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Panola Mountain offers plenty of outdoor opportunities

Whether you're pondering a backcountry hiking excursion or just looking for some outdoor alternatives for the family to enjoy together, Panola Mountain State Park offers a plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks. Consider taking advantage of the following activities at the park in early November before the big rush of the holidays begins.

Introduction to Backpacking

Saturday, Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

This class on backpacking is for beginners or for those who would like to brush up their skills. Instructor and park manager Tim Banks will discuss how to pack efficiently for one or several nights on the trail. He'll provide advice on the essentials, such as tent, stove, clothes, food and water.

Banks said that one of the biggest mistakes people make in backpacking is bringing canned food which adds unnecessary weight to a pack. Hikers don't have to spend big bucks on dehydrated food, and instead can purchase all they need from a grocery store, he said. As long as the food can be bagged and it requires only hot water to make, it passes the test for backpacking. Banks will also discuss how much water should be consumed while hiking and how to treat drinking water obtained from streams along the trail.

When it comes to attire, Banks said clothes packed for the hike should be kept to a minimum - one set to wear on the trail and another for the evening.

And on the topic of safety, Banks said that hikers need to have a plan and share it with others before they leave.

"Even experienced people do that. As a DNR ranger I let them know where I'm going to be, what time I've left and what time to expect me back," said Banks.

Cost for the class is $5 per person plus $3 per vehicle for parking. Call 770-389-7801 to register.

Tree Climbing Rendezvous: Open Climb

Saturday, Nov. 3 from 1 to 4 p.m.

Instructor and resource manger at the park Jodi Rice will be on hand to get folks harnessed up so they can travel to the treetops and experience a bird's eye view of the world. Designed for people ages 8 to 80, the tree climbing, dubbed Canopy-Adventure-Research-Educational Technical Tree Climbing, offers those interested an opportunity to hang in the treetops for up to 45 minutes.

The activity requires no climbing experience as participants ascend the tree using the double rope technique. Climbers don a harness which is attached to a rope that is draped over a tree branch. Another rope is attached to the first rope to create a foot hold which climbers can use as leverage to hoist themselves up to a tree branch.

Trees chosen for use as climbing locations undergo inspection and a "cleaning" before use. To clean a tree, park workers remove hazards such as dead wood and hornets nests, and they test the limbs for health and strength.

Climbers should wear long pants or shorts, hiking shoes or tennis shoes (no spiked shoes), and bring a snack and water. Climbs will take place in trees near Lake Alexander.

"You can go up there and it's not a race. It's a meaningful experience, some say it's spiritual and it's something for all different levels and different abilities and that's what so amazing," said Rice, in a July 27, 2007 Citizen article about the program.

Cost for the climb is $10 per person plus $3 per vehicle for parking. Call 770-389-7801 for more information.

Panola Walking Club

Mondays, Nov. 5, 12, 19 and 26, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

When DeKalb County resident Dorthea Johnson moved to the east metro Atlanta area a few months ago, she searched for an exercise group that would fit her needs.

"I came from California and I was looking for a walking club to lose weight, get fit and be out in nature," said Johnson.

She discovered the walking trail that connects Panola and Arabia Mountain parks, passing by Alexander Lake, and she was hooked. As she traversed the path, she met others with the same goal of staying fit in mind. She also acted as a steward for the park, picking up branches and trash along the trail and alerting park officials when the trail needed maintenance.

"I became the emerging volunteer," said Johnson.

Before long, park officials recruited her to form a walking group that now covers between 7 and 11 miles a day from Panola to Arabia. While Johnson walks every day, the group officially meets on Mondays and varies in size between five and ten people, with more joining the group along the trail. Members of the group also range in age with retired folks walking along side parents of young children. Johnson said that not only is walking with others a great way to meet new people, it also provides a measure of security an individual walker wouldn't have by himself.

"It's good to walk together. There's an accountability factor and a safety factor," said Johnson.

Suggested items for walkers include water, cell phone, sunscreen, hat and towel.

Cost is $3 for parking. For more information, call Dorthea Johnson at 770-981-2902.

Basic Fly Fishing Clinic

Saturday, Nov. 10 from 9:45 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Getting a little bored with the same old fishing trips down to the local pond? Spice it up a little by learning how to fly fish. Instructors C.H. Brown and Michael Reilly provide instructions on the many facets of fly fishing including equipment, knot tying, casting and safety.

Fly fishing differs from regular fishing in that instead of using bait that sinks to the bottom, fisherman use lures that float to attract fish's attention. How the line is cast into the water is crucial for success, said Phil Delestrez, assistant park manager who recently took the clinic. If there's too much movement when the lure hits the water, it spooks the fish, he said.

"There's certainly a skill involved with it because you have to cast the line out straight and you have to do it with some finesse so that you can get the fly out and mimic a real bug in the water," said Delestrez. "You can feel it when you do it right. It's kind of neat. Once you master it, you have quite a bit of control over where you can put the lure."

Delestrez said that most people associate fly fishing with catching trout but the technique also works on blue gill, bass, crappie and even catfish. Still, if trout from a stream in North Georgia is what you're hankering for, then fly fishing is the only way to catch them.

"Those trout won't accept anything unless it looks similar to what they're eating, which is usually bugs," said Delestrez.

Participants should wear long pants or shorts and hiking shoes and bring snacks, water and sunscreen. A Georgia fishing license is required.

Cost is $7 per person plus a $3 per vehicle parking fee. Call 770-389-7801 to register.

Owl Prowl

Saturday, Nov. 10 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Come listen to and maybe even get a glimpse of the largest living owl in Georgia, the great horned owl, amidst the trees at Panola Mountain. Assistant park manager Phil Delestrez leads this expedition to search for these nocturnal creatures. Late fall is an ideal time to locate the owls because they are staking out sections of the forest for mating and nesting.

"They communicate with each other by hooting and warning other owls that this is their territory and because they are dividing up the territory this time of year, you have a better chance of seeing them," said Delestrez.

Great horned owls, which have wing spans measuring up to 5 feet, are carnivorous and eat a variety of prey including squirrels and other rodents, birds (including other owls), hawks, snakes, raccoons, baby coyotes and even domesticated and feral cats.

"That's why they're the tiger of the forest," said Delestrez.

The owl-seeking group will follow Delestrez through a rock outcrop trail at Panola as he plays an audio recording of owls hooting to hopefully prompt the creatures to respond to the intrusion.

"I've been successful two out of three times," said Delestrez referring to former Owl Prowls. "Some years they'll follow you around, hooting at your back."

Cost for the Owl Prowl is $5 per person plus a $3 per vehicle parking fee. Call 770-389-7801 to register.

Panola Mountain State Park is located at 2600 Hwy. 155 in Stockbridge. For more information, call 770-389-7801 or visit www.gastateparks.org.

Contact Karen Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.