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The money factory (got your attention!)

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So here we are, and Christmas has come and gone. The gifts have all been unwrapped, and everyone on your list is now enjoying new toys.

Now come the bills. And yes, they’re coming – and they require payment in good old U.S. currency.

That brings us, in a roundabout sort of way, to this week’s outdoor adventure: a hike at Sope Creek.

At this point in the season, it’s a pretty safe bet that you need to do some hiking. All those parties…all that food… and the lure of the sofa is strong. But you know you’ll feel better if you can get yourself moving. Besides, a good hike is just the thing to take your mind off (dare I say it again) all those post-gift-giving bills.

Especially if it’s a hike to a money factory.

A money factory? Yep, I thought that might get your attention!

This particular might-be-a-money factory, or what’s left of it, awaits you in the Sope Creek Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Specifically, I’m thinking about the ruins of Marietta Paper Mills, an extensive paper factory that was alive and well during the second half of the 19th century (that is, the 1800s), churning out, among other things, newsprint for many Georgia newspapers and legend says the paper used to print Confederate currency. So it really might have been a “money factory” after all.

Sure, the money was Confederate, and that won’t help you with your bills today. The old factory is in ruins anyway. But it’s the thought that counts, and the week after Christmas any thought that gets you outside and active again (all that pecan pie…) is indeed a thought worth thinking.

In the interest of full disclosure I must tell you that there’s some debate about whether the paper produced there ever made its way into Confederate cash. But such details are best left to the historians. What you want to do is to get out there and hike the trails and get a sense of those ruins yourself. There really is a neat sense of timelessness to them. What stories might they tell? You do want to know, don’t you? So flee the sofa! Get up and go!

The easiest way to reach these ruins is to start at the CRNRA parking area off Paper Mill Road. From there, you’ll have access to the Sope Creek Unit’s complex network of interconnected trails, among them a mixed-use hike/bike trail that makes for some interesting riding on that new mountain bike you found under your tree. By the way, your mother called and told me to remind you to wear your helmet when you ride.

But you won’t have to worry about that if you’re bound for the ruins. The trails leading to them are designated for foot travel only.

You’ll enter the trail system at the far end of the parking area behind a group of signs. Actually, two trails begin there – a road-like gravel trail that starts behind a gate (the mixed-use trail for hikers and bikers) and also a dirt trail (foot travel only) to the left of the signs. To visit the ruins, follow the dirt trail to the left toward intersection SC3 (these are National Park Service intersection identifiers, and they are very helpful). Then, at SC3, turn left along a gently descending trail toward intersection SC4.

At SC4, go left and follow the trail as it descends more or less parallel to Paper Mill Road. Watch for rough sections as you go. Soon, you’ll reach a trail juncture (SC26) where the trail swings down toward the road and yet another intersection (SC27) – and just beyond that point, there they are: the ruins of the old Marietta Paper Mills (2).

Paper was an important strategic material during the Civil War, possibly because of its use in printing Confederate currency but also because it was essential for printing newspapers (there might be a lesson there for our time too). For that reason, the site was on the radar of Union forces – and on July 5, 1864, they burned it. After the war the mill was rebuilt, only to burn again in 1870. Rebuilt yet again, it operated until 1902. Historic markers near the parking area tell the story in detail.

Several trails meander among the ruins, allowing you to explore them thoroughly. There are more ruins on the other side of the Sope Creek, too, and another trail goes down its far side. But whichever trail you take, remember not to climb on the ruins themselves. Keep your feet on the ground. Take lots of pictures. Morning and evening are especially good photo times if you can catch the sun just right. But don’t climb on the old stone ruins.

After exploring the ruins, you might want to take time to check out some of the Sope Creek Unit’s other trails too. The loop around Sibley Pond is a favorite of many, and it’s close by too.

So there you have it – a hike at the old money factory, or so I like to tell myself. Anachronistic or not, there’s something oddly soothing about a thought like that at this time of year.

All I need to do, I add in my notes to myself, is to find such a factory where the currency is current, the production line is in full swing, and free samples are to be had for the asking.

I can dream –


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