Columbia County residents might want to unpack their suitcases and unload the car.
With plenty of places to visit in the county, vacationing residents might be surprised with what they'll find near their own backyards.
"I encourage people to go out and find something in Columbia County that they've never seen or done before and experience it," said Beda Johnson, the director of the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We are so blessed with natural resources here."
Winding nature trails and access to Clarks Hill Lake make the Appling area a good place to find such resources.
Wildwood Park, off Washington Road just past Pollard's Corner, offers 61 campsites, picnic and beach areas and eight boat ramps, in addition to biking and horseback riding trails.
Bartram Trail, a popular spot for bikers and hikers, begins within the 975-acre park and was recently restored.
The trail spans nearly 9 miles to West Dam and is named after William Bartram, one of America's first naturalists, who documented nature in the areas he traveled.
"I'm sure there's plenty of people, due to the economic situation right now, that just come up here to camp rather than going down to the beach or wherever," said Jeb Bell, Wildwood Park coordinator.
Bell said between 800 and 1,000 people visited the park during the Fourth of July weekend.
Almost 12 miles away from Wildwood Park, residents can find Mistletoe State Park in Winfield.
The 1,920-acre park, off Cobbham Road at 3725 Mistletoe Road, boasts more than 100 campsites, cottages and cabins, and lakefront access to Clarks Hill.
Nature-related programs are offered throughout the year in addition to hiking, biking, fishing and boating activities. More information can be found at www.gastateparks.org/mistletoe.com.
Another option for the outdoor enthusiast is a trip to the historic headgates of the Augusta Canal and Savannah Rapids Park at 3300 Evans-to-Locks Road.
The area is frequented by walkers, joggers and bicyclists, and also serves as an ideal location to kayak and canoe. The Savannah Rapids Park includes a playground for children and families.
"I'm consistently amazed by the people who have never been to the Augusta Canal headgates area and actually listened to that story and been inside the little white house at the bottom of the hill (Savannah Rapids Visitor Center)," Johnson said. "That is a gem that people don't know about."
The Savannah Rapids Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday to those wishing to learn more about the canal's history.
There is an abundance of nature within the county, and Reed Creek Wetlands Park and Interpretive Center opened in 2007 to provide the community with educational programs and activities.
"We have people who have been here and never realized the park was here," said Education Coordinator Laura Beltran. "Then we have our regulars who have been coming for years now, and that's always nice to see."
Nearly 2 miles of trails stretch over a swampy boardwalk and into the woods along Reed Creek at 3820 Park Lane, off Furys Ferry Road in Martinez. The trails are open from sunrise until sunset every day, Beltran said.
"We have picnic tables, too, so a lot of people come and picnic as well," she said.
The interpretive center offers education programs for all ages, said Beltran, adding that summer months are typically the busiest.
Golf, disc golf
For those who enjoy outdoor sporting activities, the county has two public golf courses: Bartram Trail Golf Club and Jones Creek Golf Club.
A twist on the traditional game of golf; however, is catching on quickly in the county.
"Disc golf is one of the things that we are most known for worldwide," Johnson said. "Our own brand of Augusta National is sitting right here, and I'm positive that a lot of people don't know anything about that."
Disc golf can be played all day for free on an 18-hole course at Patriots Park on Columbia Road.
Three 18-hole championship courses are accessible at Wildwood Park, which is home to the Professional Disc Golf Association's International Disc Golf Center. The cost is $3 for county residents and PDGA members, and $5 for everyone else.
"It is the mecca of that sport, and it's right here," Johnson said.
Those with a hankering for miniature golf can head to Putt-Putt Golf and Games at 3763 Martinez Blvd. The attraction features two miniature golf courses, along with a game room, batting cages, laser tag and bumper boats. Putt-Putt is open from 10 a.m. until midnight Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday.
Miniature golf also is among the features of Adventure Crossing, 4530 Wheeler Road. The Martinez park has indoor games, a 6,100-square-foot laser tag arena and outdoor attractions, including midway rides, go-carts and batting cages.
"We're the only place in Augusta that you can go to ride go-carts," said Ruth Dyches, a manager at Adventure Crossing. "We have the biggest laser tag in the CSRA."
The attraction is open from noon until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, noon to midnight on Friday and 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday.
Though school is out for the summer, both adults and children can find a wealth of knowledge in the cities of Grovetown and Harlem.
A trip to Harlem's Laurel and Hardy Museum will reveal memorabilia of the famous comedy duo from Hollywood's golden age.
Oliver Hardy was born in 1892 in Harlem. He and Stan Laurel became one of the most successful comedy duos in Hollywood history.
A small movie theater within the museum shows films of the comedic pair, and guests can have their picture taken with life-size replicas of Laurel and Hardy in a wooden car, said Linda Caldwell, the lead volunteer of the museum.
The museum, at 250 N. Louisville St., holds tours and has drawn people from as far away as Australia and Vietnam, Caldwell said. The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
"It is the only museum in the United States that is dedicated to Stan and Ollie," Caldwell said.
Grovetown's museum is nestled in the heart of town at 106 W. Robinson Ave. and contains a history of both the city and county. "We have a timeline going back from the 1790s up till today," said historian Charles Lord.
No matter where it might be within the county, Johnson encourages residents to take a journey that they've never taken before.
"Just get out and explore and take a street that you don't know," she said. "Find out where it takes you and what you see when you get there."
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