A Staycation in Blue Ridge

A Staycation in Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge is a scenic Georgia town bursting with arts festivals and outdoor activities, Jewish connections and fun for the entire family.

Philip Karlick checks out the colorful trout sculpture.
Philip Karlick checks out the colorful trout sculpture.

Whether you call it a nearcation or a staycation, this type of travel is a popular way to change your routine and participate in leisure activities within driving distance of your home. With travel soon to begin again after the health crisis, staycations avoid the cost and time it takes to plan trips to faraway places and are a relaxing way to connect with and enjoy a destination about 90 minutes away. One example is Blue Ridge, which has a rich cultural history, abounds in outdoor adventure options and even has a Jewish connection.

Gathering Place by Lake and Rail
The Great American Eclipse August 21, 2017, was known in Blue Ridge, Ga., as The Day the Lights Went Out in Georgia. The eclipse darkened and then lit up the sky over the crystal-clear aquamarine waters of Lake Blue Ridge.

Barbara and Peter Ducoffe came to Blue Ridge that August day from Atlanta to enjoy the spectacle in the sky. “It was beautiful to connect the eclipse to the magical blue waters below,” Peter Ducoffe recalled.

Blue Ridge continues to grow as a gathering place for many Atlantans looking for a peaceful getaway just 1 ½ hours north of the city, with Jewish connections, an interest in the arts, and plenty of festivals, shops and outdoor activities. Only a short drive from Atlanta up I-75 and then I-575, Blue Ridge is an ideal place to relax and enjoy cooler summers and a slower pace.

Blue Ridge was first settled in the 1800s as a railroad stop. Today, visitors can hop aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway that winds through the Chattahoochee National Forest along the Toccoa River. The four-hour trip between north Georgia and Tennessee includes a layover for lunch in McCaysville, where the Georgia-Tennessee state line runs literally through the local grocery store.

Blue Ridge is located in Fannin County, known as the Trout Capital of Georgia, and artists have created seven magnificent sculptures on East Main and West Main streets. You can see stages of construction here.

Arts in the Park
Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association and Art Center presents annual arts festivals in Downtown Blue Ridge City Park, including over 200 juried fine arts, mountain crafts and food booths. Spring Arts in the Park takes place Memorial Day weekend, May 23-24, and Fall Arts in the Park takes place the second weekend of October each year. The annual Blue Ridge Writers Conference usually brings writers and those aspiring to be writers to the Art Center in early April, but the event has been rescheduled for Sept. 4-5.

Changes in Rural America
The Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association is hosting an exhibition, “Crossroads: Change in Rural America,” made up of five panels with photographs, text, objects and interactive touchscreen kiosks, presented by the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street, Georgia Humanities, the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia and Georgia EMC. The exhibition explores changes in urban and rural communities and compares populations and land usage.

The opening was originally scheduled for April 25, but is delayed due to COVID-19. The timing of the exhibition would have coincided with Earth Day as it brought a significant understanding of changes in our rural and urban communities.

Trout Art Trail
Blue Ridge is located in Fannin County, known as the Trout Capital of Georgia, and artists have created seven magnificent sculptures. While trout fishing, fly fishing and reel angling are popular with fishing enthusiasts, tubing, kayaking and rafting are popular activities on the Toccoa River.

Main Street is filled with shops and galleries, wine and coffee shops, restaurants and the train depot. Located on Blue Ridge Drive, Mercier Orchards are just a 20-minute ride away. This family destination is now in its 75th year and offers apple picking in the fall and tractor rides for the entire family.

Outdoor Adventures
The Blue Ridge area is full of options for outdoor enthusiasts such as Mark Spiegel, who has experienced many of them.

“Local guides will take you down the Toccoa River on float boats as you fly fish for rainbow and brown trout. Sections of the Benton MacKaye Trail, a feeder to the Appalachian Trail, run along mountain streams and pass beautiful waterfalls. If you are a boater, you can rent a pontoon boat for the day at the Lake Blue Ridge Marina and then relax and listen to some country music at the marina grill.”

On Nov. 10, 2013, The Daffodil Project was planted in Blue Ridge to remember the children who died in the Holocaust.

Daffodil Project
On Nov. 10, 2013, The Blue Ridge Daffodil Project was planted, sponsored by the citizens of the city in memory of the children who perished in the Holocaust. Mike Weinroth, who was a board member of Am Yisrael Chai, recalls his yearlong planning and initiating the event.

“As a result of a collaboration between city officials and the religious community, this small city dedicated a 600-bulb daffodil garden along with a specially commissioned 4-foot metal sculpture of a daffodil in memory of Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust. Over 400 citizens from Blue Ridge and visitors from Atlanta and several north Georgia towns participated in the program that included the Blue Ridge mayor, Donna Whitener, Speaker of the Georgia House David Ralston, Rabbi Yossi New, the Rev. Doug Burrell and Holocaust survivor Jaap Groen (of blessed memory). All participated in the dedication.”

Weinroth has introduced similar events and gardens in North Georgia and looks forward to planting and dedicating gardens in Ellijay and Jasper in the near future.

Jewish Congregation of Blue Ridge
In 2005, Hirsch Bressler (of blessed memory) began hosting a lunch & learn group at his office in Blue Ridge. This outreach program of Chabad of Georgia was led by Rabbi New, who explained that, “Anyone who wishes to listen and learn is welcome.” Now in its 16th year, the study group includes between 22 and 42 attendees, with Barbara Pomeranz as the coordinator.

In 2016, the Jewish Congregation of Blue Ridge, jcbrgeorgia.org, was organized and continues to meet in the city once a month for Shabbat services. Currently, Marty Pomeranz is the religious leader, and Alan Schulman is the president.

Richard Bressler began this lunch & learn with Rabbi New at his brother’s office, and continues to provide the friendship and transportation (and kosher lunches) that ensure a Jewish presence and learning opportunity for the Blue Ridge Jewish community.

Sue Berry, who served as the study group coordinator, shares her appreciation of this “strong feeling of community and family.”

She said, “We share joys and sorrows and we draw from Blue Ridge, Blairsville, Hiawassee, Ellijay, Jasper and surrounding communities, with Jewish residents of Atlanta who own second homes.”

A Special Destination and Staycation
Some of these Jewish residents are known as “half-backs” who originally came from New York and New Jersey and expected to enjoy living in Florida. In order to escape the heat they encountered, many of them found a home in the Blue Ridge and surrounding communities.

My husband Philip Karlick says, “A staycation in Blue Ridge, for a day, a week, or longer, quiets the noise of the city and relaxes the soul. When you gaze at the wondrous Georgia mountains and hear the sounds of nature, and enjoy the shops and festivals, you fall in love with Blue Ridge.”

Susanne Katz is director of exhibitions at The Breman Museum.

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