Anniversaries are always special, and this year marks a big one for a place that’s near and dear to any Atlanta resident who enjoy the outdoors. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a National Park Service park that extends along the Chattahoochee River for close to 50 miles from Buford Dam downriver to Peachtree Creek in Atlanta. 

The actual anniversary was Aug. 15. On that day 40 years ago, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation that ultimately led to the CRNRA we enjoy today. Whether you hike, ride mountain bikes, fish or trout, paddle a kayak, or just enjoy a day along the river with your family, CRNRA has plenty to offer in the way of quality outdoor recreation.

The park was born after local residents banded together back in the ‘70s to save the river through Atlanta from the ravages of development. Now, 40 years later, the various “units” of CRNRA draw in the neighborhood of three million visitors each year. That’s a lot of folks, but CRNRA offers a lot of space. Rarely does it feel crowded.

One of the people who helped in the push to establish this park is Jerry Hightower. Now a naturalist at CRNRA, Jerry has introduced untold numbers of people to the magic of the river environment. 

Anyone who has encountered Jerry while visiting the park knows that he’s one of those people blessed with infectious enthusiasm for the out-of-doors. If you meet him, you’ll remember him.

If you haven’t met him, you might get your chance on Saturday, Oct. 20, when Jerry will host a “Hunter’s Moon Campfire and Night Hike” at the Chattahoochee River Environmental Education Center (8615 Barnwell Road in Johns Creek). It’s one of several special programs being held at CRNRA during this anniversary year, and it promises to be a special one too with legends, stories, and after-dark hiking by the light of the moon – and marshmallows roasted over an open fire! 

If you’ve never hiked along the Chattahoochee after dark, then you don’t know how neat the experience can be. I’ve done it unintentionally a time or two when the fishing was so good that I lost track of time and forgot how long it would take me to make the hike back to the car. On more than one occasion, I confess, I’ve found myself in the dark, inching along a CRNRA trail, relying on moonlight alone to help me find my way. 

A better way to experience after-dark hiking at CRNRA is with someone like Jerry Hightower as your guide – and this event gives you that opportunity. This event will include after-dark hiking on a moonlit trail with the “hunter’s moon” to guide you. The full moon is actually four days later, on Oct. 24, but the 20th is close enough (and a Saturday too).

Besides walking in the woods under that almost-full fall moon, you’ll learn about the Native Americans who once called this river corridor home. According to CRNRA, you’ll also learn the Cherokee’s river song and a Cherokee legend too. In addition, all participants will receive a complimentary Chattahoochee River Journal with wildlife lists and paw print illustrations.

What’s the weather going to be like on Oct. 20? Who knows? Of course you’ll want to dress for it, whatever it is, and wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking on a forest trail. A light jacket might be nice if the evening is cool. And don’t forget your flashlight.

There is no charge for this program, but reservations are required and space is limited. I’m betting it will fill up fast. To check on available space and make a reservation, call the park at 678-538-1200.

It’s going to be fun. And did I mention that there will be roasted marshmallows?

Jerry Hightower once described the Chattahooche River corridor as a “medicine chest” for Atlanta residents, and there is definitely something soothing and calming about exploring there.

Yes, CRNRA is a special place – and on Oct. 20 those roasted marshmallows will make it even better!

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