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Hiking a hidden corner of the Hooch

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Exploration can be a challenge, and one reason is that you eventually run out of places to explore.

Or do you just become forgetful?

I like to think I know the Chattahoochee pretty well. But once in a while I run across something I’ve missed (or forgotten). That’s how it was when I rediscovered what’s now Simpsonwood Park in Gwinnett County.

Rediscovered? Well, yes. I’d visited the area years ago, long before Gwinnett County acquired it. But like so many things, the details had slipped from active memory and hid, untouched, until I awakened them when I stumbled across the park again a few weeks ago.

The land on which this 223-acre park sits was for years a conference center owned by the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. The property was given to the church in 1973 under the condition that it not be divided or developed. But faced with mounting costs, the church began to consider its options – including the possibility of selling the site for some sort of development.

To make a long story short, Gwinnett County eventually purchased the Simpsonwood tract for $14 million. Today it’s Simpsonwood Park.

What awaits you when you visit? Besides the amenities such as a pavilion, grills and restrooms, the park is also the site of a quaint chapel that’s a popular wedding venue.

But the big draw is hiking. You’ll find about three miles of relatively lightly-used hiking trails traversing upland terrain or following a portion of the river. Simpsonwood has about 2,100 feet of river frontage, and a nicely shaded trail (with several strategically placed trailside benches) follows the riverbank for most of that way.

From the main entry, follow the pavement almost all the way to the chapel and park. It’s foot travel only beyond that point, so walk on down the paved road until it intersects a gravel road. At that point you’re near the river, which is hidden in front of you behind trees.

A number of short connector trails link the graveled road with the riverside portion of the loop trail. It’s a nice hike, though you’ll need to return to the gravel a couple of times to make your way around creek gulleys which would otherwise block your progress.

As on most trails, this one offers surprises. One of the neatest is what one little girl hiking with her family excitedly described as the “hobbit tunnel” – a point where the riverside trail passes through a tunnel-like arch of vines and branches. Now I don’t know what a hobbit tunnel looks like, exactly, but that surely has to be pretty close.

At either end of the riverside trail, the hiking continues as the trail swings away from the river and climbs up from the river’s floodplain.

Be aware that the park is surrounded by private land. Observe those “private property” signs, and be sure that you stay within the park boundaries. Orange blazes mark the trail itself, though some have said that this loop is a little hard to follow.

But figuring out new trails is part of the fun of finding a new place, don’t you think?

I do!


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