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Camping Activities in Athens County, Georgia
You don’t have to go to Greece to experience history, culture and the arts
By Lisa Halvorsen
Athens County brings a world of camping activities. Here's some of our favorites.
On the last Friday of every month except December, you can celebrate Final Friday on the square. Many businesses stay open late, with artists opening their studios to the public. The event features special activities such as new art exhibit openings, art chats, and sidewalk entertainment, including street musicians.
The annual Nelsonville Art and Music Festival celebrates the arts with live music, art vendors and regional foods. Or plan your trip around the Parade of the Hills, a celebration held every summer for almost 60 years, with art walks, an old–time fiddlers' competition, three parades and numerous other events.
The Dairy Barn Cultural Arts Center, also in Nelsonville, promotes the arts, crafts and culture of southeastern Ohio. Its 6500 square feet of gallery space in a historic 1914 barn displays the work of regional, as well as national and international, artists. Among its top annual events is a juried international quilt show.
Ohio University in Athens, the county's largest city, is home to the Kennedy Museum of Art. The museum has impressive collections of African art, including textiles, jewelry and ceremonial objects; 20th–century American art; and Southwest Native American arts and crafts. The latter contains more than 2000 pieces of jewelry and silverwork along with more than 700 weavings, including exquisite Navajo sand–painting textiles.
Check the schedule for the Performing Arts Series, which brings nationally acclaimed theatrical productions, musicians and other performers to campus. The Ohio University School of Music also invites the public to attend its concerts and recitals, many of them free.
When visiting Athens County, don't miss the Quilt Barns, historic barns with quilt–block designs painted on exterior walls by area artists and community groups. Many are located on scenic back roads, and all are worth a photograph or two.
Stop by the Athens County CVB for a copy of the brochure, Quilt Barns: A Patchwork Path through Athens County, which includes a map showing the location of more than 20 quilt barns and detailed directions for three suggested driving routes, each loop 45 to 55 miles long. In addition to describing each block and its local significance, the brochure provides historical information on each barn and denotes which are “bus–friendly,” thus also suitable for larger RVs to access or park near for photos.
For a good overview of the area's history, visit the Athens County Historical Society and Museum in Athens. The museum's collections include thousands of items donated by local families and others with a connection to the county, including vintage clothing, tools, furnishings and photographs. The historical society houses some of the best genealogical records in the state and provides assistance with genealogical research.
If interested in historic buildings, ask the museum staff about the architectural gems in the 10–block Uptown Athens area. Or visit the campus of Ohio University, chartered in 1804 as the first university in the Northwest Territory. Pick up a visitor's guide and map at the Baker Student Center at the end of Court Street for a self–guided walking tour, including the historic College Green and the Civil War Soldiers Monument (erected in 1893).
Another interesting section of campus is The Ridges, now used for office space, but originally the Athens Lunatic Asylum, established in 1874. In addition to viewing the High Victorian Italianate architecture, you can visit the asylum's old cemeteries.
Just a few miles from Athens, you'll find the Eclipse Company Town, built around 1900 by the Hocking Valley Coal Company. Many of the historic company houses and other buildings have been renovated for shops and restaurants.
To learn more about the region's coal–mining history, head north to the Millfield Mine Memorial, the site of the Sunday Creek Coal Company Mine No.6 explosion in 1930, which killed 82 people, making it Ohio's worst mining disaster. Or visit some of Southeast Ohio's other coal–mining boomtowns, which include communities in parts of four counties, referred to collectively as the Little Cities of Black Diamonds.
As you head toward Nelsonville, you'll pass through The Plains, the site of several large, conical Native American burial mounds, built centuries before the first pioneer settlements. Every autumn, the community hosts The Plains Indian Mound Festival, featuring Native American dancers, music and more.
Nelsonville has a number of historic buildings including the old Dew House Hotel, built in 1830. History was made here, when Theodore Roosevelt spoke from its front porch during the 1912 presidential campaign. The town's newest museum, the Athens County Military Museum, opened in spring 2007 to commemorate military history.
Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad trains depart from the Nelsonville Depot on weekends from mid–April through early November, with special themed trains for Easter and the Christmas season. You'll be regaled with tales of the Hocking River Valley on the narrated ride, which includes a stop at Robbins Crossing. This re–created 1850s–era Ohio Village with general store, blacksmith shop, cabins and other buildings, is located on the Hocking College campus.
Hocking College also hosts a number of interesting events, including the National Timber and Outdoor Show every autumn. Cheer for your favorites at the lumberjack and chainsaw–carving competitions, watch forestry equipment demonstrations or take an educational nature walk to learn about local tree species.
For something different, visit Ohio's smallest chapel, near Coolville. This nondenominational, 10x14–foot chapel has four small pews, each big enough to seat two. Another interesting spot is the Coonskin Library Museum in Amesville, which preserves the history of one of Ohio's first town libraries. The library got its name because the early settlers sold pelts to raise money to buy books in 1803. Many of the 51 original books, bought for the princely sum of $73.50, now belong to the Ohio Historical Society.
Athens County's treasured places include its many parks, forests and nature preserves. For birding and wildlife watching, visit the 491–acre Marie J. Desonier State Nature Preserve near Coolville or the two properties owned by Hocking College, Lake Snowden Education and Recreation Park and the Hocking Woods Nature Center, with its Raptor Rehabilitation Center.
For a guided tour, book a day–trip with Touch the Earth Adventures, based in Athens, to explore Dow Lake in Strouds Run State Park or Burr Oak Lake, by kayak. The latter, also heralded for its excellent fishing – as is Fox Lake Wildlife Area – is located in Burr Oak State Park, which has 28 miles of hiking trails, including a section of Ohio's Buckeye Trail.
For a real outdoor adventure, hone your cowboy skills at the Smoke Rise Ranch Resort near Glouster on a cattle roundup or trail ride. You can stay in the on–site campground or bunk in one of the cabins or the ranch house.
Or bike along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway on a former Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad bed, which meanders for 17 miles from Athens to Nelsonville, past Ohio University, the Eclipse Company Town, Wayne National Forest and other rural areas.
You can find all the information you need to explore this county, including maps for self–guided tours, at the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Wherever you go, whatever you do in Athens County, you're sure to discover many amazing historic, cultural and artistic treasures.
For More Information
Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau
667 E. State St.
Athens, OH 45701
(800) 878–9767, (740) 592–1819
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