Georgia Days: Home on the Ranch
June 19, 2009 by Ashley Strickland
Summer has finally come to Georgia and its arrival seems to bring out the kid in everyone. It is a time for nostalgia, reclaiming that unique “fun in the sun” feeling that just doesn’t exist during the rest of the year. Whether you’re still working through these hot and humid months or out for the summer, this is the season to make time for fun and feel like a kid again. A great way to turn back the clock is by visiting your favorite childhood haunts from summers before. You may discover that they still hold the same mysticism that they did years ago.
Just 2 ½ miles from Stone Mountain Park is the Yellow River Game Ranch, one of Georgia’s undiscovered gems and a favorite for those still young at heart. Their slogan is “like a zoo, only better,” and it rings true. The game ranch consists of a mile long trail wending through 24 acres of Georgia’s woods where guests can encounter over 600 birds and animals indigenous to the state. The Yellow River can be heard rushing alongside the wooded path.
Like a zoo, some of the animals reside in cages while others are free to move about in their pens. However, what makes the ranch unique is how sociable they allow the animals to be. Whitetail Deer will walk up to eat right out of your hand, easily slipping around the rope fences that are meant as more of a boundary for humans than animals. Peacocks, chickens, roosters and ducks all roam freely as well and may follow you around if they please. They also have a petting zoo area for the barnyard animals: kid goats, donkeys, cows, turkeys, sheep, pigs, hogs and geese. Bunnies get their own burrow enclosure where visitors can come inside to pet and hold them. The animals in cages are the ones you wouldn’t want roaming freely, like the black bears, cougars, bobcats, buffalo, foxes and raccoons. And don’t forget to visit the ranch’s claim to fame, General Beauregard Lee, the South’s favorite groundhog, who happens to have his own Twitter account.
While these animals may not be so exotic to you if you’ve encountered them in your backyard, they have a lot of heart. Most of the ranch animals have been rescued and would not have survived on their own in the wild. They have their imperfections, scars from another life where they encountered harm, but are just as lovable. Others are old favorites from the original Stone Mountain Park Wildlife Preserve now living in a new home. Mischievous squirrels and chipmunks even make their presence known and aren’t shy about walking up with their paws out, looking for a nut. They will even take it out of your hand if you get close enough.
The main charm of the Yellow River Game Ranch is its rustic appeal. However, as someone who has been visiting the ranch since early childhood, let me offer some advice. Rustic means rustic; the game ranch allows you to get close to nature for a certain price. Much of the path is unpaved and the dirt trail presents tree roots or other surprises, so wear shoes that are easy to walk in that you don’t mind getting dirty. It’s dirty, dusty, hot and smelly, but it’s a great fun summer adventure. Also, bring some stale bread, nuts, crackers, carrots or apples with you if you can. The animals are always happy to have a snack. If you forget, the gift shop sells animal-friendly food. And if you are really ready to step back into childhood, you can buy a plush version of your favorite animal at the end of the trip. If you enjoy capturing memories or exciting images with your camera, the ranch is one big opportunity for up close and personal shots of your children or friends interacting with Georgia’s beautiful animals.
Right now is a great time to visit the ranch; newborn fawns will be making their shy appearances throughout June and July. The babies are absolutely adorable with their spotted coats, but they are something to view from afar. Just make sure and give the babies their space, as they are still terrified of people and sticking close to their mothers, hence the ranch’s “don’t touch” policy concerning fawns. But the older deer, goats, sheep, bunnies and donkeys seem to enjoy the love and attention. Check Freddie’s Calendar on the website before going, as the ranch has events with the animals scheduled year round. And while you’re so close to Stone Mountain, why not combine the two and make a day of it? The Lasershow Spectacular is a great way to unwind after a long, hot day at the Game Ranch.
Shrug off one of those lazy days of summer to get out and embrace adventure at the Yellow River Game Ranch. You may find yourself younger at heart on the trail.