From Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett to Jim Bridger and Charles Goodnight, the American spirit has always been embodied by the rugged outdoorsman.
In the often hectic and disconnected modern world, men like Cameron Lawson continue this tradition. When he’s not out of town working, the 2008 Murray High School graduate is usually floating the Conasauga River or flinging a line into one of the many lakes and streams in the area. It’s a legacy handed down to him by his father and grandfather and a passion that grows stronger with each passing year.
“Everybody gets started differently,” Lawson, 30, said. “A lot of us get started the same as well, from a grandpa or a dad that was an outdoorsman and you just look up to them. If they’re outdoorsmen, it’s really easy to get involved and consumed by it. I would say that would be the biggest thing, having role models like my dad and grandpa that were avid outdoorsmen. There wasn’t room for me to skip out on that.”
Like many, Lawson got his start in the outdoors hunting rabbits and squirrels before eventually transitioning to bigger game. When the wind blows cooler, the leaves turn, and the big bucks start moving in the fall, Lawson transitions to deer hunting, which is still a very popular pastime. The Whitetail Report published by Quality Deer Management Association's (QDMA) in 2018 reported that 10 million people hunted deer in 2016-2017. The numbers translate locally, especially with the 36,977 acres of land in the nearby Cohutta Wilderness, and the plentiful amount of private land in the area.
“If it had a season, we hunted it, pretty much,” Lawson said. “And we ate what we hunted. That has been instilled in me. Don’t kill it if you’re not going to eat it. There’s no sense in it. We never did it for the wrong reasons.”
Safety is also important for Lawson and the many other outdoorsmen who spend time in the area’s forests. Cpl. Casey Jones, a game warden with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said that despite the recent COVID-19 concerns, people have been enjoying the area’s rivers, lakes and streams. He hopes they will continue to do so while observing social distancing guidelines.
“Right now we’re just focusing on our state lands, parks, and waterways,” Jones said. “We want to make sure people are staying six feet apart. That’s about all we can do now. It’s the only thing left in the executive order.”
So what is available to do during this time of year?
Fort Mountain State Park occupies 3,712 acres in the Cohutta Mountains with hiking and camping available. In the northeastern part of Murray County lies the Chattahoochee National Forest and near the top of Grassy Mountain is Lake Conasauga, the highest lake in Georgia, at 3,150 feet above sea level. Carters Lake in the southern end of the county is a very popular fishing and recreation spot and sprawls over 3,200 acres.
“At Fort Mountain, you have a lot of pretty trails, nice places to camp,” Jones said. “You’ve got the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area across the road, basically, which is the largest management area in the state. It has the largest wilderness area in it east of the Mississippi. It’s bike-less and road-less. The only way you can access it is by foot or horse. There are a lot of trail systems there and pretty good trout fishing. A lot of pretty scenery.”
During the uncertainties of the COVD-19 shutdown when people couldn’t go to work or attend religious services, they were obviously getting back into the outdoors, Lawson said, which is a positive trend in a line of negatives.
“During this crazy time we’ve had, you could walk into Wal-Mart and they didn’t have any sinkers or hooks,” Lawson said. “They were almost out of fishing poles. It seemed like during this time people were definitely getting back outdoors. They had a chance to go fishing again. I really think that has helped a lot of folks out.”