Stories and Events - Blairsville, Georgia


Black Bear on Appalachian Trail

AT in Georgia closed for camping due to bear activity

By Janice Boling
NGN Writer/Photographer

April 17, 2011 - Part of the Appalachian Trail in Union County is temporarily closed due to increased black bear activity. According to the official notice posted by the U.S. Forest Service, “The Appalachian Trail between Neels Gap and Jarrard Gap (near Lake Winfield Scott) is closed to camping as a safety measure until further notice. This includes Blood Mountain and Woods Hole Shelters. Day hiking is allowed. Any camping on side trails should take place at least one-quarter mile from the AT. Persistent bear activity and improper food storage by hikers has led to this temporary closure.”

The closure will remain in effect from April 15, 2011 to May 15, 2011. Hopefully, this will give bears time to get out of the habit of looking for food (on this particular section of the trail).

Hikers agree that bears can be a nuisance. One man says, “It’s not that campers are doing anything wrong. It’s just that bears are very, very smart. They have learned to swat at branches near the food cables. This can knock properly secured food to the ground and within the bear’s reach.”

Lumpy, a hiker and regular at Mountain Crossings on Blood Mountain, adds, “Last month we had over thirty reports of bears getting into hiker’s food bags. A bear was seen at Mountain Crossings four days ago but it didn’t hurt anything.”

Thru-hikers, heading from Georgia to Maine, can leave the Appalachian Trail to camp on side trails. They should camp more than a quarter mile away to avoid fines.

According to Lauren Himiak (, “Bear attacks in the wild are extremely rare. If you do encounter a bear, remain calm and avoid sudden movements. Give the bear plenty of room, allowing it to continue its activities undisturbed. If it changes its behavior, you're too close so back away. If you see a bear but the bear doesn't see you, detour quickly and quietly. If a bear spots you, try to get its attention while it is still farther away. You want it to know you're human so talk in a normal voice and waive your arms. Remember that a standing bear is not always a sign of aggression. Many times, bears will stand to get a better view. Throw something onto the ground (like your camera) if the bear pursues you, as it may be distracted by this and allow you to escape. Never feed or throw food to a bear.”

“If a bear charges, remember that many bears charge as a bluff. They may run, then veer off or stop abruptly. Stand your ground until the bear stops, then slowly back away. Never run from a bear! They will chase you and bears can run faster than 30 mph. Don't run towards or climb a tree. Black bears and some grizzlies can climb trees, and many bears will be provoked to chase you if they see you climbing. If you have pepper spray, be sure that you have been trained with it before using it during an attack.”



Crowd at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Celebration

Blairsville Union County receives Appalachian Trail Community designation

By Janice Boling
NGN Writer/Photographer

March 22, 2011 - The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, and town leaders from Blairsville and Union County recently held a ceremony celebrating their designation as the newest Appalachian Trail Community™. Guest speakers included Mayor Jim Conley, Commissioner Lamar Paris, ATC board chair Bob Almand, and others.

The Appalachian Trail Community™ designation program is a new program of the nonprofit managers of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.). Launched in 2010, this program recognizes communities for their part in promoting awareness of the A.T. as an important national and local resource. Towns, counties, and communities along the A.T.’s corridor are considered assets by A.T. hikers, and many of these towns act as good friends and neighbors to the Trail.

The designation ceremony took place on the A.T. at the famous Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi with live music by the Union County Middle School Band and Director Doug Roberts. Janet Hartman of the DDA welcomed guests and introduced speakers. The Union County Fire Department Color Guard (with their golden axes and flags) attended, as did Rev. Danny Parris who led the invocation. A poetry reading by Middle School Student Sierra Porter and a trumpet duo playing the Star Spangled Banner rounded out the ceremony. Union County School Superintendent, Dr. Lewis McAfee, Georgia Appalachian Trail Club member Shelley Rose, Georgia Appalachian Trail Club member Laura Belleville, Chattahoochee Oconee National Forester Andy Baker, and a representative from the Department of Natural Resources were guest speakers. There was also a presentation of A.T. materials by Morgan Sommerville for anyone looking for more information and short guided hikes following the ceremony.

Proprietor Winton Porter said, “Over the past 30 years, Mountain Crossings and the people of Union County have served the hiking community graciously and unselfishly. This A.T. designation, through this celebration, is a grand tribute to all who have extended their hand of hospitality to the A.T. dreamers who visit our home here in the Appalachians”.

Dayton Miller said, “With over 35 miles of the A.T. in Union County it is no wonder that this national treasure is a source of pride for Union County residents. The county includes the highest section of the A.T. in Georgia, crossing the 4458 foot summit of Blood Mountain just 12 miles south of Blairsville in the spectacular Blood Mountain Wilderness. The history, culture, economy, and future of Union County are intertwined with the A.T.”

Julie Judkins, Community Program Manager of the ATC, said, “The new partnerships will increase local stewardship of public lands, support community initiatives for sustainable economic development and conservation planning, as well as support healthy lifestyles for community citizens.”

Blairsville and Union County celebrated their A.T. Community™ designation by welcoming numerous hikers and local citizens to the event. Everyone enjoyed hamburgers, iced tea, the live band, and the well organized ceremony. The celebration highlighted the importance of students who are using the Trail as an educational resource and tool. Many thanks go to the UCMS for their participation, and to Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries for their continuing generosity (their grilled hamburgers are delicious and much appreciated).


Walasi-Yi and the Appalachian Trail

January 21, 2011 – It’s official! Blairsville is now an Appalachian Trail Community

It’s official! Blairsville has received the designation of Appalachian Trail Community by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Public celebrations and media events are in the planning stages and will include an exciting day of fun at Walasi-Yi in Union County (tentatively scheduled for March 22, 2011.)

Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris, Georgia Appalachian Trail Club Lead Volunteer Dayton Miller, DDA Manager Janet Hartman, and many other organizations and businesses have been involved in the application process. A local advisory committee has been formed and official proclamations are being drawn up.

The AT Community Advisory Committee will have many responsibilities including developing brochures, handouts, posters, and banners for local festivals. Volunteer coordinators will also develop appropriate demonstrations of hiking & camping techniques and gear, trail food, trail safety, area specific trail maps, and more as a way to generate interest in trail events and hiking. In addition to participating in local festivals, the Advisory Committee will explore ways to participate in the celebration of National Trails Day. This participation may take the form of collaborating with Vogel State Park in their NTD celebration, scheduling an AT related event elsewhere in Union County, and/or display of posters and banners at appropriate locations throughout the area.

Walasi-Yi, on the left when heading towards Gainesville on Highway 129, is a familiar rock building to most local residents. Many have shopped at Mountain Crossings and some have hiked the trail. The AT is not just a local landmark, it is a national treasure! Blairsville, Georgia and Union County will receive national attention because of this new designation as an AT Community.

The AT is a wonderful natural resource that runs right through Union County. An estimated 35 miles of the Appalachian Trail cross through or follow the border of the county’s southern boundary. The trail crosses paved roads at three points in Union County including Highway 60 at Woody Gap in Suches, at Neel Gap ( US Hwy 129/GA Hwy 19) near Blood Mountain, and on GA Hwy 348 ( Richard Russell Scenic Highway) at Tesnatee Gap and Hog Pen Gap.

According to the National Parks Service, “People of all ages and abilities enjoy short walks, day hikes, and long-distance backpacking journeys on the Appalachian Trail. It offers a variety of opportunities for viewing spectacular scenery, for exploring, for adventure, for exercise, for nature study, and for renewal.” An estimated four million people hike on the AT every year.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail or AT (Appalachian Trail) is a marked trail that extends from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It is 2,179 miles long. The AT is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, including 2,000 distinct rare, threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species.

The AT is maintained by thirty trail clubs and multiple partnerships from Georgia to Maine. It is managed by the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, and other public land-managing agencies including the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy ( The AT in Georgia, along with many miles of blue blazed side trails (including Union County’s Duncan Ridge), are managed and maintained by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (

Hikers who attempt to complete the entire AT in a single season are called thru-hikers. Hikers who make a series of separate trips are known as section-hikers. Hikers typically hike south to north, begin in March or April, and finish in late summer or early to late fall. People have been known to drop everything and set off to walk the AT. It is a life changing experience!

There are many books, articles, memoirs, and websites about the AT. It has a long history which began in 1921 when forester Benton MacKaye came up with the idea. MacKaye’s plan quickly caught the public’s attention, construction began, and the first section was opened just two years later in New York State – almost 90 years ago.

Union County resident Winton Porter spends a lot of time on the Neel’s Gap portion of the Appalachian Trail. He owns Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi, sells supplies to hikers, helps them to survive their adventure, and feeds them if necessary. One hiker says, “I wouldn’t have made it without the help I got at Mountain Crossings. Thank God for Winton!”

The Appalachian Trail passes right through the Walasi-Yi building in Union County. This is the only covered portion of the trail's 2100 plus miles. Every year Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi serves over 2000 hikers on their way to Maine. Mr. Porter and other staff members evaluate over 500 packs each year and ship back over 9000 lbs of gear from the store. Over the past twenty-seven years Mountain Crossings has also helped outdoor manufacturers design products for the long distance hiker. "We sit in the aorta of the hiking world and see much more clearly what works and what doesn't." says owner Winton Porter.

Over the past seven decades Mountain Crossings has become an important part of Appalachian Trail history. Porter invites anyone who has imagined the dream of hiking the AT to come and enjoy the view, people, music, gifts, gear, and gab at Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi. Porter has recently published a new book titled, “Just Passin' Thru: A Vintage Store, the Appalachian Trail, and a Cast of Unforgettable Characters”. It is a great read! Just Passin’ Thru is available at and local bookstores.

The AT has more than 250 shelters and campsites available for hikers. Mostly lean-tos and huts, the shelters are usually spaced a day's hike apart (and near a water source). Shelters are generally maintained by local volunteers. Sometimes there will be a lone hiker and other times many hikers will converge in a shelter. Hikers may share a meal, catch up on news, and give advice to first timers.

Part of hiker subculture includes making colorful entries in logbooks and using pseudonyms called trail names. One logbook lists Woodchuck, Ramblin’ Rose, Sourdough Bob, Wingfoot, Virginia Slim, Poetry Man, and Hobbit.

Many people offer their homes, places of business, and inns as accommodations for AT hikers. Potluck suppers, an ice cream lady (she hands out free cones), local church cook-outs with free food, and other tales of generosity abound. Some hikers have experienced what is known as trail magic (a thoughtful gesture or assistance from a stranger). Trail magic is sometimes even done anonymously. It is always appreciated.

The AT crosses many roads on its way thorough two dozen states, thus providing good opportunities for hikers to go into towns for food (hikers are usually looking for pizza) and other supplies. Many trail towns are accustomed to hikers passing through and offer hiker-oriented accommodations. Some towns offer reduced rate taxi services or shuttle services to hikers. Businesses in towns along the trail find hikers to be a great asset. If service and products are good, they spread the word!

Counting the 35 miles in Union County, seventy-five miles of the AT run through Georgia. Union County’s Blood Mountain at 4,461 feet is the highest point on the Georgia stretch of the trail and is considered the Crown Jewel of the AT in Georgia.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy gives the name 2000 Miler to anyone who completes the entire trail. As of 2010, more than 11,000 people have reported completing the entire trail. About three-quarters of these are thru-hikers.

The AT runs through fourteen states. Six inch white blazes, painted on trees and rocks, mark the way. The trail takes hikers into the Blue Ridge Mountains, across valleys, ridges, and plateaus of the Appalachia region. It even extends into Alpine areas of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

The Appalachian Trail is part of a crown of trails. The AT (east coast), the Continental Divide Trail (along the Rockies), and the Pacific Crest Trail (west coast) form the Triple Crown of long distance hiking in the United States. All three of these trails run south to north.

Becoming an Appalachian Trail Community comes with many responsibilities and Union County has a great bunch of people willing to serve. Officers of the new AT Community Advisory Committee include Chairperson Janet Hartman, Manager, Blairsville Downtown Development Authority, Vice-Chairperson Cindy Williams, President, Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerce, Secretary/Treasurer Peggy Deyton, Administrative Assistant, Office of the Commissioner, Union County, and GATC Liaison/Volunteer Dayton T. Miller, Life Member, GATC.

Additional Members of the committee include Andy Baker, District Ranger, Blue Ridge District, CONF, USFS, George Case, Owner, Blood Mountain Cabins, Mickey Cummings, Union County Extension Service Coordinator, David Foot, Manager, Vogel State Park, Georgia DNR, Mitch Griggs, Executive Director, Union County Development Authority, Jeff and Dorothy Hansen, Owners, Book Nook, Donnie Kelley, Principal, Union County Middle School, Winton Porter, Owner, Mountain Crossings, Jan Stansell, Life Member, GATC – Liaison to Suches Community.

Ex officio members include Reid Dyer, Vice President, Hayes/James Engineers, Joe Garner, Superintendent, Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center, Lewis McAfee, Superintendent, Union County Schools, Callie Moore, Executive Director, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition, and Ed Reed, President, Union County Historical Society.

Other volunteer activities on Georgia’s stretch of the Appalachian Trail include festival booth volunteers, trail maintenance, construction, carpentry, clean-up, clearing brush, cutting weeds, yard work, painting blazes, and more. For detailed information, visit Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi or contact the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. Be sure to bring your hiking boots!