Offering scenic views of the North Georgia and North Carolina mountains, Popcorn Overlook is open year-round. Maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, educational signs are on-site for the intellectually curious. The park is 15 miles west of Clayton on Highway 76. Picnic tables, benches and car stops made from recycled plastic and wood fiber are used here. Picnicking. It is located on the Southern Highroads Trail.
The forests you see beyond this roadside area are a miracle of regrowth. Much of this land was cut over during the logging boom that began in these mountains during the 1880s and continued through the 1920s. Beginning gradually and swelling to meet a growing national demand for wood, large scale logging operations caused extensive damage and forever changed the character of the southern Appalachians.
Early mountaineers, accustomed to a hard life and little cash, willingly sold timber, land and mineral rights for small sums. Huge yellow poplars, white and red oaks and black cherry were sold for 40 to 75 cents a tree.
Whole mountainsides were cut over and burned, hillsides eroded. Streams that dried to trickles in the fall became raging rivers each spring. Most of this exploitation was financed from outside the region. This destruction generated widespread interest in saving and protecting the mountains.
The Weeks Act became law in 1911, and the first land approved for purchase was a tract of 31,000 acres from the Gennett Land and Lumber Company of Atlanta. By 1930, thousands of acres of mountain land had been acquired to protect watershed areas and provide a timber reserve. The Forest Service had begun its long-term and ongoing effort to provide environmental protection and economic stabilization for the Southern Appalachians. Several large tracts acquired from lulmber companies were “virgin” forest, remote and inaccessible therefore uncut. However, most lands were cut over or culled, and the best trees removed.
Rangers and resource managers of today deal with different problems as they manage your National Forests. Balancing the demands for recreation, timber, wildlife, watershed protection, and wilderness is not an easy task. The forest that you see today is both functional and beautiful, providing wood products and wildlife habitat, challenging the hiker, soothing the hurried urban soul, and silently guarding the quality of our water with its forested slopes.
Popcorn is 15 miles west of Clayton on Highway 76.