ATLANTA — Kids are out of school and ready for their summer vacation. But right now, most families are more worried about keeping a steady paycheck and putting food on the table than booking costly airline tickets or hotel rooms.
Pricey vacations are going by the wayside while family budgets feel the pinch of a downward economy. The staycation trend created last year by high gas prices and a worsening economy is still a popular alternative this summer. In fact, 35 percent of workers said they will not take a vacation this year when asked by CareerBuilder.com’s annual vacation survey.
The good news is that our beautiful region of North Georgia offers plenty of unique and cost-effective alternatives to expensive vacations. I recently highlighted Georgia’s state parks as an exceptional family getaway, but there is much more to discover right here in Senate District 51.
The city of Dawsonville is home to the largest kangaroo collection outside of Australia. A trip to the Kangaroo Conservation Center will certainly cost less than a flight “down under” to visit these exotic animals.
Spread over 87 acres in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, nine different kangaroo species roam alongside a collection of animals from portions of Asia and the islands between Asia and Australia.
In addition to marsupials, visit an array of lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, wolves and reptiles at the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Dahlonega. With over 100 animals and 100 different species, the preserve also offers summer camps for the kids. These unique local businesses are a wonderful addition to Georgia’s tourism industry.
Racing culture is alive and well in this region, and has proven to be a profitable sport for our state. To learn about North Georgia’s history as the birthplace of NASCAR, visit the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville. Supported solely by donations, admission to the museum is free.
Learn something new this summer at North Georgia College and State University, which offers public education courses, lectures and art shows.
Throughout the month of June, the college is offering hour-long planetarium shows with a visit to the North Georgia Astronomical Observatory. Our local university is a significant economic contributor and provides excellent service to the community.
North Georgia’s landscape of mountainous ranges and rushing rivers lend this area to exceptional outdoor activities. From whitewater rafting, hiking, camping, mountain biking and a look at the tallest waterfall this side of the Mississippi River, there are endless possibilities for any outdoor enthusiast.
Hike through more than 16,000 acres of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
There you can see the Chattahoochee’s headwaters, where the river begins its 500-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.
Move on to premier trout fishing at the Smithgall Woods State Park, where the lodge makes an excellent and inexpensive retreat. Walk along the nearby Dukes Creek Falls Trail to take in the thunderous cascades.
Dahlonega also offers a trip back to the Old West at the Gold City Corral, located at the Forrest Hills Mountain Resort, with horseback riding and dinner wagon rides.
The best way to get a good look at North Georgia’s natural beauty is by train.
Take a trip down the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in a vintage railcar that winds along the Toccoa River all the way to the Georgia-Tennessee state line. Built over 100 years ago for passenger service, this railway was significant to the development of this area between the 1800’s and the early 1900’s.
Many of North Georgia’s towns have preserved their historical roots. Visit the quaint, historic downtown areas of Dahlonega, Ellijay and Blue Ridge to step back in time to the days of the gold rush and early settlers.
The alpine village of Helen is another historic landmark as one of Georgia’s most popular tourist destinations and known for its great German food.
If you’re still feeling nostalgic for a bygone era, end the day with a drive-in movie at the Swan Drive-In Theater in Blue Ridge. One of only three drive-in theaters in Georgia, this theater shows newly-released films and is cheaper than a ticket to the multiplex.
Spending less money does not mean spending less time having fun. Just last week, my family and I spent the day visiting Dukes Creek and hiking through the Chattahoochee National Forest along the river. We then treated ourselves to bratwurst, German potato salad and ice cream in Helen. This family excursion cost us only $70, including gas. We spent quality time together and saved a little too, while still contributing to the local economy.
This summer, I encourage you and your family to discover everything North Georgia has to offer.
Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at (404) 656-9921 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.