Thursday, December 5, 2019

Lessons from our Mother

                Mom taught my two sisters and me that any trip wasn’t all it could be unless you were arrested, got lost or injured and we’ve taken that lesson to heart.  “We’re not lost, we’re having an unexpected adventure,” she’ll say.  We often return pock marked with bruises from biking, hiking, sledding, skating, and Segwaying in her wake.  As far as I know she’s never been arrested (except for a night on Sullivan’s Island involving fireworks which came close).  It’s probably still on her wish list. 
Image result for salt mine tour salzburg austria                Stamina is her secret weapon so we prepare for trips with her like marathons.   “You should see all that is happening here,” she boasted about her hometown of Detroit, “it’s a real renaissance.”  Why did I challenge her? My exhausting tour began when I arrived at the airport and actually included   two symphony concerts in the same day, an eerily empty people-mover, ramshackle houses covered with polka-dots by an outsider artist and lunch at her favorite dive in a neighborhood that’s the kind of place moms usually warn their daughters not to go.
                Follow the crowd?  She doesn’t do that.  And so, one Christmas Day in Austria she, my daughter and I ended up on a boat floating on an underground river to a sound track of blaring yodeling.  A few Japanese tourists and the three of us had zipped ourselves into white coveralls, straddled a long pole, held onto each other’s waists and slid down deep into the earth.  Ahh, Christmas in the salt mines.    Afterwards we slogged through the snowy streets searching for an open café.   The only one we found was full of a Swedish youth group eating hot dogs.  Mom taught them “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain”.  We sang together with gusto trying to drown out the ear worm of yodeling that the Japanese had loved so much they’d bought the CD. 
           She abhors shopping but obscure art attractions are her passion.  She said that Columbus, Indiana had been on her wish list for years.  Being obedient daughters, we didn’t question her, we just went.   There we found a treasure trove of architectural wonders and site specific art that amazed us.  Using my travel writer cred, I had arranged for the curator to tour us around.  He didn’t seem too happy about it at first but by the end of the morning he was dazzled by mom’s charm and her enthusiasm for everything he’d told us.  So we invited him to lunch at Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor where we turned on the ornate antique orchestrion and he filmed Mom dancing with the waitresses. 
                Feisty is a trait she’s passed down to us.  At a posh spa in Miami several years ago, our waiter asked about our dietary goals.   Many people had come to lose weight.  At Mom’s instigation we’d smuggled in bottles of wine, cookies and snacks.  “Stand up Lila,” mom commanded.  “Look at this woman.  Does she need to lose weight? No!” she said to the waiter, “Now heap those plates and keep ‘em comin’.”  After a few beauty treatments and exercise classes Mom motioned us aside, “Psst, let’s make a break for it.”  We ditched the terry cloth bathrobes, slipped into party dresses and hightailed it across the golf course to a nearby hotel where we danced with conventioneers and drank martinis until  
                She’s insatiably curious and will talk to anyone about anything (any everything embarrassingly enough).  So that’s how I was able to prank her, my sisters and niece during a trip to Chicago.  Somehow with all the city has to offer, Mom was most looking forward to the Polish parade.   “It’s the biggest in the country!”   I handed out official looking PRESS badges to each of them. “My editor has assigned us to better understand Polish wisdom by asking people to explain these quotes.”    I gave them pithy phrases I’d culled from the closest thing I had, a book of Yiddish Wisdom: “A fool falls on his back and bruises his nose…”  “If you have money, you are wise and good-looking and sing well too…”  “It is easier to guard a sack of fleas than a girl in love…”  Immediately on task, Mom started interviewing people in the elevator.  She accosted people all along the street and by the end of the day was surrounded by new circle of laughing Polish friends.
           Mom says that the secret to aging is to learn something new every day.  We try to follow her example by drinking deeply from the experiences she leads us to.  And from the wine that helps us recover from those experiences.  She smiles with pride when we share our exploits of clandestine skinny dipping or wedding crashing but we know who’s to blame.  Our mother made us do it. 



Monday, August 26, 2019

Get Out and Glamp

                “My mother says the only tent she goes into is a wedding tent,” my friend Carol told me when I said we were going glamping.  “But this is glamorous camping,” I explained.  “Who doesn’t love glamour?” 
                Under the Canvas near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was my husband and my first glamping stop.  Jake and Sarah Dusek started the company in 2009 inspired by safari camps they saw in Africa.  They have eight locations and aim to grow to 23, all near national parks.  Their philosophy is an oxymoronic idea:  intentional inconvenience.  “We hope you will be inspired to enjoy our beautiful planet by disconnecting from technology to connect with those you love, and to become stewards of our planet,” Sarah Dusek writes. “This is the nicest tent I’ve ever seen,” said my husband Mark when we arrived.  The ensuite bathroom (separated by a sliding door from the sleeping area) has a shower with a pull cord that results in 87% less water use compared to hotels.Water is heated with propane since there’s no electricity in the tents.  No wi-fi either but a tiny port on the side of a lantern allowed us to recharge our phones.  Solar panels, compostable dinnerware and a robust recycling program are moving the company towards its goal of zero waste.  

 The king sized bed is piled with hi-tech comforters, the flaps and zippers had poetic practicality and when the rain splattered on the canvas at night, it was rather magical.   “Everybody we take into a tent, their first impression is ‘wow’,” said Ben Hoffman the general manager.  He left chain hotel management to work here because “I want to do something unique.  It’s about quality of life.”  A beautiful spacious tent serves as a lobby and is filled with board games, couches and a very good café with healthy meals.  Outside folks do yoga, roast marshmallows and eat at picnic tables.  A festive group celebrating a 40th birthday shared cupcakes with everyone.  Ben is enthusiastic about the company’s culture.  “We focus on environment.  It’s worth spending extra money so the future will be better.”  He explained that everything in the camp is temporary.  If they left, the land would return to its natural state.  In fact, each camp is only open a few months a year and is disassembled for the winter.  We spent the days hiking in the National Park and returned each evening to nestle in our lantern-lit tent.   Compared to the nearby schlock and glitz of Gatlinburg we felt quite virtuous.

                Our second glamping adventure was quite different.  We joined my sisters and brothers-in-law at Uncle Ducky’s Paddler’s Village “By the shore of Gitche Gumee, By the shining  Big-Sea-Water”: on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.   Uncle Ducky must have missed the 
memo on glamour.  Roughly hewn platform tents, yurts, teepees and tent sites are crowded together.  There’s some shared bathhouses a walk away.  Our tents had a bunk bed, a couch and a table.  The refrigerator mentioned on the website wasn’t there.  The port to charge the phones drained them instead.  The rented sleeping bag had a broken zipper and dirty socks in the bottom and the bath house counter was covered with flies.  But the excursions were wonderful.  Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world and holds 10% of the world’s fresh water.  It looks as vast as an ocean and is remarkably clear.  The water is so cold that drowned people sink because there are no bacteria.  Cue the Ballad of the Edmund Fitzgerald:  “Lake Superior it’s said doesn’t give up its dead.”  We kayaked in and out of caves and through Lover’s Arch as the waves thundered against the 
 rocky shore. Our guide Sam helped us appreciate the millennia it took to form the striated Pictured Rocks which can only be appreciated from the water.  Another day we took a boat tour around Grand Island.  Despite it being July, we huddled under blankets and heard about the history of the island which was originally inhabited by Ojibwa Indians and is now mostly a National Recreation Area.  Our package included some tasty meals at the Duck Pond which has an enormous selection of beers and several preparations of local whitefish.
                Up the road from Under the Canvas is a high rise hotel with a fake gorilla climbing on it.  Tourists who want to see nature through their car windows or take roller coasters through fake mountains have plenty to choose from.  But for a more authentic experience there’s the vision of savvy entrepreneurs like Sarah Dusek.  “…my husband and I, inspired by the incredible beauty of the United Sates, imagined a world where…enjoying nature didn’t have to be uncomfortable or difficult.  We imagined a world where development meant preserving the landscape—not destroying it—and doing so with great environmental care.”  And with a dash of glamour. 

If You Go
Under the Canvas:


Saturday, July 13, 2019

ISO Otis Redding

                In Charleston tour guides point out the historic markers on antebellum homes.  In Macon, Georgia the emblems designate hippie crash pads and tour guides describe bands streaking naked through the neighborhood.  Macon thrusts its fist into the air and declares it’s “Where the South Rocks”.  Otis Redding is a local hero.  Little Richard’s “wop-bop- a-loo-bop” is almost an anthem.  The Allman Brothers, once the epitome of unwelcome hippie types, are now a tourist attraction with vans of fans shown where they “crashed”, wrote songs, hid out to escape the cops and photographed album covers   Throngs make the pilgrimage to Rose Hill Cemetery where they’re buried and leave mementos like little frogs, lighters and guitar picks. When my girlfriend Mary and I visited Macon recently rock n roll was a constant theme not only because of the city’s illustrious history but because of its dedication to nurturing the next Otis Redding.
                Macon’s musical legacy is the impetus for its future.  We wandered into the Tic Toc Room one morning and the new owner David Fullman stopped stocking the bar to tell us the club’s history.  The original owner “Miss Ann” Howard created the club as one of Macon’s first gay bars.  Little Richard, kicked out by his family while a teenager, slept upstairs, performed and washed dishes there.  David proudly held an iconic photograph of him as he described how he’s revitalizing the club 
                Capricorn Records, where rockers like Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Wet Willie, Percy Sledge, Bonnie Bramlett and others recorded in the 1970’s is renovating its historic building and undertaking a large music education program in collaboration with Mercer College.  Their goal is to educate future music legends.                            
          At the Otis Redding Foundation, Mary and I spoke to Leila Regan-Porter, the executive assistant.  Fans come to the small museum to pay tribute to the influential soul singer including a guy from England who was so moved to arrive that he cried.  I’ve been all over the world and this is my favorite place.  I adore Macon,” she said.  Inspired by its namesake, the foundation empowers youth through music and arts education programs and partners to provide lessons as well as scholarships for continued studies at Mercer College.  “We all work together as part of our community to make things happen,” Leila says.  This year they have 75 kids in music camps and teachers from all over the world. 
          Macon is home to some of rock n roll’s most storied venues including the City Auditorium where we attended a rollicking concert by Gladys Knight.  Built in 1923, it has hosted decades of major acts including a gospel performance by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1946 that made music history.  Little Richard was selling soft drinks that night and was pulled up onto the stage to sing a duet, igniting his musical ambition.  Since her debut at the age of 7 when she was the first African American winner of the Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, Gladys Knight has earned her title as the Empress of Soul.  Ever the diva, she had the diverse crowd on their feet as she rocked the full house.   
                When Macon touts itself as the city “Where Soul Lives” it’s also paying respect to the roots of that sound:  the African American culture which comprises half of Macon’s population.  Accompanied by children playing djembes, we toured the Harriet Tubman African American Museum with education coordinator JacQuez Harris. Radiating youthful optimism and ambition, JacQuez  says he “tries to exemplify what a 21st century African American man should look like.”  He dresses professionally and devotes himself to mentoring youth.  “I don’t know what tomorrow holds but I know who holds tomorrow,” he told us as he passionately recounted Tubman and the museum’s stories. 
              H&H Restaurant, where the philosophy is “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy”, was founded by two African American women Inez Hill and Louise Hudson. They fed the struggling Allman Brothers for free which earned “Mama Louise” (also known as “the most beloved woman in Macon”) a seat on their tour bus in 1972.  Menu items such as pork skins ‘n pimento cheese, fried okra, biscuits and gravy and the legendary fried chicken continue to lure scores of hungry customers.

         The Douglass Theatre, founded in 1921 by Macon’s first African American millionaire Charles Douglass, was recently renovated and continues to attract widely-varied audiences for concerts and events.  It has earned membership in the African American Historic Preservation Network. 
                The rock, blues and soul megahits that were birthed in Macon are the city’s treasured legacy but to Macon they are just the intro.  Investments and vision are nurturing the talent that will become our county’s future musical marvels.  Rock on Macon.  Rock on! 
If You Go:


Monday, June 17, 2019

Bragging Rights

Dawn on the island. Photo by Terese Przytakoski

                I had to restrain my impulse to boast.  As our boat bobbed in the Bull’s Bay estuary, dolphins leaped acrobatically on cue.  The woman beside me, who’d come from Michigan, grabbed my arm in excitement.  “Did you see that?” she yelled.  “I know,” I wanted to tell her.  “I actually get to live here.”  The other thirteen travelers had come from distant states and Canada to the exotic location of Bull’s Island.  I was the only local spending the weekend with Coastal Expeditions at the Dominick House.       

                These trips are only offered 8 times a year.  When registration opens, the spots usually fill within minutes.  After all, staying overnight on the island is a rare opportunity.  Camping is prohibited and Dominick House is only open to scientists and these few expeditions.  The historic house is nestled among live oak trees near the boat dock.  It was built in 1925 by New York banker Gayer Dominick and enjoyed as a winter residence for his family until they conveyed it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1936.  The accommodations are comfortable but simple. As a solo traveler, I stayed in a large room with 4 other women with an adjoining bath.  Small rooms were assigned to couples.  
We gathered each evening in a circle of upholstered office chairs surrounded by foraged artifacts and nature photographs.   Meals were a communal affair.
                Each day we were offered hikes and excursions led by College of Charleston-trained scientists Anna Atencio and Olivia DePue. Their expertise was impressive.  On the beach, they found an obscure animal track, a bobcat they surmised, and started following it to tell us what happened:  “See how he was running here?” Olivia pointed. “Then he crouched here, see?  Maybe he was stalking something.  Might have been that ghost crab from that hole there.  And look, then he started running….” These young women were never stumped by a question. They knew the names of all the flowers, birds and trees, the history of the island and its inhabitants and spoke authoritatively about the changing ecology due to climate change and nature.  They drove boats and trailers, cooked meals, led yoga and generally made me proud to be the parent of a CofC graduate. 
     Olivia and Anna’s reverence for the 5,000 acre island was apparent.  Throughout the weekend they told us things that made us go “wow”:  how some oysters can close their shells to entrap the legs of oyster-catcher birds; that osprey have an extra bone in their talon which allows them to hold fish they catch at a 90 degree angle to be more aerodynamic; how every single pine tree on the island died after being submerged during Hurricane Hugo; why those newborn alligators were lined up photogenicallly on their mother’s back.   The bird watchers in the group were giddy with excitement.  Hauling packs heavy with telescoping lenses and binoculars, they sparred over birds’ names and checked off life lists.  These self-described bird nerds were having the time of their lives in this paradise of birdland which is home to 293 species.  Not for the first time in my travel adventure career, I also found myself in a group fascinated by scat.  They gingerly picked apart balls of dung and postulated about the diet and identity of the animals that’d left these intriguing souvenirs.
                It was a well-paced itinerary with lots of walking.  “Papa Mo” made sure we were   With a flourish, he hoisted in a huge platter with an Instagram-worthy Low Country boil encircled by conch shells. An evening’s boat ride became a happy hour with his smoked trout and buffalo chicken dips laid out on the center console.  He even made a flaming dessert!  Throughout it all he was a jovial cheerleader, inspiring dozens of effusive comments in the guest book and grateful hugs upon departure. 
nourished for the adventure with ample, healthy meals spiced up with a few spectacular surprises.
                This trip is the epitome of a close-by adventure for those of us near Charleston.  It’s only three miles off our coast, departing from Moore’s Landing in Awendaw.  Bull’s island is the largest of 4 barrier islands within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge which itself is one of over 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System.  The system’s mission is to manage lands and waters specifically for wildlife.  Bull’s Island’s habitat supports deer, otters, bobcats, black fox squirrels and the largest population of alligators outside of the Everglades.  Protecting this environment gives visitors like us the opportunity to live the words of William Wordsworth that are posted on the lodge’s wall:  “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”

If You Go:
Coastal Expeditions:   843-884-7584  Call them or follow the link on their website to be notified of upcoming trips. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Getting In on the Act

Compagnie Herve Koubi

                The pay is low and the hours are long but apprentices at Spoleto love the experience.  They rave about seeing their first opera, getting to personally know the performers, watching the festival ignite the city and being part of that magic.   Meanwhile, they’re getting a reality check on their career paths.  Gabriella Plyler is an Arts Management major at the College of Charleston and an apprentice this year in Media Relations where she hopes to get “insight into a world renowned arts festival beyond the classroom and online,” and “to learn more about how a festival is curated, what it is like behind the scenes of a performance.”
                 The Apprenticeship Program is a big part of what makes the festival run so smoothly. It offers short, hands-on experiences under the guidance of professional arts administrators and technicians in the areas of artist services, box office, development, accounting, media relations, orchestra management, production or operations. For college students, it’s a clarifying experience.  Olivia Anderson apprenticed at Spoleto a few years ago.  At the time she was a music education major and learned that “I wanted to be more involved in the performing arts/arts administration world versus the music education/teaching world.” She went on to complete three more apprenticeships and is now the festival’s assistant box office manager.  Apprenticeships also provide skills for the real work world. Nick Bragin apprenticed in 2013 in Box Office Operations while a grad student.  
2019 Official Poster art by Laura Owens
“Spoleto utilizes Tessitura software that is designed for ticketing, customer relationship management, development and marketing.  Tessitura is an industry standard and my time at Spoleto afforded me the opportunity to learn the ropes.”  Working under impressive leadership, he also acquired a perspective on effective management, lessons he brought to his current job as the fulltime Guest Services Manager at a large venue in Indiana where he manages 40 people.  As it did for Nick, working at Spoleto enhances resumes and often leads to permanent jobs.  When Allison Ross-Spang applied to be an apprentice she was graduating from the College of Charleston and “wondering what my next step would be.” Selling tickets, working will- call and troubleshooting occasional problems taught her a great deal about customer service.  “I think working in the Box Office helped make me a better employee and pushed me to work harder.”  She is now a department manager in Artist Services.  Rubbing shoulders with dedicated professionals teaches work habits too.  Caroline Hagood was an apprentice in 2013 in Artists Services. “I learned a lot about organization skills and time management… especially how to be open-minded to adapting to changes in plans and how to have a flexible schedule.”  Caroline has found these skills invaluable as she continues college. 
Shakespeare's Globe
Applicants are forewarned that the long hours include evenings and weekends and that the pay is minimal.  Depending on the department assignment, duties range from hospitality and transportation for artists to moving orchestra equipment and instruments.  Production assistants may build sets or assist electrical work.  Accounting personnel help with payroll and purchase orders.  Photo shoots and press releases often keep Media Relations apprentices busy.  Most positions take place during the festival   except production assistants who begin in April. Compensation includes a small living allowance and housing plus $50 in travel expenses for out of town applicants.  If they’re lucky and not too exhausted, they get to see some shows.  The applications, available each winter, ask applicants for their experience in a wide range of capacities including carpentry, craft work, sewing, tailoring, stage management, audio mixing, lighting and running shows.  Telephone interviews are required as well as letters of recommendation.  Media relations applicants have to submit writing samples.  It’s a very competitive process that requires ambition and passion, the kind that Gabriella Plyler displayed when she said, “I promised myself that I will always try my best to work in a place that represents the arts in any form…and have always wanted to work within this type of environment and organization.”  But those who have completed the experience encourage others to apply.  Allison Ross-Spang says, “…seeing the festival come together and being able to say I helped gave me a lot of confidence that I was in the right field.”   Carolina Hagood echoes that sentiment:  “I would definitely recommend this apprenticeship opportunity to applicants.  It is a phenomenal cultural experience and a window into how large scale, professional arts festivals function.” 
Shakespeare's Globe

Photo Credits:  
Compagnie Herve Koubi:  photo by Nathalie Stenalski
Spoleto Poster:  Featuring the work of Laura Owens courtesy the artists; Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York, Rome, Sadie Coles HQ London and Galeria Gisela Captain, Cologne.
 Shakespeare's Globe Courtesy of Shakespeare's Globe


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Into the Swamp

                The sign along the canal pointed, “To Fargo and all points south (if you know how)”.  It was a wise-crack reminder that this place the Indians called “The Land of Trembling Earth” is an ever-changing, confusing landscape.  “It’s really easy to get disoriented out here…  People disappear.  You can get 100 feet away from a trail and get lost,” our guide Charlie warned as we motored down the Suwannee Canal in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.  This huge area, over 630 square miles, is actually a bog inside of a saucer-shaped depression that was once part of the ocean floor.  A thick layer of peat, sometimes up to 30 feet deep, lies beneath the swamp covered by black reflective water. Sometimes lightening ignites the peat and the fires burn for weeks.  Pieces of peat often break off and float, turning into little islands.  Mother Nature at her wildest.
Upside down reflection on the canal. 
                As Sandhill cranes honk overhead and alligators sunned along the bank, another tourist asked Charlie the ubiquitous question:  “Have you ever been attacked by an alligator?”  “No,” he said, “but I’ve been close and I’ve got the scars to prove it.”  On cue, he pulled the boat beside a lolling gator that let out an unexpectedly loud hiss, causing us to bolt from our seats.  We were motoring down a canal that began construction in the late 1800’s to harvest Cypress trees. It was a doomed venture.  Poor engineering, mosquitoes, market conditions and convict labor caused the companies to go bankrupt after harvesting over one million cubic board feet of timber from old growth forests.  “All that mayhem and carnage was to produce chipped wood pellets to export to China for heating.  Paraquat was spread on everything to promote tree growth and harvesting,” Charlie explained.   He and another boat guide Melvin are fierce protectors of this unique environment.  With an accent like molasses punctuated by spits of tobacco into the water, Melvin celebrated the many renegades, outlaws and hermits that built remote homesteads in the swamp after the Seminoles were driven out.  During Prohibition, most of the liquor in New York and Chicago was made in stills here and it was a hub for drug importation in the 1970’s. In what Charlie called “A Second Trail of Tears”, these hardscrabble settlers were also driven out when harvesting began. “Folks out here don’t like the government.  We like privacy.” Charlie insisted.  Melvin delights in going to classrooms with beakers of methane gas collected from peat and lighting it on fire to explain the area’s ecology.  With a mischievous smile, he described the excitement:  “It smells like an elephant just walked into the room.”
Cabin at Laura Walker State Park
                This primeval beauty can be visited in several ways.  A main entrance near Folkston, GA is best for short visits. A visitor center and boat tours are available there. Stephen C. Foster State park near Fargo in the park’s west has boardwalks, boating and hiking trails, fishing, guided boat tours, motor boat and canoe rentals, camping and cabins.  Laura Walker State Park is near Waycross, close to the park’s northern entrance.  That park boasts an 18-hole golf course, modern cabins, camping, beach, boat ramps and fishing deck.  My husband and I have stayed in both state parks and enjoyed having our bicycles along.  We pedaled back to our cabin at Stephen Foster one day to find a mother bear and cubs scavenging in our back yard.  Our favorite bike ride was the Swamp Island Drive, a 7-mile loop (also open to cars) with numbered markers that pointed out historic and natural points of interest.  An interesting stop was Chesser Island Homestead built on a 592-acre island in the late 1800’s.  Family members lived there until 1958 in a largely self-sufficient lifestyle.  Remnants of their determination to carve a life from the harsh conditions include syrup shed, a smokehouse and the hand-built timber house.  You can also totally retreat from civilization by camping in the swamp for 2 to 5 days by permit.  Shelters and camping islands are provided but no motorized boats are permitted.  The park website warns of many considerations including: “Paddling can be slow-going and strenuous on shallow and/or narrow trails. You may have to get out of your canoe and push across peat blowups or shallow water.” Today, over one million visitors a year come to the Okefenokee, especially in the spring when thousands of blooming lily pads are intoxicating. It is the largest area in the Southeastern United States not intersected by roads, providing a rare opportunity for solitude and undisturbed recreation. Charlie calls it “a very spooky, metaphysical place. That’s what makes it exciting: it’s not our world.”

If You Go
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge:
Laura Walker State Park:
Stephen Foster State Park:

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Take A Government Subsidized Vacation

The Burnham House at General Coffee State Park in Georgia. 

            One of the best ways our tax money is spent is on the large network of state park cabins.  Nestled in scenic areas throughout the country, they offer a great way for an inexpensive family vacation.  The accommodations are basic but comfortable; they’re in beautiful natural areas and the prices can’t be beat.  Generally there are two or more bedrooms, private bathrooms, equipped kitchens, linens and towels, pull out sofas, picnic tables, fire pits and grills. There is also AC and heat. Right outside, are all the amenities the parks have to offer:  everything from swimming to guided boat rides. They were begun by the conservation minded president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public works program that operated from 1933 to 1942. Three million men constructed trails, built lodges and facilities in remote areas that continue to provide recreation today. 
The cabin at Laura Walker State Park.
Our view at Laura Walker State Park.
            My husband and I just returned from a stay at Laura Walker State Park in Folkston, Georgia.    Walking trails around a picturesque lake started at our back door and the Okefenokee Swamp, just up the road, filled our days with exploration by bike and boat.  From the rockers on our large screen porch, all we could hear were woodpeckers.  It was so enjoyable we stayed a fifth day.  On another Okefenokee exploration, we stayed at a Stephen Foster State Park cabin near the swamp’s main entrance where a memorable encounter with bears at our picnic table surprised us. 
Our granddaughter's guest book entry
For a weekend with our kids and grand kids, we booked two cabins at Myrtle Beach State Park.  They call that park the “last stand on the Grand Strand” because it’s the only swath of nature amidst miles of cheesy fun:  a great combination for families.  The park is right on the beach and set up for crowds but during our off-season visit a few of us had the run of the place.
            A favorite family memory is our staycation at James Island County Park one December weekend.  Despite a relative in a wheelchair, the cabin accommodated us well.  Many of the state parks offer handicapped accessible cabins. How exciting to be there when the light show was going on!  Especially on Christmas Day when we had it all to ourselves.  It was magical.
            When our extended family vacationed in Georgia, we rented the historic Burnham House at General Coffee State Park.  This is not a rustic, basic cabin.  The 19th century house features chandeliers, Queen Anne furniture and four comfortable bedrooms set within a park known for its agricultural history displays and farm animals.  Three generations of family members fished, made bonfires, hiked and relaxed in a beautiful setting. 
            Another historic stay was at the fabulous Lodge at Walkulla Springs in Florida.  This meticulously restored 1930’s Spanish style inn sits amidst the world’s largest and deepest freshwater spring surrounded by cypress swamps.  The rooms are small but the lodge is full of history.  As we walked along the park’s boardwalks, we were excited to spot several massive manatees lolling. 
The cozy indoor lounge at Len Foote Lodge. 
One of the Southeast’s greatest adventures is the Len Foote Inn.  It can only be reached by hiking about five miles through the foothills of northern Georgia near Dahlonega.  Before heading up the mountain, a stay at Amicalola Falls State Park is convenient. A couple of days enjoying the park’s paddle board courses, fly fishing classes and guided hikes will get you in the mood for the next phase of the adventure. The path to Len Foote starts nearby.  Backpacker Magazine called this trek one of the best hikes in America. Len Foote is a state park facility nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  Their mission is to make experiencing nature easy while protecting it through recreation and   It’s a pleasant, gently uphill walk through strands of mountain laurel and rhododendron, across streams and ridges.  It took us about three hours.  After we stashed our gear in a small private bunk room, we explored the wonderful common spaces including indoor and outdoor lounges and a dining hall where filling communal meals are served twice a day. Hot showers and Adirondack chairs with mountain views welcomed us after a day of hiking. Some visitors were planning to walk another 4 miles to the beginning of the Appalachian Trail and keep the adventure going for months! 

            When our family was in Myrtle Beach in March, the weather was cold.  Out our window we could see a few hardy campers in tents and RV’s shivering around meager campfires.  I was afraid we might be besieged by families begging for shelter in our warm, cozy cabin but we had it to ourselves.  We snuggled up and made a toast:  Thanks FDR.  

If You go: