This quarter of a mile loop trail starts on either side of our maintenance building. Match the numbers on the map with the numbers in the guide to find out more about the trail. On the trail is the Stone Cabin. Next to the Stone Cabin is a shaded picnic area, a place to relax and observe the different habitats in this forest, and an overlook of Beaver Pond. This trail is a great journey for those that want to stay close to the plaza area. Some seasonal plants and migratory wildlife mentioned in this self-guided brochure may be scarce from December through February.
You are now standing on the historic Hightower (Etowah) Trail, a major American Indian trading path, running from Augusta to the Etowah Region of Northwest Georgia and points beyond. One of the best marked Indian trails in Georgia, it was recognized as an early boundary between Cherokee and Creek lands. The name of the trail is believed to come from the Cherokee “Ita-Wa,” but the first settlers to visit this section renamed the path Hightower Trail. The trail became a main road along which many settlers built their homes until the 1840s. In 1823, a part of the trail became the boundary between Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties. Although most of the visible remains of the Hightower Trail have been erased by urban settlement, you can still travel down this historic path. Just by walking along the Stone Cabin trail, you are hiking in the footprints of settlers and native peoples. The trail also survives as part of the modern Hightower Trail Road which runs through Dunwoody and crosses the Chattahoochee River. Hightower Trail follows Willeo Road until the trail joins with Shallowford Road. It continues through Cobb, Cherokee and Bartow Counties as it runs northwest to the Indian Mounds near Cartersville.
Keep your eyes open for a variety of species that call this transition area home. Plants and animals you may find here include:
This part of the forest is lush with vegetation. Some of the most common plants you will notice are vines. The thick curved trunks surrounding some dead trees (called “snags”) are old grape vines. Other ground–covering vines that crawl or climb are native poison ivy, Virginia creeper and the nonnative Japanese honeysuckle. Look through the woods to see if you can locate examples of each of these vines. You may need to look on the ground or up on the trees!
As you hike, look for a grouping of deeply grooved trees whose trunks often begin to warp about 2/3 of the way up. These sourwood trees bend their trunks in any direction needed to find enough sun. Speaking of tree trunks, keep your eyes peeled for trees that have holes that appear to have been drilled in straight lines. These holes were made by a small woodpecker called the yellow-bellied sapsucker. Sapsuckers, 7 – 9” tall, make rows and rows of holes to drain and eat the tree sap. They are considered a “keystone” species in some areas since other woodpeckers use these same holes to find their own food.
As you near the Stone Cabin and Beaver Pond, try to walk as quietly as possible. You may get a chance to see a gathering of pond turtles hanging out on a log in the pond just behind the cabin. These turtles may be native mud, painted or snapping turtles, river cooters, yellow-bellied sliders, or a non-native species called the red-eared slider. The redeared slider is native to the area around the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. If they are not native to this area, how do you think they came to be inhabitants of our Georgia ponds?