, with portions of the trail crushed stone. There are also shorter dirt trails that branch off the boardwalk, offering interesting perspectives of the wetlands. All these short trails lead back to the main boardwalk trail. The scenery is breath-taking, so bring your camera to photograph unusual bog plants and binoculars to spot elusive wetlands wildlife like herons, hawks, turtles, dragonflies, and frogs.
You can wander the trails alone, or groups of ten or more can arrange a guided tour with the center’s conservation staff to learn more in-depth information about the wildlife and plants that call the wetlands home. The center also hosts monthly interpretive programs for all ages on such topics as Wetlands Turtle Catch and Release, Nature Writing, Leaf Pack Exploration, and Storytelling with Birds. Children can download a seasonal checklist of wildlife and plants they can try to spot throughout the year.
The Newman Wetlands Center is located at 2755 Freeman Rd., Hampton, 30228 and is currently open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday. Admission and parking are free. All visitors over the age of two are required to wear a mask at all times and keep a minimum of six feet distance between those not in your household. For more information, go to ccwa.us/newman-wetlands-center.
Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, Stonecrest
Encompassing over 2,500 acres, the preserve features an array of natural wonders, including the signature Arabia Mountain. The “mountain” is actually a monadnock—an isolated stone outcropping that rises above the surrounding area. There are three granite monadnocks in the Atlanta area—Arabia Mountain, Panola Mountain and Stone Mountain. In addition to the granite outcropping, the preserve includes two lakes, streams, wetlands, forests, and rare, native plant species.
Visitors flock to Arabia Mountain in the spring to view the red diamorpha (Diamorpha smallii), a rare plant that appears as a sea of crimson, dotted with white flowers, carpeting small depressions in the granite outcropping. In the fall, the site is alive with brilliant yellow daisies (Helianthus porteri)—really a species of sunflower—that takes center stage across the preserve. The flowers are native to the Southeast and grow in solution pits, little sandy patches or moist areas on the granite. To protect the diamorpha and the daisies, visitors are asked to watch their steps and avoid stepping in the depressions where these rare plants thrive. Stone cairns are placed across the granite to direct visitors along the path.
The granite outcroppings at Arabia Mountain were once part of a quarry, owned by the Davidson family who later donated the property to the preserve. Granite from the mountain was sent all over the country for construction projects and was used to build the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. As you hike along the Mountain Top Trail, you will find ruins of old quarry structures and pieces of granite with metal spikes still embedded that were used to slice through the granite.
Over ten miles of dirt hiking trails at the preserve will lead you through dense woods, up granite outcroppings and along streams and lakes. Fishing is allowed at Arabia Lake with a valid fishing permit. In addition to the soft trails, there are over 30 miles of a paved walking and biking trail that is part of the PATH Foundation Trail, linking many historic sites in the area, including a connection to the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit; Vaughter’s Farm, once the largest dairy farm in Georgia; and Flat Rock Community, one of the oldest African American communities in Georgia.
The Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve is located at 3787 Klondike Rd., Stonecrest, 30038 and is open to the public from dawn to dusk. Parking and use of the trails are free, and there is a picnic area near the parking lot. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, some facilities are not open at this time. The preserve is part of the larger Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, which encompasses over 40,000 acres and includes Panola Mountain. For more information, go to arabiaalliance.org.
Top left: Arabia Mountain is not really a mountain but a monadnock (a granite outcropping). The monadnock is ablaze with yellow daisies during the fall. Bottom left: Stone cairns are placed atop Arabia Mountain to direct people on the pathway across the granite. Top right: Ruins of abandoned stone structures dot the trails, remnants from when Arabia Mountain was a quarry that harvested granite for construction. Bottom right: The Forest Trail takes you through dense woods and along picturesque Arabia Lake where fishing is permitted.