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TIFTON COUPLE FIRST TO FINISH HIKING CHALLENGE

TIFTON, GA., July 23, 2007 ~~ Jay and Becky Oliver of Tifton are the first two hikers to complete the new Canyon Climbers Club challenge from Georgia’s state park system. Both earned t-shirts for scaling to the top of Amicalola Falls, exploring the depths of Providence Canyon, braving the swinging bridge in Tallulah Gorge, and facing the daunting staircase in Cloudland Canyon.

Becky, who is a chemistry and physics teacher at Tift County High School, wanted to spend this past spring break hiking in Georgia but did not have specific plans in mind. “One of our first stops was Tallulah Gorge State Park, so we decided to join [Canyon Climbers Club],” said Oliver. “The scenery at all the parks was spectacular. Each had something different to offer. We loved the suspension bridge over Tallulah Gorge, the thundering waterfall at Amicalola, the inspiring views at Cloudland Canyon, and the rampant color at Providence Canyon.”

Becky’s husband Jay is a photographer who specializes in weddings and portraits. When they married in 1980, they honeymooned in the barrel-shaped cottages at Unicoi State Park in Helen. When the couple’s daughter was just nine weeks old, they introduced her to camping at Black Rock Mountain State Park near Clayton. More than 20 years later, they are still hiking throughout Georgia.

Created by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ State Parks Division, the Canyon Climbers Club is a way to encourage Georgians to “Get Out. Get Dirty. Get Fit.” The slogan recognizes that parks not only protect natural environments, but also provide beautiful settings for exercise and recreation. Many would agree that climbing a 1,000-foot canyon is more adventurous and challenging than spending 30 minutes on a treadmill. The club also encourages families to exercise together in a way that is exciting for children.

To join the Canyon Climbers Club, hikers should stop by one of the four participating state park offices and purchase a $10 membership card. A healthy dose of enthusiasm and sturdy hiking boots are recommended. Once members have visited all four parks and had their cards punched, they can redeem them for a t-shirt and bragging rights. No time limit applies, so hikers can take as long as they wish to visit all four parks.

The 729-foot Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascade east of the Mississippi River. A paved, one-mile Base of Falls Trail begins at the bottom and climbs up the mountain while following the water’s edge. Overlooks and staircases with a total of 604 steps provide excellent views, and thankfully a few benches offer places to rest. Club members must hike this red-blazed trail to get their card punched. Amicalola Falls State Park is near Dawsonville in the middle of north Georgia. Overnight accommodations include a mountain-top lodge, rental cottages and campground.

On the edge of Lookout Mountain in northwest Georgia sits Cloudland Canyon State Park. The rugged gorge has more than six miles of hiking trails, including the one-mile Waterfalls Trail with a 600-step staircase. During very dry summers, the park’s two waterfalls can shrink to a trickle, yet the rugged scenery of this park remains some of the best in the state. Club members must hike down the Waterfalls Trail, and back up of course, to get their card punched.

Tallulah Gorge State Park in northeast Georgia is one of the most spectacular canyons in the South. The 1,000-foot-deep gorge was crossed twice by high wire acrobats – Professor Leon in 1886 and Karl Wallenda in 1970. Today, visitors can hike from one side to the other via a suspension bridge swaying 80 feet from the bottom. The staircases leading to the bridge include 310 steps from the north rim and 340 from the south rim – quite a workout for visitors who complete the whole journey. However, Canyon Climbers Club members need walk only up and down from the north rim’s overlook 2.

One of Georgia’s most photographed landscapes is Providence Canyon State Park in the southwest. The beautiful multi-hued soil of these canyons was originally exposed after farmers used poor erosion control during the 1800s. Today, the area is a protected state park with 10 miles of trails, a visitor center and backpacking sites. A surprising feature of the park is the perpetually wet canyon floor. The exposed water table creates a pretty pattern in the sand, called a “braided stream.” Club members need to hike the loop trail from the visitor center, with a side trip into scenic canyon 5, to complete their 1.5-mile quest.

To learn more about the Canyon Climbers Club, call (770) 389-7401 or visit www.GeorgiaStateParks.org. The website offers maps, photos and telephone numbers of each state park. For overnight reservations, call the Georgia State Park Reservation Center at 1-800-864-7275.

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