There’s a reason they call it the Great Outdoors.
Especially now. That not-so-little nip in the air means everything from parks to running paths and mountain trails are much less crowded. You sweat less, and burn up more calories. Even the bare trees look starkly beautiful against a blustery winter sky.
Then again, it can be really cold out there. Lonely, too, without any other people or food carts around. Plus, look at all the scary bare trees, aack!
Clearly for some people, it’s going to take something really special to coax them outside this time of year. Enter our Far Outdoors Four — a quartet of one-of-a-kind events and activities that make being out in the cold right now, well, cool.
‘There’s an app for that’ Waterfalls Walk
Discover Georgia’s Waterfalls app. Free. Available from the iTunes Store and Google Play.
Cold, hard facts: Provides descriptions, photos and precise directions and other location-related information about more than 50 waterfalls spread across nine counties in North Georgia. Using your phone or tablet, you can reliably plot your way to any of the waterfalls or even from one waterfall to another. There’s also a separate “Points of Interest” section covering other notable things to do and see in each county, with helpful links to websites and phone numbers.
What makes it cool: For those of us who are “directionally challenged,” this app is a gift. Using it to plan my trip from Atlanta to Amicalola Falls in Dawson County on a weekday morning, I found it provided mileage, estimated trip times, even traffic severity for several different routes. Even with the precise step-by-step directions, I got lost once (darn those mountain roads with their colorfully confusing names!) — but when I popped open the app, it instantly figured out where I was and gave me an updated set of directions.
Of course the app only gets you as far as the “official” location of the waterfall (in my case, the entrance to Amicalola Falls State Park). Still, it was nice to put the phone down and just commune with nature as I hiked approximately 2 miles (including 600 steps!) to and from the Visitor Center.
Backyard Bird Count
Cold, hard facts: You’ll learn how to identify birds from ace birdwatcher Pat Pepper, then record the number and kinds of birds you see during a period of at least 15 minutes. While there, you can also make a natural bird feeder, go on a birdhouse scavenger hunt and explore Smith-Gilbert’s lush 16 acres of botanical gardens, bonsai exhibit, tea house and waterfall area and more.
What makes it cool: The Smith-Gilbert event falls on the second day of this year’s worldwide Great Backyard Bird Count. Started in 1998 by top-flight experts at the National Audubon Society and Cornell University’s renowned Lab of Ornithology, the annual four-day project strives to create a “snapshot” of the distribution and abundance of birds. They do it by rallying “citizen-scientists” everywhere to observe and tally the numbers and kinds of birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. (Read what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s birds-and-all-things-outdoors expert, Charles Seabrook, wrote about it last year here).
In 2015, the project’s organizers report, over 147,000 lists contributed by participants in more than 100 countries counted 5,090 different species of birds. At Smith-Gilbert, you can be part of its bird count, then take what you learn there and do your own counts elsewhere. To report your sightings and to learn more about the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, go to birdcount.org.
10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $45, $30 minors (must be accompanied by an adult). Montaluce Winery & Restaurant, 946 Via Montaluce, Dahlonega. 706-867-4060, www.montaluce.com. Reservations required. To schedule a hike, call 706-867-4060 or go to Montaluce’s online store (http://store.montaluce.com/) and click on “Private Tours.”
Cold, hard facts: A 1.8-mile guided hike takes you through portions of the lush, 400-acre Montaluce property in Lumpkin County, which first found fame and prosperity as a Gold Rush destination. The moderately paced hike travels through woods, vineyards and along a portion of the Etowah River, so dress accordingly.
What makes it cool: Along with learning about the history of the area, you’ll also learn plenty about winemaking while you walk. Particular attention is paid to the current season (for instance, the importance of pruning and frost protection at this time of year), and to such perennially interesting topics as how the fruit is ripened and harvested. The hike concludes on the Montaluce terrace, where participants can enjoy a choice of wine flight (included in the ticket price), as well as a selection of artisan cheeses or charcuterie (at an additional cost).
Woven Whimsy: ‘Stickworks’
Starts March 23. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville location. $8, $5 children 3-12 (cost includes admission to garden). 1911 Sweetbay Drive, Gainesville. 404-888-4760, atlantabg.org/visit/gainesville. Note: Gainesville location is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays through the end of March and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays beginning in April.
Cold, hard facts: North Carolina artist Patrick Dougherty will create a monumental structure from scratch, using all natural materials, including wood, branches and twigs. Visitors to the ABG’s recently opened Gainesville location will be able to observe him at work as his “unplanned” piece gradually emerges at the outdoor site located at the end of the Event Lawn. The scheduled completion date is April 8, and the exhibit itself opens April 9.
What makes it cool: Dougherty is acclaimed for his “large-scale, site-specific installations” (see more of his work at www.stickwork.net/featured), which are inspired in large part by their settings. The artist visited the Gainesville site last fall and probably will arrive with a “general idea of the size and shape” of what he’ll create, said Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville director Mildred Fockele. “But it’s a very organic process and I think he modifies his idea once he starts working on the site.” And speaking of “organic” … the sculpture will remain on site until it disintegrates and the natural materials from which it was made return to the earth.