Highlight: Popcorn Scenic Overlook

October 31, 2012


One of the best places in Rabun County GA to check out fall color is at Popcorn Overlook on U.S. Highway 76 headed west from Clayton toward Hiawassee.  The mountains get higher and higher in the view from Georgia into North Carolina, and the result is layer after layer of gorgeous color.  There is a convenient parking area next to the overlook, and picnic benches available to take a break from your travels.

The two information plaques in the photos above read as follows:


Your Mountains… More Than Scenery

 Images of the Past

 The forests you see beyond this roadside area are a miracle of regrowth. Much of this land was cut over during the logging boom that began in these mountains during the 1880s and continued through the 1920s. Beginning gradually and swelling to meet a growing national demand for wood, large scale logging operations caused extensive damage and forever changed the character of the southern Appalachians.

Early mountaineers, accustomed to a hard life and little cash, willingly sold timber, land and mineral rights for small sums. Huge yellow poplars, white and red oaks and black cherry were sold for 40 to 75 cents a tree.

Whole mountainsides were cut over and burned, hillsides eroded. Streams that dried to trickles in the fall became raging rivers each spring. Most of this exploitation was financed from outside the region. This destruction generated widespread interest in saving and protecting the mountains.

The Weeks Act became law in 1911, and the first land approved for purchase was a tract of 31,000 acres from the Gennett Land and Lumber Company of Atlanta. By 1930, thousands of acres of mountain land had been acquired to protect watershed areas and provide a timber reserve. The Forest Service had begun its long-term and ongoing effort to provide environmental protection and economic stabilization for the Southern Appalachians. Several large tracts acquired from lulmber companies were “virgin” forest, remote and inaccessible therefore uncut. However, most lands were cut over or culled, and the best trees removed.

Rangers and resource managers of today deal with different problems as they manage your National Forests. Balancing the demands for recreation, timber, wildlife, watershed protection, and wilderness is not an easy task. The forest that you see today is both functional and beautiful, providing wood products and wildlife habitat, challenging the hiker, soothing the hurried urban soul, and silently guarding the quality of our water with its forested slopes.

 Beginning Conservation Efforts

 The first rangers and foresters on the Chattahoochee National Forest worked hard to control destructive wildfires. Roscoe C. Nicholson, “Ranger Nick,” the first ranger in Clayton, Georgia, employed a bloodhound in his fire prevention program.

One of the firebugs whom Nick had his eye on up in that area, Rabun County, had been setting fires each spring to get the country in shape for his stock. The year after the bloodhound’s reputation had gotten around, a friend of his asked if he’s going to burn the woods that year and he said, “No, sir, not me,” he says, “I don’t want any bloodhound tearing the seat out of my britches.” The result was that the fire record for that particular drainage improved considerably.

 Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Region.




 Native Americans sometimes used greenstone to make celts or ax heads, tools, and ornaments. It could be easily shaped, kept a sharp edge, and polished well.


 Here U.S. 76 cuts across a rare kind of rock known to natives as greenstone. Geologists classify it, somewhat less romantically, as Lake Burton Dunite.

Dunite is hard, grayish or greenish in color, and has several valuable minerals associated with it, such as chromium, nickel, and corundum. Corundum is the source of rubies and sapphires.

Across the highway you can find prospecting pits and trenches dug about 1890. Veins of talc and asbestos cut through the dense dunite rock. Along the old road, bits of asbestos can be found, which closely resemble decayed wood. Dunite breaks into fine-grained and sugary particles, while talc has a greasy feel.

Now weathered to a rounded outcrop about 2600 by 822 feet in size, this rock first appeared millions of years ago on the ocean floor as a molten upwelling from the earth’s interior. Composed of the mineral olivine, the Lake Burton Dunite is quite different from the schists and gneisses that make up our mountains. These differences include alkaline rather than acideic soil conditions and low levels of certain soil nutrients. The plant community you see here is unique.


 Pitch pine was probably the first pine species exploited by the American colonists for its resin. Called “candlewood” by settlers, flaming pine knots were used for outdoor torches.

Post oak, as its name implies, was extensively used in fences. The shiny, cross-shaped leaves are characteristic of the species.

The characteristic thin, shredding strips of bark give ninebark its name.

Oil of wintergreen is highly toxic, but has been used as a leaf tea to cure fevers, headache, and colds.

Native Americans used a poultice made from the roots of rattlesnake master to ease snakebite, coughs, and bladder trouble.

The hilltop vista across the road is often called a “pine barrens.” Due to the alkaline soil rather than acidic and lack of potassium, the plant community resembles a wooded prarie dominated by pitch pine, grasses, and post oaks. Acid-loving plants such as laurel, rhododendron, and blueberry, common over most of the north Georgia mountains, are absent here.

Besides pitch pine, plants characteristic of the outcrop are wintergreen, rattlesnake master, and ninebark. The plants found here suggest a much drier environment than the surrounding forest. However, plants often surprise us, and royal fern, normally associated with moist areas, is also found here.

 Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Region.