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Oconee County, a Hub for Arts, History and Nature-Seekers

By Kelly Church

Oconee County, just over an hour east of Atlanta, has everything from scenic bike rides to strawberry and blueberry picking, monthly First Friday events, and historical locations including the Eagle Tavern Museum from 1801. Assistant Director of Tourism for Oconee County Alex Perschka says the area has a strong community feel which is largely supported by the arts.

"Oconee County offers a variety of things to see, do and experience, however, one of the largest draws throughout the year is the arts," Perschka says. "Watkinsville, GA is known as the Artland of Georgia with its numerous art galleries, studios and artists who work and live here. The Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation hosts a number of exhibits annually including Perspectives: Georgia Pottery Invitational. This three-week pottery show is the largest of its kind in the southeast."

This year's showing of Perspectives was August 28 through September 16. Each year, the event tries to bring in five new potters to add to the collection. Many of the participants in the show are from the Oconee and Athens, adding to the artistic atmosphere of the area.

"Throughout the county, there are public displays of art intertwined with our rich history, attractions, restaurants and parks," Perschka says.

Other events supporting the arts include the Oconee Chamber of Commerce Fall Festival, which is celebrating its 41st year this month. The festival's 200 booths draw 20,000 attendees - making it one ofthe largest arts & crafts venues in the area. There are also movies in the park and a Blues & BBQ benefit supporting children in Oconee County through organizations such as Food for Kids, Summer Food for Kids and Mentor Program.

For the outdoorsy types, there is plenty of berry picking at local farms, farmers' markets to visit, Classic City Clydesdales horseback rides, and the 170-mile Antebellum Bike Trail. Additionally, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, just a few minutes outside the county, offer nearly one million acres of greenery, streams, rivers, recreation trails and campsites.

For historians, the Elder Mill Covered Bridge is a big stop on a tour through Oconee County. The structure was built in 1897 and is one of 13 covered bridges left in the state that is also functional. The Historic Haygood House is another stop representing the mid 19th century. The house is the birthplace of Atticus Haygood, former president of Emory College and a Methodist Church bishop, and his sister Laura, former principal of an Atlanta girls' school and missionary in China. Historical attractions like these boost the area's sense of community, keeping memories of the past alive every day.

"I personally enjoy the sense of community," Perschka says. "You can go into most stores, restaurants, etc and run into someone you know from work, school, church or your neighborhood. People care and watch out for one another. We are proud to call Oconee County home."

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