In '93, Georgia's breathtaking Tallulah Gorge will officially become a state park

November 15, 1992|By Gerry Yandel | Gerry Yandel,Cox News Service

TALLULAH FALLS, Ga. -- As the eye scans the north Georgia terrain and pauses at Tallulah Gorge, the massive chasm where RTC the tiny but powerful Tallulah River has patiently carved 600 to 1,000 feet into the Earth's crust, it looks as if God blinked while creating the topography.

The people who settled the area, which Gov. Zell Miller declared last week will become a state park in mid-1993, were so awed by the gorge that they named parts of it the Devil's Pulpit, the Devil's Foot Bath and the Devil's Jail.

But the gorge, with its precarious, jagged trails descending to the bottom, isn't all evil. Standing at Tallulah Point off Old U.S. 441, a visitor can find this huge hole in the Earth to be truly inspirational.

Already a mandatory leg-stretching stop for many travelers taking the scenic route on U.S. 441 and required viewing for mountain-area visitors, the gorge has potential to be a great state-maintained recreation area.

Using the gorge as a setting for a state park with a new visitors center, hiking trails, swimming and fishing also should bring a boon to tiny Tallulah Falls, which at the turn of the century sported several sprawling mountain resorts.

These days Tallulah Falls consists of a private coed high school, a pair of restaurants, a small motel, a park owned and operated by Georgia Power and, of course, the ever-yawning gorge.

Portions of the gorge's raging falls were used in "Deliverance," and before the train depot became a craft co-op, it was featured in Disney's "The Great Locomotive Chase" and "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain."

But the most well-known example of the gorge's star status came in 1970, when the great daredevil Karl Wallenda walked across the gorge on a high wire. It took him 17 minutes to walk 821 feet, but he stopped along the way to do two handstands.

The gorge lies about 10 miles north of Hollywood, Ga., and about 20 miles from Clarkesville. The best free view of the gorge remains Tallulah Point. A wooden trading post and observatory, which used to have those long-distance binoculars that work for a quarter, is abandoned.

Despite trash carelessly tossed by visitors, the beauty of the gorge is stunning. There are numerous, treacherous foot trails running down the cliffside, making parents immediately squeamish. The local refrain is that people who venture into the gorge do so at their peril.

Just before the point is a small scenic overlook and picnic area -- with restrooms -- operated by Georgia Power. The tables provide a bluff-top view of Tugalo Lake and its dam.

The best look at the gorge bears a price -- $2 for adults -- but is well worth it. Just before the two-lane bridge over the river on the right is the entrance to Tallulah Gorge Park.

In the park, a quarter-mile nature trail winds through gardens with labeled flora providing seven strategic observation points. All the major rock formations -- including Tempesta and Hurricane falls, Lovers Leap and Lion Rock -- are visible. The path is also stroller-accessible for most of the way.

There is a trail to the bottom of the gorge from this park and another one from the orange wire anchor. Most locals caution against traveling into the gorge, pointing out that it is trespassing, but acknowledging that some people try it.

Mike Dale, a spokesman for the Tallulah Falls School -- which operates the park and co-owns the gorge with Georgia Power -- said the park trail is the one "the rescue squad has to go down the most."

Until the state park is completed, Georgia Power's Terrora Park and Campground, open from April to November, costs $8 per night for a tent site and $10 for campers.

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