Don’t miss special experiences midstate has to offer

Telegraph correspondentSeptember 30, 2012 

Whether you’re here for a week or here to stay, here are the top 10 things you must do while you’re in the midstate.

1. Visit the Ocmulgee National Monument

A peek into life thousands of years ago awaits those who visit the Ocmulgee National Monument.

The area is a preservation of the Early Mississippian mound-builder culture, though archaeological evidence indicates the site was continuously inhabited for nearly 17,000 years.

The centerpiece of the Ocmulgee monument today is the reconstructed Earth Lodge, which is believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes by the Mississippian people, who are the ancestors of the Creek Indians. The mound builders lived around 900 A.D.

Visitors can follow a narrow tunnel to the inside of the Lodge and see the original 1,000-year old floor, which is ringed by seats and includes a bird effigy in the center.

There are several other mounds on site, including the Great Temple Mound, which offers spectacular views of Macon and the surrounding area. There also are funeral mounds, smaller ceremonial mounds, remnants of defensive trenches and the remnant of an old trading post.

The 702-acre park also boasts more than five miles of trails and includes a boardwalk over some wetlands.

Ocmulgee’s Visitor Center includes some of the site’s history and more than 2,000 artifacts unearthed during excavations.

There is also a theater showing a 17-minute movie and a gift shop.

Ocmulgee National Monument, 1207 Emery Highway, Macon; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except for Christmas and New Year’s Day. Free. www.nps.gov/ocmu or (478) 752-8257.

2. Kayak or float down the Ocmulgee River

The Ocmulgee River meanders through Middle Georgia offering hidden views of wildlife and downtown Macon.

The Ocmulgee, which is a tributary of the Altamaha River, has small runs of whitewater north of Macon, when the water levels are high enough, but is generally known for its gentle current.

There is good river access in Macon with boat launches along the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail at Frank Amerson Water Works Park and along the River Walk at Spring Street.

Locally, Georgia Kayak on Second Street offers boat rentals and shuttles. The shuttle service covers two of the more popular trips on the Ocmulgee. Boaters can go from Water Works to the Spring Street bridge, or from Popes Ferry to Water Works.

The trip from Water works to Spring Street is three miles and takes about two hours. The Popes Ferry run is about 10 miles and takes about four hours.

For more information, call Georgia Kayak at (478) 254-7889 or visit www.gakayak.com.

3. Pick fruit at a local farm

Several local farms offer opportunities to buy fresh, seasonal produce on site or even pick your own.

Elliott Farms, which is located off Holley Road in Lizella, has a variety of produce all year long. Visitors can pick strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, pole beans, scuppernongs, muscadines and pumpkins as the produce is in season. Elliott also sells ice cream. The farm also lets visitors wander around and check out the farm animals, including goats, peacocks, donkeys, horses, chickens and cows.

Deer Creek Farms in Forsyth also offers fresh produce and allows visitors to pick strawberries and pumpkins when they are in season. The farm, which is off Jenkins Road, specializes in strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, garden vegetables and fresh jam and jellies.

Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley is known as a peach powerhouse, but it also offers opportunities to pick strawberries in the spring and pumpkins in the fall. The fall also brings a corn maze.

During peach season, Lane packs up to a million 25-pound cartons of peaches and offers tours of the packhouse and farm. The nearly 5,000-acre farm also runs a year-long gift shop and restaurant, which are both open daily.

In the summer months, Dickey Farms, another large peach grower, is open for visitors. The farm, which is located off Old Highway 341 in Musella, sells fresh peaches and ice cream at the packing house’s retail store. This is generally open from May until Aug. 1.

For more information and hours of operation: Elliott Farms, (478) 935-8180; Deer Creek Farms, www.facebook.com/deercreekfarms or (478) 365-4688; Dickey Farms, www.gapeaches.com or (478) 836-4362; Lane Southern Orchards, www.lanesouthernorchards.com or (800) 277-3224.

4. Take architectural and historical tours of downtown Macon

Most of downtown Macon is a standing testament to different styles of historical architecture.

The Macon Historic District includes more than 1,200 buildings, so there is lots to see and explore.

A number of self-guided walking tours offer visitors a chance to see a variety of Antebellum and Victorian era homes.

The Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau has information on the “White Columns & Historic Architecture” tour on its website at www.maconga.org.

This tour includes some of Macon’s signature spots such as the Hay House, a 24-room, 18,000-square foot home built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. The home was built over a four-year period beginning in 1855 and first occupied in 1860 by William Butler Johnston and his wife, Anne Clark Tracy.

Officially known as the Johnston-Felton-Hay House after the families who occupied the home, the Hay House is a testament to what was then cutting-edge technology. This includes hot and cold running water, central heat, a speaker system, a ventilation system and an attached kitchen.

The Cannonball House is another local home open for tours. Built in 1853 in a Greek Revival style, the home is notorious for being the only home in Macon to be struck by a cannonball during the Civil War. The house also includes a collection of Civil War memorabilia.

The Sidney Lanier Cottage also is included on the CVB’s must-see list. The cottage was the birthplace of the famous poet, soldier and musician Sidney Lanier. Constructed around 1840, the Victorian-style home includes some of Lanier’s memorabilia.

The self-guided Macon Walking Tour highlights many of the city’s earliest businesses. Visitors can go to www.maconwalkingtours.com to download a map and basic information about the 65 properties on the tour.

Most of the buildings are clustered around Cherry, Mulberry, First and Second streets.

For those more interested in where people lived, there is an illuminated self-guided tour called “Lights on Macon.”

There is information available on 87 homes in the downtown area and all are specially lit at night to highlight their architectural features. Visitors can download the tour map and information at www.lightsonmacon.com.

Visitors who would like to see a little bit of everything can visit Historic Macon’s Living History Map at www.livinghistorymap.com. This site hits on some of the key historic places to see.

This includes St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which is one of the tallest buildings in Macon. The church has 60 stained glass windows, a marble altar and an enormous pipe organ.

5. Visit the Museum of Aviation

More than 90 aircraft on display at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins offer visitors a chance to see everything from the earliest fighter jets and bombers to spy planes and utility aircraft.

The museum is one of the largest aviation museums in the country and has a number of historically significant aircraft in its collection.

This includes a C-140 once used by President Lyndon Johnson and a specialized helicopter used by General Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm. The museum also houses the SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane that set a world record for aircraft speed in 1976 when it hit 2,193 miles per hour.

The museum has a cafeteria on-site as well as picnic tables on the grounds.

Museum of Aviation, Ga. 247 at Russell Parkway, Warner Robins; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except for holidays. Free. Guided tours can be arranged in advance for $3. www.museumofaviation.org or (478) 926-6870.

6. Check out the Museum of Arts and Sciences

Art, science and kid’s stuff all come together under the roof of the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Macon.

The museum, which is a Smithsonian affiliate, features a mini-zoo, planetarium, observatory, nature trail and standing exhibits of art, reptiles, mammals and insects. These are supplemented by art and science exhibits that change throughout the year.

The museum was started as a way to enhance educational opportunities for local school children and has grown from a one-room rental to a 55,000-square foot building surrounded by woods, gardens and trails.

One of the museum’s biggest draws is the state-of-the-art planetarium, with the only projector of its caliber in Georgia.

Museum of Arts and Sciences, 4182 Forsyth Road, Macon; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military, $7 for students and $5 for children ages 2-17. www.masmacon.org or (478) 477-3232.

7. Explore Indian Springs State Park

One of the oldest state parks in the nation and a key place in Georgia history, Indian Springs State Park is located off Ga. 42 outside Jackson. It is home to a still-flowing natural spring where it is believed American Indians collected the water for its healing powers.

Visitors can still have a taste of the spring water. It flows into a stone house built during the Great Depression by the Civil Conservation Corps.

The park is adjacent to the restored Indian Springs Hotel, which is where Creek Indian Chief William McIntosh signed the 1825 treaty that essentially ceded the remaining Creek land in Georgia to the United States.

After the 1825 Treaty of Indian Springs, the site was used as a public place and officially became a state park in 1931.

The 528-acre park also has a wading creek, stocked fishing lake, short nature trail, miniature golf, a playground, cabin and cottage rentals and a more than three-mile multi-purpose trail connecting it to the privately held Dauset Trails.

Indian Springs State Park, 678 Lake Clark Road, Flovilla; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. $5 daily parking fee. Camping, cabin rentals and boat rentals are an additional fee. (770) 504-2277 or www.gastateparks.org/IndianSprings.

8. Learn about Macon’s music history

No trip to Macon is complete without a taste of some of the famous artists who got their start in town.

This includes homegrown artists such as Little Richard and Otis Redding, and artists who called Macon home for a time such as James Brown and the Allman Brothers Band.

The Historic Douglass Theatre, which opened in the early 1900s as a movie theater and performance hall, gave stage time to up-and-coming black artists.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the Douglass was where famous performers such as Redding, Little Richard and Brown first hit the stage.

The Douglass, located at 355 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., closed its doors in 1972 but reopened in 1997 and continues to be a venue for movies, stage plays and musical performances.

The now-defunct Capricorn Records also played a huge role in bringing big artists to Macon as the recording label for a number of Southern rock bands.

One of Capricorn’s biggest clients was the Allman Brothers Band, whose members came to Macon in 1969 to record at the studio.

The legacy of the band, which was formed by Duane Allman and included brother Gregg, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe and Berry Oakley, lives on today through The Big House Museum. Located off Vineville Avenue, the three-story home is where many members of the band lived and jammed during the original band’s heyday.

The restored Tudor-style home is now a showcase to the Allman Brothers and includes musical instruments, clothing and other memorabilia of the band. For more information on the Big House, visit www.thebighousemuseum.com or call (478) 741-5551.

Other music hotspots included Grant’s Lounge at 576 Poplar St. The venue, which still hosts live music today, was the place Capricorn Records would bring in acts to give them a try on stage. Grant’s also became a place where musicians hoping to get discovered would show up and play.

Grant’s Lounge is one of several stops on in-depth music history walking tours offered by Rock Candy Tours. For tour information, visit www.facebook.com/RockCandyTours or call (478) 955-5997.

9. Eat at Nu-Way Weiners

Long before Oprah made news by dining in the original Cotton Avenue location of Nu-Way Weiners, the hot dog restaurant was famous for its flaky ice and bright red dogs.

A staple of downtown Macon dining since 1916, the restaurant serves up chili dogs, burgers and fries. It almost always shows up in any list of places in the South where visitors must dine.

Nu-Way was opened by Greek immigrant James Mallis as a hot dog stand and was known for its private label wieners, which are still bright red. A spelling mistake in 1937 on a new marquee resulted in wiener being spelled “weiner” and Nu-Way has left it this way.

The restaurant’s slogan is “I’d go a long way for a Nu-Way” and Oprah said it was one of the highlights of her 2007 trip to Macon. For hours and other locations, visit www.nu-wayweiners.com.

10. Visit the Go Fish Education Center

Middle Georgia has its own aquarium experience at the Go Fish Education Center in Perry.

The center, which is part of the Department of Natural Resources, opened in October 2010 and is designed to teach visitors about Georgia’s watersheds and provide information on fishing.

Go Fish has a number of large aquariums that showcase a variety of freshwater fish as well as aquatic wildlife. A highlight of the center is a stocked fishing pond where visitors can try their hand at fishing. Rods and bait are provided as part of the admission price.

Go Fish also features a number of interactive exhibits, including fishing and boat simulators and a shooting room.

Go Fish Education Center, 1255 Perry Parkway, Perry; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 3-12. Local libraries carry a pass that can be checked out for free admission. www.gofisheducationcenter.com or (478) 988-6701.

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