The coverage area for the Center for Gulf Coast Sustainability includes Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, but unfortunately, CGCS can’t extend services to Texas at this time. This might strike some people as odd that Georgia, a state technically without a true Gulf Coast, is included, but Texas is not. CGCS chose this range for several reasons, including simple logistics. This network of states is easy to traverse by car in a day or less, and our current staff includes several people who live in Florida and Georgia. These states are also well connected by major highways, where the majority of traffic moves north and south along corridors like I-95, I-85, and I-75.
CGCS also took into account the fact that Atlanta is the central economic hub for this region, linking the entire Eastern seaboard, Southeast, and Gulf Coast regions, especially given the fact that the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport is the busiest in the nation. Many businesses whose operations impact the Gulf Coast region are based in Atlanta, so it makes sense to include this crucial area.
From the political end of the spectrum, in the spirit of thinking globally and acting locally, working within a compact nexus of this range of states allows us to concentrate our network and efforts for the greatest effect in the community without spreading our resources too thinly.
In the spirit of welcoming Georgia into the Gulf Coast fold, we’d like to provide an introduction to some of what Georgia has to offer the sustainability-minded traveler, beginning with North Georgia and the Atlanta metro area.
If a natural vista is what you’re after, North Georgia has plenty of state parks and geological marvels to offer. Cloudland Canyon, in the upper left corner of the state near the Tennessee border, and Providence Canyon near Lumpkin, Georgia, are two of the most dramatic, with plenty of rigorous hiking. North Georgia is also home to some spectacular water features, such as Tallulah Falls, Toccoa Falls, or Amicalola Falls which are a reasonable few hours’ drive from Atlanta. For a more sedate outdoor experience with some relaxing lakeside camping, be sure to consider places like Lake Hart and the accompanying Hart State Park, which allow for an escape from the more crowded waterfront destinations like Lake Lanier.
An important aspect of sustainability is buying local and homemade whenever possible, and in cities like Dahlonega, nestled in the North Georgia foothills, many weekends a year bring festivals with local artists and artisans offering pottery, paintings, glassware, food, books, music, and more.
For the “city folk,” the obvious destination is Atlanta. Most of the hotels, such as the Grand Hyatt or the Marriot Renaissance (both in Buckhead) offer separate labeled receptacles for recycling glass, paper, and plastic within the room itself as well as a system where you can choose not to have your towels or bedding laundered daily during a multi-night stay; these are nearly effortless ways to reduce your footprint in a “home away from home.”
Buckhead also boasts an increasing number of restaurants that ascribe to the “farm-to-table” philosophy, where the waiter can tell you exactly where each ingredient in the dish you order was raised. In an era where the food on your plate more often than not was grown across the world, this makes for a refreshing and sustainable change. Restaurants like these range from the high end of upscale, like Bacchanalia, to the more reasonably priced Farm Burger.
If you need a break from the glass-and-metal of skyscrapers, give the Little Five Points neighborhood in Atlanta a try. With its more pedestrian-friendly layout, it’s easy to park the car and spend an entire afternoon wandering around the quirky shops and restaurants that cater to just about any taste you could crave. The Junkman’s Daughter is an experience in itself. As far as food is concerned, my personal recommendation is the family-owned Niramish Indian restaurant—their samosas are little triangular pockets of well-spiced heaven! There’s always the ever-popular Vortex Burgers as well, but with lines out the door and no clear reputation for sustainability, you would probably be better off sampling local grass-fed beef back in Buckhead.
You don’t have to leave nature behind completely during your sojourn in Atlanta, however. A trip to Centennial Park gives a taste of Atlanta history with its commemoration of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and Piedmont Park offers sprawling fields of grass perfect for letting kids antsy from a long car trip blow off some steam. During the holiday season, both of these parks set up ice skating rinks, although they tend to get crowded, so making an online reservation helps!
There are, of course, the big name tourist attractions in Atlanta such as the Georgia Aquarium and the Atlanta Zoo. Although these aren’t the most sustainability-minded in terms of resource use, these two facilities do help save and increase the numbers of several endangered species, and witnessing amazing creatures up close is a great reminder to children and adults alike of the importance of reducing our impact on the environment.
Obviously, these suggestions only scratch the surface of what Georgia has to offer. The following resources offer more information about planning a trip to the Peach State: