The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in northern Georgia comprises two United States National Forests, the Oconee National Forest and Chattahoochee National Forest. The combined total area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is 866,468 acres (3,506 km2), of which the Chattahoochee National Forest comprises 750,145 acres (3,036 km2) and the Oconee National Forest comprises 116,232 acres (470 km2). The county with the largest portion of the forest is Rabun County, Georgia, which has 148,684 acres (601.7 km2) within its boundaries.
The Chattahoochee National Forest takes its name from the Chattahoochee River whose headwaters begin in the North Georgia mountains. The River and the area were given the name by the English settlers who took the name from the Indians living here. The Cherokee and Creek Indians inhabited North Georgia. In one dialect of the Muskogean languages, Chatta means stone; ho chee, marked or flowered. These marked or flowered stones were in the Chattahoochee River at a settlement near Columbus, Georgia.
In 1911, the United States Forest Service purchased 31,000 acres (125 km2) of land in Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin and Union Counties from the Gennett family for $7 per acre. This land was the beginning of what would become the Chattahoochee National Forest. The initial land purchases became a part of the Cherokee National Forest on June 14, 1920.
Ranger Roscoe Nicholson, who was the first forest ranger in Georgia and had advised the Forest Service in its initial land purchases, continued the growth of the Chattahoochee by negotiating the purchase of most of the Forest Service land in what is now the Chattooga River Ranger District. The Coleman River Scenic Area near Clayton, Georgia was dedicated to "Ranger Nick", as he was called, in honor of his promotion of conservation ideals.
The Chattahoochee National Forest today covers 18 north Georgia counties. The Chattahoochee currently has three ranger districts:
- Blue Ridge Ranger District, Office in Blairsville, GA
- Chattooga River Ranger District, Office in Tallulah Falls, GA
- Conasauga Ranger District, Office in Chattsworth, GA
It includes over 2,200 miles (3,500 km) of rivers and streams (including about 1,367 miles (2,200 km) of trout streams). There are over 450 miles (720 km) of hiking and other recreation trails, and 1,600 miles (2,600 km) of "roads." In addition to the Chattooga River and the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River, natural attractions within it boundaries include the beginning of the 2,174-mile (3,499 km) Appalachian Trail, Georgia's highpoint, Brasstown Bald
and Anna Ruby Falls.
The Chattahoochee also includes ten wildernesses that are part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, all of which are managed by the United States Forest Service. Parts of these wilderness extend outside Chattahoochee National Forest, as indicated. The wildernesses are:
- Big Frog Wilderness (Cherokee NF in Tennessee and Chattahoochee NF in Georgia)
- Blood Mountain Wilderness
- Brasstown Wilderness
- Cohutta Wilderness (Chattahoochee NF in Georgia and Cherokee NF in Tennessee)
- Ellicott Rock Wilderness (Nantahala NF in North Carolina; Sumter NF in South Carolina; and Chattahoochee NF in Georgia)
- Mark Trail Wilderness
- Raven Cliffs Wilderness
- Rich Mountain Wilderness
- Southern Nantahala Wilderness (Chattahoochee NF in Georgia and Nantahala NF in North Carolina)
- Tray Mountain Wilderness
The Oconee National Forest today is spread over eight Georgia counties and is organized into one ranger district. The Oconee Ranger District maintains several hiking and other recreational trails in the forest. Forest headquarters are located in Gainesville
Oconee National Forest:
The Oconee National Forest is almost halfway between Macon
. There are two major man-made lakes within the boundaries of the Oconee Ranger District, both on the Oconee River
. Lake Sinclair
lends its water and name to Lake Sinclair Recreation Area in Putnam County
. This is the major recreation area of the Oconee Ranger District and offers camping, boating, fishing and swimming. Redlands Recreation area is located on Lake Oconee
in Greene County
and offers boating, picnicking and fishing. Oconee River Recreation Area, farther upstream and near the northern boundary of the National Forest offers camping and boating. There are many miles of hiking and equestrian trails within the forest and one trail for dirt bikes and four-wheelers. Hunt camps dispersed throughout the district are temporarily home to hundreds of hunters who enjoy the forest during deer hunting season. An active timber program insures the health of the forest.