Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest

The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest located in northern Georgia comprises two United States National Forests, the Oconee National Forest and Chattahoochee National Forest. The combined total area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is 866,468 acres, of which the Chattahoochee National Forest makes up 750,145 acres and the Oconee National forest makes up 116,232 acres. The county with the largest section of the forest is Rabun County, Georgia, which as 148,684 acres within its confines.

The forest gets its name from the Chattahoochee River whose headwaters begin in the North Georgia Mountains. The river and the area were given the name by the English settlers who took the name from the Indians that were living there. The Cherokee and the Creek Indians inhabited North Georgia. In one dialect of the Muskogean languages, Chatta means stone; ho chee, meaning marked or flowered. These marked or flowered stones were in the Chattahoochee River at a settlement near Columbus, Georgia.

In 1911, the U.S. Forest Service purchased 31,000 acres of land in Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin and Union counties from the Gennett family for 7 dollars per acre. This land was the beginning of what would become the Chattahoochee National Forest. The initial land purchase became a part of the Cherokee National Forest on June 14th of 1920.

Ranger Roscoe Nicholson, who was the first forest ranger in Georgia and had advised the Forest Service in its initial land purchase, continued the growth of the Chattahoochee by negotiating the buying of the majority of the Forest Service land in what is now the Chatooga River Ranger District. The Coleman River Scenic Area near Clayton, Georgia honors “Ranger Nick”, as he was called.

Ranger Arthur Woody also promoted conservation and was a crucial figure in the early development of the Chattahoochee. The deer and trout populations virtually disappeared as a result of unwise land and resource usage, but the ranger brought them back to the area. The trout were shipped to Gainesville, hauled across the narrow and dirt mountain roads and eventually released in the streams. Woody also purchased fawns with his own money, and fed them until they could be released on what became the Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area. Many landmarks in the Chattahoochee carry Ranger Woody’s name in tribute to his work. Sosebee Cove, a 175 acre tract of prize hardwood along GA 180 is set aside as a memorial to Woody, who negotiated the purchase for the Forest Service.

On July 9th of 1936, the Forest Service was reorganized to follow state boundaries and President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the Chattahoochee a separate National Forest. In 1936 the Chattahoochee was organized into two ranger districts, the Blue Ridge and the Tallulah. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed 96,000 acres of federal lands in central Georgia as the Oconee National Forest. The Oconee then joined the Chattahoochee to create the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.

The Chattooga River was designated a Wild and Scenic River during the 1970s. It remains one of the few free-flowing streams in the Southeast and is known for its white water rafting and beautiful scenery.

Image Caption: Chattahoochee National Forest. Credit: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest website/Wikipedia