When Mike and Donna Holder bought some property in Carroll County after responding to an ad in the Atlanta Journal in 1997, the couple had hopes of starting a rural bed and breakfast. Little did they know at the time that they would be uncovering a forgotten chapter in Georgia's history, as well as setting the stage for a new entry in the Guinness World Records. As the Holder's began to explore the grounds of their new property, they found the ruins of mills and damns beneath the overgrowth along Snake Creek Gorge. Wanting to know more about the location, they called in local historian Doug Mabry to help fill in the missing pieces. Soon, their little B&B enterprise would turn into a non-profit conservation center, country retreat and adventure center.
In the early 1800s west Georgia was still considered frontier land. The Creek and Cherokee nations called the area home for generations, until the Trail of Tears relocated the tribes. Industrialists took note of the rapid free-falling water through Snake Creek Gorge, which made it a prime spot for milling purposes, and began to harness the creek's power. The men who owned the mills along Snake Creek made fortunes and helped to make post-Civil War Atlanta a bustling city of the New South while they became leaders of the business community and the toast of the town's high society circles. During his research, Mabry learned that the paper mill's biggest client during the 1890s was the Atlanta Constitution. The ruins of the paper mill can be seen today directly across from the main lodge building on Snake Creek. According to Mabry, in June of 1889 a journalist covering the industrial activity along Snake Creek was surprised by the "weird and enchanting" vistas along the gorge, a fact echoed today by first-time visitors who often comment that the scenery is more reminiscent of the North Georgia mountains than what they were expecting to find in Carroll County. As time and technology marched on, the mills along Snake Creek became obsolete and Mother Nature took the gorge back to a state of verdant overgrown splendor. By the time the Holder's got there in the late 1990s, this forgotten tributary of the Chattahoochee was a bucolic spot waiting to be rediscovered.
The World Record
On December 10, 2011, Banning Mills made history in the modern age when a representative from Guinness World Records was on hand to witness and declare a new world record in the category of "World's Tallest Freestanding Climbing Wall." During construction of the wall, Mike Holder wasn't even aware that the record was in reach. After he learned that his wall was short by only 15 feet he told the construction team, "Let's keep building." The result is a 14-story adventure tower that also includes take off and landing platforms for zip lines and a controlled free fall machine that lets patrons experience what it feels like to jump from a height of 100 feet and land safely on the ground.
The Canopy Tour
The zip line canopy tour is the main draw for most visitors to Banning Mills. Individuals, couples, families, churches, schools and company groups come to Banning to experience one of North America's largest and fastest zip line tours. Man made towers allow for an above-the-treetops and across-the-gorge experience unparallelled in the state of Georgia. The Extreme tour includes a trek on a foot bridge 165 feet over Snake Creek, with a grand finale half-mile long zip through the gorge at speeds reaching upwards of 60 m.p.h. For families, the new Woodland tour is a less-extreme experience designed with young children in mind (minimum age 8, minimum weight 50). All canopy tours are guided by first-responder certified professionals and have double-safety mechanisms in place at all times. After you're done zipping through the treetops, you'll be hearing the phrase "transfer one, transfer two" echoing in your sleep, a Banning Mills safety mantra that can only be fully understood by those who've experienced the canopy tour firsthand.
If you go
Historic Banning Mills is about an hour's drive west of downtown Atlanta. Use the turn-by-turn directions available at their website. GPS devices may lead you astray down random country roads.
Choose from a variety of overnight accommodations, including rooms, cottages and cabins. Daily rates range from $99 to $199. There's also a campground for RVs and tent camping ranging from $15 to $29 a day.
Banning Mills doesn't have a public restaurant, but there is a dining room in the lodge and chef on-site. A hearty country breakfast is included for overnight guests at the lodge. Special arrangements can be made for lunch and dinner, even a romantic dinner served in your room. This is not a five-star resort, but the food is top notch. Expect chef-inspired entrees, not mess hall blandness.
Historic Banning Mills. 205 Horseshoe Dam Road, Whitesburg. 770-834-9149, www.historicbanningmills.com.
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