By KEVIN ENNERS
MARIETTA, Ga. — Aahhh, the great outdoors. Nature has such a positive effect nature on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Nature offers us a realm for exercise, solitude and spiritual awakening.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks,” 19th Century environmentalist John Muir once said.
Recognizing this, nature clubs have sprung up throughout Georgia offering year-round activities on land and on water. Many of these activities take place in state parks and historic sites around the state which offer safe sanctuaries for hiking, biking, running, kayaking and canoeing.
Clubs, by definition, are associations of two or more people sharing a common interest or goal. Nature is defined as the physical world and everything in it including animals, plants and landscapes. The unifying mission of Georgia’s nature clubs is getting people outside and enjoying nature.
The Atlanta Outdoor Club was founded in 2000 and is one of the larger outdoor clubs in the Atlanta area with 2,797 active members. Also known as the AOC, it offers a variety of activities for adults of all ages and skill levels.
Deb Riecke, a member and volunteer trip leader, joined the club in 2013.
After years of being sidetracked with work and family, “I joined the AOC as a way to get back in shape and meet new people,” said Riecke. “I am most involved in hiking and kayaking but we also do camping, backpacking, canoeing, biking, a little bit of spelunking and rock climbing.”
Most of the hikes that Riecke leads are at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area parks. Her favorite units are Vickery Creek, Island Ford, Gold Branch and Cochran Shoals.
The club’s trip leaders frequently use Georgia’s national parks for their activities because the parks are well maintained and safe, parking is accessible and, if there is a fee, it is minimal.
It costs nothing to join the Atlanta Outdoors Club, but members spend money depending on the event in which they are participating.
Spontaneous Meetup Group
Meetup groups offer a plethora of spontaneous adventure opportunities in Georgia. Any member can post a meetup event online. This is different from clubs like the Atlanta Outdoors Club because a trained leader is not mandatory to organize and lead the event.
There are 101 meetup groups tagged as Outdoor & Adventure groups within 25 miles of Atlanta. The number of registered members varies greatly from 30 to 6,194 in each group. The group names are unique and provide initial information about the group. For example:
- Backpacking Adventures: “Take-A-Hike”, focuses on back-country hiking, hiking and backpacking, backpacking and camping and ultralight backpacking. It was founded in 2016 and has 359 hikers.
- Georgia Adventurers Group, founded in 2008, not only offers its 6,194 members activities for fitness but knowledge as well. They take to the land, water and sky with guide books and cameras in hand.
- Creative Recreation for Adventurous People (C.R.A.P.), clearly has a humorous take on its group which was founded in 2013 and consists of 2,589 members who call themselves “crappers”. Unlike other adventure groups, this one also includes dining out and arts and entertainment in its event listings.
- Trails with Tails, its motto is “Have dog, will hike!” Founded in 2014, there are 497 hikers with paws. Despite its name, you don’t need a dog to participate in moderate to fast-paced trail hikes ranging from four to 15 miles.
Membership fees are set by each group as are the costs involved in each meetup activity.
The Sierra Club was founded by environmentalist John Muir in 1892. It is the largest, most influential grassroots environmental organization in the nation.
The mission of the Sierra Club is:
- To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth;
- To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources;
- To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment;
- And to use all lawful means to carry out those objectives.
Georgia’s chapter began in 1983 to help protect Georgia communities. With over 45,000 members, the chapter is comprised of six groups divided by region: Centennial (Cobb, Cherokee and North Fulton Counties), Coastal (Chatham County-Savannah), Gwinnett (Gwinnett County), LaGrange (Troup County-LaGrange), Metro Atlanta (Fulton/DeKalb County-Atlanta) and Savannah River (SRG) (Richmond County and surrounding counties-Augusta).
Regional calendars are broken down into categories for outings, club-sponsored, social and activist events. Membership is not required to participate in chapterwide events.
“The Sierra Club is an inclusive organization,” said Georgia’s Chapter Coordinator Jessica Morehead. “We want to make our events available to all.”
The club also emphasizes the need to be eco-friendly. Among the current environmental impact issues being addressed are transit expansion, clean energy advocacy and wild and public land protection. The Centennial group is currently focused on connecting the Silver Comet trail with the Atlanta Beltline, as well as supporting expansion of public transit for MARTA and light rail.
“Public education is key to effective advocacy,” said Ted Terry, director of the Georgia Sierra Club. “We do this by conducting public meetings, film screenings, speaker events and panel discussions.”
Lobbying government officials from town mayors and city council members to state representatives is another key component in promoting environmental topics. Sierra Club members have opportunities to participate in citizen lobbying once they have completed the activist training sessions.
Respect and Protect
Nature-lovers and outdoor adventurers agree that regardless of what activities you enjoy outside, it is imperative to tread lightly and leave natural habitats intact. Respecting the environment is the best way to protect it for generations to come.
Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a Colorado-based national organization, sums up seven basic guidelines that have been adopted by outdoor associations across the nation.
The Seven Principles:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Nature is all around us offering opportunities to stay fit, connect with others and positively impact our communities. Get out, participate and enjoy.