Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area

July 25, 2009. Another beautiful day in the North Georgia foothills! We set off for our adventure mid-morning and choose the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area because it is easy for us to get to, low hassle and truly a wonderful place to go horseback riding.

We brought two, fairly green horses with us. The horses names are: GT’s Joanna and Cielo Azure’s Soleil, who both just turned four years old. Soleil has been ridden on trails before and has been in dressage training before she took seven months off for baby duty but she is actually turning out to be the more difficult horse of the two. Joanna has only been under saddle for a couple of months but she is quickly becoming a rock steady mount. We bought Joanna with a pasturn injury as a coming three year old and she required over a year of rehabilitation. Both are registered Percherons and just a blast to ride! They did fine in the heat and took all those miles in stride. I am so proud of them! Robert (my husband) was the photographer for the trip, so you get to see lots of photos of Soleil and I on this blog but only get to see Joanna's ears (as Robert was riding Joanna, while he took photos).

The week before, we had been trail riding with a group and Soleil had been in full PMS mode. She was not going to let any nasty light horse sneak up behind her! After three separate Capriole’s, (done as well as any Lipizzaner), performed because a light horse got too close to her precious nether regions, my thighs had a grip on that saddle like you wouldn’t believe! This week, I was not looking forward to more of Soleil’s aires above ground and I was glad to not be part of a group. But this week, she was back to her usual self and behaving normally. Sigh. I knew there was a reason why this hormonally controlled mare is so much more fun when pregnant!

This Saturday we decided on a 6.9 mile trail. It turns out, it was 6.9 miles each way…(gulp). We figured this out, after what seemed like an eternity and we discovered a directional mile sign that read 6.7 miles back to parking (yikes)! At that point, we had been bleakly hoping that the parking lot was around the corner, so it came as a bit of a disappoint at first –as it was 90 degrees out. But then we bucked up and we all did just fine! We rode steady from 11:30 to 4:30, but it was mostly in the shade and very lovely. Luckily there were enough tiny creeks that the horses could at least get a drink. Yes, Joanna plowed through the mud and creeks, with nervous Soleil right on her tail. By the end of it, we were tired, the horses were tired and we were SO glad to get back to the trailer. After almost five hours of riding and riding and riding –next time, I won’t trust those state print-outs.

However, the ride really was spectacular. There is a nice smaller lake on the orange trail and we passed the river as well as a wonderful creek. There were few other horses, people or bikers on the trail. Note that on part of the trail, we spilled out onto a gravel public road. There were quite a few jeep and four wheel drive vehicles that zipped by us, clearly out for a spin or off to some river adventure. If your horse doesn’t like trucks, be careful about the trails that you pick.

The Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area is a great place to ride. It is easy to get into, it has fantastic parking and the trails are clearly marked, mostly kept in good condition. Some of the downsides to the area are that parts of the area are very hilly, there are rocks, eroded trails and variable footings on some of the trails. But then there are other areas there the trails are well groomed and there are some that are mostly gravel roads too. Barefooted horses might have some issues on some of the trails. Many of the trails have recently had new sections added, been redone or have been closed, with new trails opening. The maps are not always correct. Also note that the blue trail and orange trail have many side loops, off-shoots, etc. But these are all marked in the SAME color. It is easy to get confused about which is and isn’t the main loops. Hikers and bikers, are allowed in the area and this is often managed by splitting up trails into horse versus bikers segregated trails. When we have been there, we have met very few hikers or bikers. Although, when it hits around 5:00 pm on a Saturday, lots of young people start coming into the wildlife area and the tone of the parking lot changes considerably.

Georgia state and the city of Atlanta (who mow manages the wildlife area) charges a five dollar fee for day use. Payment is by honor system. Each person riding must place five dollars (checks accepted) into a payment envelope, which goes into a box. Then you keep the tear-off receipt as proof of payment. This receipt is your permit. Rumor has it that riding without such a permit carries a $300. fine and that there are rangers checking riders on occasion. My fiends tell me is much, much better to pay the five bucks than to get caught and pay three hundred.

The Dawson Forest, Atlanta Tract once was The Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory (GNAL). This site, which included a nuclear power plant, was run and owned by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation for the US Air Force from the late 1950’s until 1971. Research at GNAL included designing a nuclear powered airplane, but many other radioactive material related research was conducted there. The small (10 mega-watt) radiation effects reactor was used in the research efforts from 1958 through 1970 and is still on site, now buried in concrete. The GNAL was closed in 1971 and the power plant decommissioned. Lockheed then sold 10,130.4 acres to the City of Atlanta in 1972. The City was anticipating the need for a second airport for the metropolitan Atlanta area and purchased this tract. Later, the city decided that this site was unsuitable for an airport. As one could imagine, a power plant, run by a contractor the the defense department, that was built and run from the 1950s to the early 1970s, might not have the same standards for operating as now. Stories abound of two-headed deer, albino animals, cancer related deaths of workers and nearby residents as well as leaked radiation. There may or may not be much truth to the rumors but they make great campfire stories!
The history of this area is fascinating. If you go to: and then click on the history link, this site will open into a word doc and is a full history of the area.

Getting there was easy. Just remember that Dawson Forest Road is in Dawson County and that most directions will have you turn off of highway 9. So, when using a mapping program, just keep triangulating the website directions (linked below) and what you are getting on the map program. There is no address number or even street number on the website and website directions are only from hwy 400, which is great if you are coming from Gainesville. Otherwise, you are out of luck and will have to figure out the directions using a mapping program. There are also trails maps and more information about the wildlife area here.

Note that once at the wildlife area, the parking lot is fantastic! There is room for many large trailers, with concrete pads and lots of shade. The roads and parking accommodate large trailers without issue. However, it is a dry lot. There is no water available and if you want water for your horses, you need to bring your own.

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