The gravel crunches beneath our boots as we step onto the familiar trail. Red blazes lead the way to the New Manchester Mill Ruins on Sweetwater Creek. “Why do we go back to the same place over and over?” asked my son. I answered with a knowing smile and stopped to snap the same first scene I always do. A bench, overlooking a bend in the creek.
Because, it’s always the same and always different, always old and always new. We continue down the wide, natural surface path toward the mill. Little secrets come and go with the seasons. Delicate tracks left on the sandy banks, tiny frogs leaping for cover, butterflies dancing erratically, a heron taking flight.
This time of year, the park is in transition. There’s a chill in the morning air and the humidity is low. Wildflower beauties still bloom along the trail, like bursts of confetti at a parade, as trees dress up for their big autumn show.
Focusing on preservation of nature and history, this patch of wilderness has been a state park since 1972. Surprisingly close to Atlanta, Sweetwater offers many recreational opportunities that connect us with the great outdoors. I went kayaking for the first time and took my sons fishing on the reservoir. Now, the park offers yurts and tent camping for overnight adventures. But, the close proximity to the city takes a toll. Despite the very best efforts to clean up after visitors, the trails are often littered. I would not be opposed to more “Leave No Trace,” educational programming and signage – better than trash.
This bridge leads to a small island, on the other side of the mill race. The island boasts a nice view of the creek, the best spot for hunting animal tracks with children, and some interesting trees. The bridge replaced one destroyed in the 2009 flood. (Hiking the yellow trail, in the opposite direction, leads to a larger bridge that crosses Sweetwater Creek. The 2009 floodwaters rose higher than the abutments).
From the visitor’s center to the New Manchester Mill ruins, and back, is a relaxing 2-mile stroll along a well-maintained trail. With plenty of gorgeous scenery along the way, it’s perfect for exploring with small children or simply getting that quick connect to nature. For more than 20 years, I’ve packed picnics with the special people in my life and enjoyed their company on the shady banks near these ruins.
Burned during the Civil War, the textile mill is an impressive site on the banks of the creek. Thanks to Georgia’s booming film industry, the ruins have been featured in several movies. Hunger Games fans may recognize the scene below.
From rolling rapids to a surreal river of rocks, Sweetwater’s many moods make it a must-visit in every season. Spring and summer are magic. Toes dipping into the cool rushing water, multicolored damselflies bouncing from rock to rock, secretive snakes sneaking away into thickets. By early fall, low water reveals the stream’s flow-carved metamorphic bedrock against a backdrop of brilliantly changing foliage.
The trail continues past the ruins to meet with the White Trail Loop leading back to the Visitor’s Center. But, not before it pauses at a rapids overlook and takes on a new persona reflecting the rugged terrain of our state’s more challenging, mountainous trails.
As we made our way through the rocky teenage years, my mother brought us to this rocky river to reconnect with her, with ourselves – with this real world free from the distractions that plague the mind. I didn’t know why we kept coming back to the same place over and over. I didn’t see what she saw when we came.
She wove her spirit into this magic nature preserve so tightly that coming here feels like coming home.
Why do we keep coming back to the same place over and over?
One day, it’ll be like coming home to the most beautiful place you’ll ever know.