PHIL HARDWICK — Nature Tourism, The Hike Inn way
by Phil Hardwick
Published: January 16,2014
Although now may be the dead of winter in Mississippi, it might be a good time to consider booking a springtime hiking trip to the Hike Inn, an environmentally oriented destination in the scenic Chattahoochee National Forest in north Georgia. A visit to the Hike Inn is an invigorating, educating and relaxing experience as my wife, daughter and son-in-law discovered in April 2012.
We began our weekend at Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, starting point for the hike. We arrived at the park around 11:30 a.m. and paid the $5.00 per car entry fee. We immediately checked in at the park Visitors Center as required for those hiking to the Hike Inn. Hikers must check in by p.m. The Visitor Center is a combination snake museum, t-shirt shop and convenience store. The hike registration form includes not only the usual contact information, but vehicle tag number and whom to notify in case of emergency. (Hmm.) After completing registration we drove up to the lodge and had lunch at the restaurant. The view from the restaurant is spectacular.
After lunch we headed to the parking lot at the trailhead for the 4.8-mile hike. The lime green-blazed trail is ranked as “easy to moderate,” and takes two to four hours complete. The trail briefly joins with the blue-blazed Approach Trail to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Backpacker magazine lists the trail to the Hike Inn as one of 36 “Best American Hikes.” The elevation gain is about 500 feet to the Inn.
Upon arrival at Hike Inn we were informed that dinner would be served at 6 p.m. The Inn consists of four buildings, each of which is connected to another at different levels. They are reception/bunk house, bathhouse, dining and game room. The ceilings in the reception area and the game room are high (maybe 20 feet), with windows around the top for ventilation. All four buildings are built on stilts so as to not have to do any leveling of the mountain.
We played horseshoes, took in the mountain views and had a short tour while waiting for dinnertime to arrive. We learned about Len Foote, Guy Reynolds, solar panels, LEED certification, compost from toilets and Stargazer. By the way, Len Foote, a leading conservationist, biologist and nature photographer who lived and worked in Georgia until his death in May 1989, is the model for the comic strip Mark Trail.
The dinner bell rang at 6 p.m., and we feasted on pork loin, cream corn, salad and cherry cake. It was a “Take all you want, but eat all you take” affair because leftovers are discouraged. They are not only discouraged, they are collected and measured. Our group of approximately 40 hikers had only a few ounces left over so we got a smiley face. After dinner, we played Scrabble and pondered the night sky.
The place is a cell-free zone, and that is stressed verbally, with signage and on the website. Alcohol is not allowed. Rooms are small and minimal. There are two bunks, hooks, a shelf, a small corner closet, fan and no plug-ins. Sleep was difficult because the bunk house sways slightly when someone walks by. Floors are wood, no rugs.
Coffee was ready at 6 a.m. Sunrise that day was at 7:04 a.m. Breakfast was served at 8 a.m. Afterwards, we bought a couple of t-shirts, said farewell to our fantastic hosts and hiked back to the beginning of the trail.
The Hike Inn experience is a good example of nature tourism, also known as ecotourism
. This type of tourism is characterized by visits to natural places, minimization of the environment and study or minimal interaction with the ecosystem. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of local people.” It is one niche in the growing subject area of cultural and recreational tourism.
Another example is the Alabama Birding Trail, which represents the wildlife tourism segment. Wildlife tourism is especially profitable and growing. A recent report by Datu Research, an economic research firm, wildlife tourism in the Gulf of Mexico states is very profitable and generates over $19 billion annually, with over 2.6 million jobs.
So if this kind of outdoor activity appeals to you then the Hike Inn will surely fit the bill. Rates are discounted in January and February, but reservations are more difficult to come by as spring and summer approach.
» Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Pease contact Hardwick at email@example.com.
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