Nottely Lake

Image Source: Tennessee Valley Authority, via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Nottely, also known as the Nottely Reservoir, is in the northwest corner of Georgia in the Chattahoochee National Forest and lies in the southeastern region of the Tennessee River watershed. The reservoir is located entirely in Union County and was formed in 1942 when the Tennessee Valley Authority, a corporate agency of the federal government that provides electricity, constructed the Nottely dam on the Nottely River. The dam was built for a variety of reasons, including power generation, flood damage, and recreation.  

The nearest town is Blairesville, but the area has historically been inhabited for many centuries as there are various Native American settlements and farms that existed prior to the removal of the Cherokee in 1838. The US Forest service protects about 70% of Lake Notelly’s shoreline, meaning it has some of the best beach access, scenery, and fishing in all of Georgia. 


“TVA Nottely Dam and Reservoir.” Tennessee River Valley 

Online, Lake Notelly Map. Nottely Lake Map 

“Outdoor Recreation.” Union County Government 

Dick’s Creek Falls

Image Source: United States Department of Agriculture, via Wikimedia Commons

Located within the Chattahoochee National Forest, Dick’s Creek Falls is one of the 17 public waterfalls in Rabun County, Georgia. It is a popular sightseeing location and is accessible by both the Chattooga River Trail as well as the Bartram Trail. The waterfall occurs just below where Waters Creek and Dick’s Creek converge near Clayton, Georgia. Dick’s creek plunges over a granite mound where it falls about 60 ft before landing in the Chattooga River. The Chattooga River serves as the border between Georgia and South Carolina before eventually emptying into the Tugaloo River and finally Lake Hartwell near Savannah.  

Rabun County is Georgia’s most abundant waterfall location. The region has many waterfalls because of a fall line that runs northeast across Georgia from Columbus to Augusta. This is a geologic boundary that marks the split between the hard igneous and metamorphic rocks of the Piedmont in the north and the softer, sedimentary rocks of the Upper Coastal Plains to the south.This fall line means that there is a sloping region that quickly loses elevation from north to south resulting in a series of waterfalls. The plateau like drainage areas in Rabun County makes it particularly susceptible to the formation of these waterfalls.  


“Dicks Creek Falls.” Dahlonega Visitors Center 

“Dick’s Creek Falls-CNF.” Official Georgia Tourism & Travel Website | Explore Georgia.org 

“Dicks Creek Falls, Rabun County Waterfalls, Georgia.” Explore Rabun, 26 Mar. 2019, 

Waterfalls – New Georgia Encyclopedia 

Fall Line – New Georgia Encyclopedia 

St. Mary’s Estuary

Image Source: Don Ramey Logan, CC-By-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The St. Mary’s Estuary is the result of the fresh water of the St Mary’s River spilling out into the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean and creating an environment of brackish water that is rich with life and biodiversityIn fact, more than 70% of Georgia’s commercially viable seafood resides within its estuaries. Some of these species include redfish, flounder, and spotted sea trout. The river also spills into the Cumberland Sound, and an area of brackish water in between the river and ocean that is protected by the barrier island named Cumberland Island. The St. Mary’s watershed includes over 3,000 miles of tributaries and streams.  

Karl Musser, CC 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The St. Mary’s River has its headwaters in the Okefenokee Swamp and runs through southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida for around 130 miles until it reaches the ocean. The river is the feature used as the border between Georgia and Florida. The river is known as a blackwater river because of its dark color caused by the decay of peat and vegetation within the water. This decay causes the waters to become acidic due to the tannins it produces and as a result limits the productivity of the river as a fishery. However, the river does hold over 52 species of fish in limited populations. The wildlife supported by the river includes black bears, panthers, bobcats, deer, otters, beavers, alligators, and gopher tortoises among many others. Today, the river is mainly used for recreation and site seeing, but around 13,000 years ago the area was inhabited by the Timucuan Native American people.  


“St. Mary’s River.” Georgia River Network, 10 Oct. 2019, 

“St. Marys River Basin.” SJRWMD, 2 Feb. 2018, 

“Geography – St. Marys Riverkeeper.” St. Marys Riverkeeper –, 26 July 2021, 

Pettyjohn’s Cave

Image Source: Eliot Scarpetti – Own work, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pettyjohn’s Cave was first established by a land survey conducted in 1969 by Richard Schreiber which surveyed over 5,000m of land in the area. In the same year following the survey, the Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management area was established which protects over 20,000 acres (about the area of Manhattan) of land including various wild caves such as Pettyjohn Cave, Ellison’s Cave, and Anderson Spring Cave. The cave was named after John Pettyjohn who was the original landowner of the cave.  

The cave is made up of karst and falls on the east side of Pigeon Mountain. The karst is the most common bedrock on the Appalachian Plateau and in northwest Georgia and primarily consists of limestone from the Paleozoic age. These caves which frequent the Appalachian plateau and ridge are formed by acidic groundwater slowly dissolving the limestone over time. The county that Pettyjohn’s cave lies in, Walker County, holds 149 caves due to this geologic process. 

Image Source: Barbara – Own Work, CC 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The cave is what is known as a “sacrifice cave” because it is open to recreational cave explorers and trekkers and therefore protects other caves in the area by attracting traffic to this one. Therefore, it is an extremely heavily trafficked cave. The entrance of the cave is quite spacey measuring at 10m high and 4-7 meters high, but continues on into some quite narrow, claustrophobic areas. The cave also holds some speleothems (stalactites and stalagmites). The inside of the cave was measured to be 31,490 ft in total length and 235 ft in depth as per a survey by the Georgia Speleological Survey. The wildlife in the area includes deer, turkey, quail, squirrel, and rabbits and the cave Itself holds tricolor bats and brown bats. 


“Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA.” Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA | Department Of Natural Resources Division 

“Caves of the United States of America: Pettyjohn Cave.” Show Caves of the World 

Georgia Speleological Survey Home Page 

Caves – New Georgia Encyclopedia 

Okefenokee Swamp

Image Source: Lee Coursey, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

The Okefenokee Swamp is a shallow swamp that covers an area of roughly 700 square miles in Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida, making it the largest swamp in North America. The habitats within the Okefenokee Swamp are diverse and include sandy ridges, grassy savannahs, cypress swamps, meandering waterways, small islands, and extensive prairies among many others. There are approximately seventy floating mats of peat, or tree islands, which provide a unique habitat for many shrubs and trees. 

Image Source: Canopic, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

These habitats allow for the existence of extremely high levels of biodiversity within the swamp. This includes dense flora like the giant tupelo, the bald cypress, and Spanish moss as well as abundant fauna including about 175 species of birds, over 60 reptile species, and at least 40 mammal species. The largest mammals in the swamp are black bears, bobcats, and white-tailed deer and the largest reptiles are the American alligator and the Indigo snake. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, extensive logging operations in the region began removing much of this pristine habitat causing Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the federally protected Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in 1937 which protects about 80% of the swamp. 

During the Cretaceous period, more than sixty-five million years ago, the Okefenokee swamp was under the ocean. The marine sediments left from this time means that there is a layer of sandy soil without many nutrients. More recently, wave activity created by offshore sand bars near the swamp presumably created the 25×40 mile depression that is now the swamp. This depression filled in with fresh water and floating islands giving it its name, Okefenokee, the Seminole word for “trembling earth”. 


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “swamp”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 Sep. 2021,

Gibbons, Whit. “Natural History of the Okefenokee Swamp.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 06 September 2002, 

J Strom Thurmond Reservoir



Image Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

The J Strom Thurmond Resevoir is a large man made lake near Augusta, Georgia. The reservoir includes over 71,000 acres of water and over 1,200 miles of shoreline making it the largest lake in Georgia. The lake also extends over the border into South Carolina. The shoreline of the lake holds five state parks, two in Georgia, and three in South Carolina. The reservoir was created in 1952 upon the completion of the Lake Thurmond Dam which dammed the Savannah River. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, “The Thurmond Project was designed for flood control, hydropower, fish and wildlife, water quality, water supply, downstream navigation and recreation.” The recreation includes over 20 boat ramps, golf courses, miles of hiking and biking trails, and designated fishing piers.  

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District. “Corps Tests Thurmond Dam Spillway Gates.”

The reservoir holds many species of fish including largemouth bass, bream, crappie, catfish, striped bass, and hybrid bass meaning it is one of Georgia’s most popular lake for fishing. The lake has two official names as it was initially called Clarks Hill Lake, but was renamed in 1987 by the US Congress to honor South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond. However, Georgia still officially recognizes the reservoir by its original name. 


“Lake Strom Thurmond Also Know as Clarks Hill Lake.” Lake Strom Thurmond 

“Home.” Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers