By Sarah Panner
Athens is typically known for its diverse restaurants, fabulous shopping and vibrant nightlife. What many do not realize, though, is how many outdoor activities Athens has to offer as well. Downtown Athens is a huge part of the experience for every UGA student, but the parks and recreational centers beyond downtown will be sure to give locals a newfound appreciation for the Classic City.
293 Gran Ellen Drive, Athens, GA 30606
Right off of Milledge Avenue is Memorial Park – one of the most popular parks in Athens. It can be distinguished from the other parks for its privately owned and operated Bear Hollow Zoo, which is home to many animals, such as black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, numerous birds and more. It is free to enter the park and zoo and would serve as a perfect first-date opportunity, a place to bring a family member who is visiting from out of town or just something different to do with friends on a sunny day. It is open everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Of course, there is much more to this luring park besides Bear Hollow Zoo. The Birchmore Trail is about two miles in length and was dedicated to Fred Birchmore, the Athens local who built the historic stone wall behind his home. Additionally, Memorial Park has basketball courts, dog parks and swimming pools.
Southeast Athens Clarke Park
4440 Lexington Road, Athens, GA 30605
In March of 2004, over 1,600 volunteers came together to build one of the most impressive playgrounds the state of Georgia has seen. The World of Wonder was actually designed by the local children of Athens in November 2002. The plaque outside of the playground says that the volunteers put 15,000 hours of work into this playground, and the results confirm the dedication and hard work for Athens families (and UGA students) to be able to spend time with each other. The playground has swings, monkey bars, slides, rock climbing walls and more.
As of this year, the playground will be replaced to be bigger, sturdier and even more impressive. According to Online Athens, the new playground will be given a $550,000 budget and will be located directly next to where the original WOW was built off Whit Davis Road.
Keith Kirkland is the maintenance supervisor and has been with Athens-Clarke County since April of 2014. He says, “The playground will be completely different. The user groups are working on the conceptual designs, so we aren’t sure what the playground will have until they’re done, but the existing playground will remain open until the new playground is finished.”
Beyond Whit Davis Road is the main entrance of Southeast Athens Clarke Park. Some of the highlights beyond the WOW playground are its massive soccer fields, the skate park and baseball fields. The dog park is also in this area of the park while they are refurbishing Wiggly Field, the original dog park.
Sandy Creek Park
400 Bob Holman Road, Athens, GA 30607
Need a day at the beach before Georgia/Florida? Sandy Creek Park is the place to go. About 10 minutes from Downtown Athens is one of the most breath-taking views there is to see in Athens, particularly around sunset. Sandy Creek Park encourages the Athens community to bring chairs, coolers, umbrellas and any other beach necessities to its beach at Lake Chapman. Beach-goers can either soak up the sun on the brown sugar sand or can take a dip in the water in the roped off swimming area. Luckily for us, this area of the park is open all year.
For the more active water-lovers, Sandy Creek Park allows its guests to bring a boat or a canoe to sail on Lake Chapman at no extra charge. Keep in mind, though, gasoline motors are not allowed. Sandy Creek Park also allows fishing. Some of the most common fish they have caught have been different types of catfish, largemouth bass and others.
Another highlight of this park are its rental pavilions. After a long day of fun in the sun, the BBQ building is perfect for the last few outdoor meals before the cold weather kicks in. It can accommodate up to 75 people. For smaller get-togethers, there are picnic pavilions that can hold about 30 people. This park definitely provides a social experience for only $2 for admission.
Sandy Creek Nature Center
205 Old Commerce Road, Athens, GA 30607
To make a day at Sandy Creek Park even more fulfilling, the Sandy Creek Park Nature Center is exactly three miles down the road on the way back into Athens. While each of the parks have trails to hike, Sandy Creek Nature Center’s trails are accommodating to almost anyone. The ADA Trail, for example, allows visitors to walk and if necessary, use wheelchairs or walkers. It also contains an interpretive area for those who are blind. Cook’s trail is the longest distance of 8.2 miles for a round trip, but the up-close experience of wetlands, a beaver swamp and a marsh makes the trip worth it.
Starting this winter, volunteers will work together on the center’s managed forest project. The Athens-Clarke County website states that the goal is to “eradicate invasive species, open the forest canopy, improve plant and animal diversity, promote flowering plants and pollinators and highlight decades of forest succession in a series of visitor-friendly outdoor exhibits.” The park already has a wide variety of plants and animals, so when the project is finished, there will be even more incentive to visit.
Michelle Cash has been a naturalist at the nature center for three years. She says, “We are always looking for volunteers, and we will always try to find a place for people who want to help.” She also emphasized that students can apply to be camp counselors or intern for the center, and both of these positions are paid.
Locations for outdoor activities is just another unique characteristic of Athens that makes it so special. These parks further validate that there is something for everyone to find enjoyment in. Some days, seeing the inside of Athens walls is the most appealing, but others, getting outdoors and appreciating the beautiful scenery of an incredible city is even better.