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Union General Hospital

Union General Hospital is located in Blairsville, Georgia. This rural hospital may be small, but it offers a broad range of high quality services. Since 1959, Union General has been providing healthcare services to the residents in and around Blairsville. It has a state-of-the-art 45-bed facility, and all of the rooms are private. Additionally, the Blairsville health system includes Chatuge Regional Hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital, two nursing homes, and several outlying medical clinics. The hospital prides itself on its family of warm professionals who strive for the best possible experiences for all patients and visitors.

While Union General is a considered a medium-sized hospital, it still faces the same organizational and management challenges of other health systems around the country. To promote better communication and continue efficiently delivering services, Union General developed and implemented a business intelligence strategy.

Through a partnership with Sisense, a business intelligence software vendor, a data analytics technology platform was developed that facilitates greater communication between clinicians and case managers. This new system enables the rural hospital to more efficiently report data and improves the overall workflow. The single dashboard system allows users to see more information on a patient in just one place.

Union General received praise from Georgia Trend Magazine last year in its hospital review. Union General Hospital was named a top medium-sized hospital out of 35 other hospitals. The ranking was determined by data based from the U.S. Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The CMS tracks 40 quality-related indicators that measure the quality of healthcare services. Union General shared the 7th placed position with two other hospitals.

Photo Courtesy of Scott Michael Anna

Best Camping Sites in Northeast Georgia

You don’t need to look far to find the perfect place to set up camp in Northeast Georgia. From small campgrounds to state parks, the Blairsville-Union County area has plenty to offer for every camping adventure. Read more to discover four of the best camping sites in Northeast Georgia.

Trackrock Campground & Cabins
Located between Blairsville and Hiawassee, Trackrock is 300 acres of meadows, hayfields and woodlands. This campground is great for families, with lots of amenities and natural beauty. Nearby is a pond where visitors can swim and fish. For kids, there are two playgrounds as well as hiking trails the whole family can enjoy. The Chattahoochee National Forests surround the campground on three sides, keeping the campsites secluded from the city hustle and bustle. Trackrock campground offers camping for everyone: RVs, tents, and pop ups are all welcome. One and two bedroom cabins are available for those who prefer not to camp.

Vogel State Park
Vogel State Park is one of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks. It is located at the base of Blood Mountain, a part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. During the fall, Vogel is transformed by the red, yellow, and gold leaves. There are many options for camping and cottages are available for rental. There are 85 campsites you can drive up to and 18 walk-in campsites for tents only. What makes this campground special is its location to other parks and hiking trails. Brasstown Bald is nearby, as are many popular trails such as the 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Lake Winfield Scott
This recreation area overlooks the beautiful Lake Winfield Scott located in Blairsville, Georgia. Here visitors can picnic, boat, fish, and hike. There are two camping loops with 36 campsites that can be claimed on a first come, first served basis. Nearby are popular hiking trails including the Lake Winfield Scott Trail, the Jarrard Gap trail, the Slaughter Creek Trail, and the Appalachian Trail.

Cooper Creek Campground
Cooper Creek Campground is located in Suches, Georgia in the North Georgia mountains. Fifteen campsites are laid out across the forest, with five of those sites nestled on the banks of the Cooper/Mulky Creek. Both creeks are trout streams with wild and stocked trout. Each campsite has a tent pad, grills, lantern pole, and a picnic table. Nearby there are five interconnected trails with plenty of tree coverage to keep the paths cool, even during the summer.

Photo Courtesy of Scott Michael Anna

Spotlight on Union County Schools

Union County Schools serve more than 2,700 students in the Blairsville and Suches area. Fueled by the vision of “Cultivating the Leaders of Tomorrow,” this school system is working hard to identify and meet the needs of every student. Recognized as a part of Georgia’s Charter School Systems, Union County Schools are able to provide academic, artistic, athletic, and a number of community opportunities.

The county public school system operates five schools in total. Those buildings are some of the most up-to-date in the area. The faculty and staff are consistently held in high regard. In fact, about 70 percent of the top professional staff hold advanced degrees. That level of excellence is also exemplified by Union County’s students. At Union County High School, students have the opportunity to take AP courses and participation is currently at 20 percent. The school’s graduation rate is very high at 91 percent.

Union County Schools are consistently ranked as a top rural school system. Both high schools have received awards by the U.S. News and World Report. Woody Gap High School was named a top high school in the country and Union County High School was  ranked as one of the best high schools nationwide – the ranking was based on the school’s performance on state-required tests and how well they prepare students for college. UCHS also received the Bronze award and the Gold Award from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

In addition, the Mountain Education Charter High School is an accredited public school that offers afternoon and evening classes, perfect for part-time students. Students work at their own pace and are allowed as much time needed to master the subjects.

The high standards, ample opportunities in academia and beyond, and compelling learning environments make Union County’s schools the perfect launchpad for our children’s future!

Family on Boat

Let’s go to the Park!

Summer is the perfect time for family fun! If you are looking for things to do with your crew, we’ve got plenty of options for getting outside and enjoying the fresh air! Blairsville has many parks in the area that are perfect for outdoor fun. From hiking trails and lakes, to picnic areas and campgrounds, these Blairsville-area parks are perfect for your family’s next outdoor adventure.

Vogel State Park
Spend a day exploring all that Vogel State Park has to offer, or stay overnight at a camp site. There are activities for all ages. Seventeen miles of trails of varying difficulty are available for hiking, including the Appalachian Trail. Lake Trahlyta is at the center of the park and is formed from Wolf Creek. Surrounding the lake is an easy 1 mile trail, providing access to fishing docks and the boathouse. A side trail will take hikers to Trahlyta Falls, also known as Spillway Falls, a beautiful tiered waterfall. Reservations are recommended for camping. The park is at an elevation of 2,500 feet, making it a perfect place to cool off during the hot summer days.

Poteete Creek Park and Campground
Another option for camping and outdoor fun is Poteete Creek Park and Campground. This park has 59 campground sites and is just 13 miles north of Blairsville. The park is situated right next to Lake Nottely, providing a beautiful backdrop to your outdoor adventures. Campgrounds vary in size, and both camper and tent sites are available. Fire rings, dump stations, power and water are available at most sites. The recreation area has a boat ramp, picnic tables, swimming beach, pavilion, fishing. Reservations are recommended for both camping and beach pavilion rental.

Meeks Park
Described often as one of the most beautiful parks in North Georgia, Meeks Park is the perfect place for some family fun. The park features open meadows, shady areas, and playing fields for sporting activities. The athletic facilities include seven ball fields, four batting cages, a basketball court, tennis courts, swimming pool, disc golf course, and much more. Be sure to spend some time walking along the nature trails that lead to a tree-lined walkway near the banks of the Nottely River. Along these trails are sculptures by local artist and resident Al Garnto. Though not allowed in Meeks Park, dog are welcome to enjoy The Dog Park across the street from Meeks Park.

track rock gap

Track Rock Gap

Looking for a road trip or hike with an added layer of adventure? Head to the Track Rock Gap Archeological site.

The site is located south of Blairsville and is the only set of petroglyphs in north Georgia. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the rock carvings were made 1,000 years ago by Creek and Cherokee people. Although, the discovery of Woodland Indian sites nearby indicates that this group could also possibly be responsible for the petroglyphs.

The carvings can be found on six pieces of soapstone that are near the road in Track Rock Gap. Today, they are covered by metal cages in an effort to protect the stones from vandals. The carvings on the stones include animal tracks, feet, human-like stick figures and grid-like drawings that may be depicting village maps.

To get to the site during your road trip, you can take the Georgia Mountain Parkway 5 miles east of Blairsville, then turn right on Track Rock Gap Road. Follow it for a little more than 2 miles and the rocks will be on the right. Parking is available near the site.

Alternatively, the Arkaquah Trail is an 11 mile hike that will also take you to the rocks. Starting from Brasstown Bald, the trail takes you across a ridge for breathtaking views of North Georgia and ends at the Track Rock Gap site.

geocaching

Geocaching, a Treasure Hunt in your own Backyard

Looking for an outdoor activity that the whole family can enjoy? Geocaching is a great family fun excursion that is inexpensive and gets you outside. The North Georgia mountains are meant to be explored, so plug in those coordinates and go hunting for treasure!

The creation of geocaching came shortly after the improvements were made to GPS accuracy by the U.S. government in 2000.  GPS enthusiast Dave Ulmer wanted to test the new system, and so he hid a container in the woods and noted the GPS coordinates. He called it the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” and encouraged others online to participate and posted his stash coordinates so others could look for it. This was the first instance of what we now call Geocaching.

What do you need?
For this high tech hiking trip, all you need to participate is your own GPS device – a smartphone with a GPS app will work as well. At the Geocaching website you can find geocaches (“caches” for short) all over the world to hunt. The Blairsville list even includes a cache that takes you in and around the Union County Public Library. The container may be hard to find, but keep following the coordinates and clues. The cache may include a log book to write your name in, and some “treasures” to take as a prize. Remember to bring your own small item to leave behind!

Where to go?
You can find geocaches all over the world! But you don’t have to travel far to find adventure. Geocaching is a great way to explore North Georgia, including the areas you might have overlooked. There are trails all over Georgia, including Blairsville’s own Vogel State Park. For an outdoor activity with lots of family fun, geocaching can’t be beat.

Courtesy of Jason Clemmons

Entrepreneur Success: Sunrise Grocery

The Sunrise Grocery has been a beloved local store in Blairsville, Georgia since the 1920s. We talked to the current owner, Jason Clemmons, about the store’s history and his keys to success.

Bob and Christine Clemmons bought the small business in the 1980s after stopping by the store while on a vacation at Vogel State Park. The Clemmons family moved from Florida to Blairsville to run the store and expanded the Sunrise business to include two cabins available to rent on the Nottely River. Jason Clemmons, son of Bob and Christine, has continued the legacy of business success by focusing on selling quality local goods.

What makes Sunrise Grocery a unique small business?
I think what makes us unique is time. We’ve tried to take people back with our store. We have old rough lumber shelving. We trade locally like they once did. The original store has been here since the early 20’s. Families have been coming to Vogel State Park for generations and we have always been their stop for the common goods, camping supplies, and their local apples and peaches. We still boil our peanuts with firewood. Our logo is an old man picking a banjo.  The reason for that is that it represents old Appalachia to me. That’s what I’m trying to pass on. A certain ambiance of how it use to be here. I really think when people pass through our doors they do drift back and think about how things were. I hope so anyway.

What challenges has Sunrise Grocery faced?
The biggest challenge, for me, was about six years ago. Sunrise Grocery used to be the only thing between Vogel and Blairsville. So we would sell a lot of staples. Milk, bread, charcoal, and things like that. Then a large gas station opened near by, Walmart opened, and a Dollar General opened just down the road. We actually had people saying to us ‘What we were going to do?’ because we wouldn’t make it. Well, we decided to localize. We just increased everything local. Jellies, pottery, soaps, honey, syrup, candies, and just brand ourselves as the oldest business in Blairsville. You can’t recreate that! Not only did we make it, we’ve had our best years!

What advice can you give small business owners?
The biggest tip I could give people is the old saying: location, location, location! You have to have a location people see.

What has been the key to your business success?
I think our family’s keys to success here at Sunrise is customer service. I remember my parents going to the house to get things for customers we didn’t have at the store to save them a trip to town. It’s hard to be on top of that all the time just due to getting sidetracked on other goings on at the store, or something like that, but we try to make all people feel at home and part of the Sunrise family.

What makes Blairsville a great community to own a business?
The community of Blairsville is the best there is!  People in town have always supported us. They bring their family to us when they have visitors. Local businesses come to buy gift baskets for their clients. So we have tons of support from Blairsville!

The things I love in Blairsville is the people, culture, and the beautiful mountains. I also have JMC photography where I focus on our landscape.These mountains will talk to you if you listen. It’s like no other place on Earth. That’s my humble opinion, though.

OS Grapes

First AVA Designation in Georgia

Locals have known for a while, but now it’s official. There is great wine coming out of North Georgia.

After four years of paperwork, petitions, and substantial evidence that Western North Carolina and Northeast Georgia has a unique natural boundary and growing conditions unlike any other neighboring region, an American Viticultural Area (AVA) known as Upper Hiwassee Highlands was designated to our region.

This prestigious designation includes parts of Clay County and Cherokee County in North Carolina and Towns and Union Counties in Georgia. The Upper Hiwassee Watershed acts perfectly as the natural boundary for the eight wineries that fall into the Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA.

An American Viticultural Area designation is not an easy process and they are not freely given out. Regulations require only wine that derives 85% or more of their content inside the boundaries of a designated AVA can use the AVA name.

The majority of AVAs are located in California with notorious names like Napa Valley and Sonoma. The Upper Hiwassee Highlands region makes the fourth designation for North Carolina and the first ever for Georgia!

So, what does this mean to the wineries?

It means that each vineyard in the Upper Hiwassee Highlands has a way to point vintners and consumers to a special characteristic or overall quality of grapes grown in the region.  

Additionally, they have permission to use a tag on their label called an appellation of origin, which proudly states the wine was made in the Upper Hiwassee Highlands region. Having the AVA designation assures wine enthusiasts of a product’s quality and characteristics.

So, take a ride around and get to know the wines of your region. Most vineyards offer tastings and typically have music or other fun events as you sniff, sample, and enjoy each unique vintage. Paradise Hills Farm Winery also has a resort and spa onsite, perfect for a North Georgia getaway.  

For a full listing of wineries or other activities in Union County and the North Georgia Mountains please go to www.VisitBlairsvilleGa.com.

Vineyards included in the Upper Hiwassee Highlands region:
Clay County Eagle Fork Vineyard
Cherokee County Calaboose Cellars, Valley River Vineyards, Nottlely River Valley Vineyards
Towns County Crane Creek Vineyards, Hightower Creek Vineyards
Union County Paradise Hills Farm Winery, Odom Springs Vineyards
Jerae's Unity Alpacas

Fun Family Activities in Blairsville

When you hear the phrase “family fun”, what comes to mind may be the stress, long days, and lots of money. But that doesn’t have to be the case! Blairsville has activities for all ages that are free and don’t require detailed scheduling. We’ve compiled five free activities so you can spend less time thinking about time and money, and more time enjoying the beautiful North Georgia mountains with your family!

Outside adventure: Picnic and a hike
When planning a trip to North Georgia, take some time to enjoy all the picturesque nature sites. There are so many free activities waiting for you just outside your door. Helton Creek Falls is south of Blairsville off of Hwy 19/129. This hike is only 0.6 miles long, perfect for kids of any age. Be sure to pack a lunch because the falls offer a great site for a picnic. See more options at our spring hikes guide [insert link to spring hikes guide blog when available].

Learn something new: Alpaca Farms
Spend an afternoon getting to know an animal not common to North Georgia, Alpacas. At the Lasso the Moon Alpaca Farm or Jerae’s Unity Alpacas you can do just that. Be sure to stop by the gift stores for a selection of handcrafted jewelry and products made from Alpaca fiber. Entrance is free to both farms, but donations are welcomed. For both locations, please call or email ahead to make an appointment.

Treasure hunt: Geocaching
Geocaching has become an international pastime for family fun. Using a GPS device, enter in coordinates and follow the clues to a hidden cache. This is a fun way to get to know a new area, or appreciate all that your own neighborhood has to offer. There are plenty of Geocaches to discover in Blairsville, including one that takes you in and around the Union County Public Library.

Relax on the water: Lake trip
Lake Nottely offers a breathtaking alpine experience for residents and visitors just northwest of Blairsville. Or stay on shore and have a picnic at one of the parks surrounding the lake. Another option is Lake Winfield Scott which offers hiking, swimming, boating, and camping year round.

Fun times at the festival
In a tight community like Blairsville, there are festivals all year round where you can enjoy local crafters, fair food, and activities for the whole family (though not everything at these festivals is free). Check out our Festivals page for more information on upcoming festivals.

 

Lake Nottely

Blairsville-Union County Lakes

Escape the heat this summer by exploring these lakes and parks in Blairsville. While it is very beautiful, the south in the summertime can be hot, hot, hot. What better way is there to cool off than by boating, swimming, fishing, or enjoying a picnic by the water? So, pack up a picnic and the family, and head out to one of these great lake destinations!

Lake Nottely
Located just north of Blairsville is the shimmering blue waters of Lake Nottely. Surrounding the water are the mountains and valleys of the Chattahoochee National Forest, making it one of the more scenic areas of Blairsville. The water is teeming with wildlife, including the largemouth and striped bass, catfish, and crappie. There are plenty of picnic areas along the lake’s shore, perfect for a family fun outing on the weekend. Utilize one of the many boat ramps available to launch your boat. Looking for an extended summer lake vacation? There are camping areas and an RV park available. Three marinas are available: Nottely MarinaNottely Boat Club & Marina, and North Georgia WaterSports.

Lake Winfield Scott
Ten miles south of Blairsville is Lake Winfield Scott. The lake was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Situated in a beautiful mountain valley, the scenery cannot be beat! This 18-acre lake offers a variety of year round activities that the whole family can enjoy. There are areas to camp, picnic, and of course boat or swim. Surrounding the lake are hiking trails that take you through the recreation area.

Vogel State Park
Vogel State Park is one of Georgia’s oldest state parks. The park is located at the Blood Mountain base in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Perfect for a day of family fun, Vogel State Park features Lake Trahlyta where you can fish or swim. Surrounding this lake are 17 miles of trails, including the Appalachian Trail. On the water you can enjoy lake activities perfect for summertime, like kayaking and paddleboarding.