Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Towns County's Hidden Festival Fun

By Kimberly Button

What’s a town with spectacular scenery, mild weather and an intriguing history to do when no one comes to visit? Throw a festival, of course! Two communities in remote Georgia anxious to welcome tourists did just that in an ingenious plan that has changed their area, and economy, forever.

Towns County is comprised of the communities of Hiawassee and Young Harris in the northeast corner of Georgia. Located in a scenic agricultural valley where the Cherokee used to roam, the area reflects the Native American influence in names such as the town of Hiawassee and Lake Chatuge. The 7,500-acre lake, enveloped by lush green mountains which appear close enough to touch, is a reservoir created by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1941, which provides recreational opportunities for the surrounding area. The protected lands of the Chattahoochee National Forest account for well over half of the county’s land.

Isolation in Paradise

Towns County has a history of being isolated in the Georgia mountains. Only the hardiest of Native Americans settled the area, struggling to survive with little usable farm land. Even residents in the early 1900s endured hardships continued by the isolation and lack of industry in the rural area.

In 1950, though, the economy changed forever. Herbert Tabor, the president of the Towns County Lions Club, felt that Towns County was a vacationer’s paradise if only there was a way to encourage people to visit. For those interested in more Georgia camping and adventure, this was an ideal spot.

After much planning and with the Lions Club’s support, he organized a mountain fair to attract tourists. The agricultural fair would also serve to increase pride among the area’s residents, allowing them to display their traditional handiwork and old-time skills, which had long been a part of their daily lives.

Georgia Mountain Fair

The first Georgia Mountain Fair was held in August 1950 and was such a success that it became an annual event. Not only did it bring visitors and tourism dollars to the area, but many people, lured by the tranquillity of the picturesque mountains, decided to stay permanently.

The regional fair gains momentum each year as the number of visitors to the area continues to increase—now now numbering about 200,000 a year.

To honor the heritage and the meager beginnings of the area, no commercial exhibits are allowed, just the products and talents of mountain folk. More than 60 craftsmen set up displays each day, showing off applehead and corn shuck dolls and wildflower pictures among the assortment of handicrafts. “Old ways” demonstrations explain chores such as corn milling, cider squeezing, soap and hominy making and blacksmithing, as well as illustrating how moonshine was made.

Pioneer Village

Another popular feature of the fair is the pioneer village, a replica of the old mountain towns of the South. A mercantile store offers goods that only your grandmother might recognize. The one-room schoolhouse and a log home are complete with reproductions of 17th-century furnishings while a smokehouse, barn and corn crib await discovery a short walk down the old country road.

You don’t have to live on a farm and wake up before dawn to find out what it’s like to milk cows and gather eggs. An educational, interactive farm animal exhibit lets participants engage in traditional farm chores while learning about animal production. Throw on a pair of overalls and try your hand at bottle feeding calves, caring for goats, shucking corn or pumping water while you come to a new appreciation for the early mountain settlers.

The Georgia Mountain Fair is just one of three yearly festivals that now attract visitors for northeast Georgia camping. The Rhododendron Festival, each May, celebrates the arrival of the kaleidoscope of colors in the Fred Hamilton Rhododendron Garden, the largest in Georgia, with more than 400 varieties of rhododendrons. Already one of the premiere rhododendron gardens in the southeast where more than 3,000 plants take bloom each year, it is growing by 100 new plants annually.

Mountain Music

Among the fantastic foliage you can find outstanding music, from the Georgia Mountain Fair Bluegrass Festival, which debuted to concerts by well known musicians such as Saywer Brown and Blake Shelton.

Though similar to the Georgia Mountain Fair, the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival also plays host to Georgia’s official State Fiddler’s Convention. Musicians compete in categories such as harmonica, banjo, mandolin, junior and senior fiddler and bluegrass.

The highlight of the festival competition is the crowning of the “Georgia Mountain Fiddle King” after young and old compete against each other for the state’s high honor. The 10 days of fun—scheduled for October—will bring back festival favorites such as the pioneer village, country music concerts, mountain demonstrations, and craft shows.

In addition to the festivals, the area also has an annual Super Star Concert series which attracts nationally known country music stars. The concerts, which run from May through October, showcase nationally known country music stars such as Kenny Rogers, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard and Martina McBride. With the myriad of country music played in the area during the festivals and concerts scheduled throughout the year, Hiawassee has earned the right to be called “The Country Music Capital of Georgia.”

Going Bald

If you can’t be in the area during festival time, there are still plenty of activities among Towns County’s antique and craft shops, which also highlight its mountain heritage. Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet, is a short, scenic drive outside of Young Harris and Hiawassee that is peacefully educational and entertaining.

Atop the mountain, an observation deck provides breathtaking views of four states. The interpretive center is rich in educational materials with which visitors can learn about the area’s wildlife, Georgia’s gold rush, and the human and natural history of the southern Appalachian mountain region. A mountaintop theater presents a video highlighting the ever changing seasons on top of Brasstown Bald, which serves as the southernmost habitat for many northern plants and animal species. The landscape can be enjoyed a little more down to earth on the four hiking trails, which range from half a mile to six miles in length, all originating from the parking area. The Brasstown Bald is open daily from Memorial Day through October and on weekends in early spring and late fall.

The Appalachia region’s unique cultural heritage is portrayed through dance, song and quilting bee gossip in Georgia’s official state drama, “The Reach of Song.” Based on the works of local poet Byron Herbert Reece, the storytelling focuses on mountain folk as they cope with technology intruding into their isolated lives in the wake of World War II.

Local Campgrounds Abound

The Georgia Mountain Fair Campground is the ideal spot for festival-goers with its location within walking distance of the fairgrounds and Music Hall. RV and camping sites line the lake’s shoreline, providing ample opportunity for boating, water skiing and fishing. Tennis courts and the nearby rhododendron garden are also popular pastimes when not attending the festivals.

The Enota Mountain Retreat offers a wealth of nature at your doorstep. Four waterfalls plunge into a variety of streams and trout ponds that induce immediate tranquillity. RV sites along the stream’s banks are a stark contrast to the adjoining teepee camping site complete with a traditional Native American sweat lodge.

Though the living conditions were harsh, the Native Americans knew that they had found a perfectly peaceful place to live. Now, thanks to one man’s dream to share his part of Georgia with the rest of the world, you can enjoy this peaceful place, too.

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