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Cloudland Canyon State Park Manager Bobby Wilson displays one of the park’s 10 new yurts, available for overnight rental Dec. 1. Wilson says the canvas-walled yurts, which are heated but not plumbed, are a halfway measure between camping and staying in one of the park’s cabins.
 

By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

For some of us, getting back to nature means sleeping cradled in the earth’s embrace, on the bare ground beneath a starry sky. Others find Mother Earth’s bosom a trifle uncushioned for comfort and are perfectly happy staying in a nice hotel, with the window cracked.

If you fit somewhere in the middle of the creature-comfort spectrum, Cloudland Canyon State Park has the perfect compromise for you: Yurts.

“This is deluxe roughing it here,” said Ranger Bobby Wilson, Cloudland Canyon’s park manager, as construction workers put finishing touches on the 10-unit Yurt Village the park adds to its accommodation lineup as of Dec. 1. “This is more for folks who don’t have the equipment to camp, but they want to get out in the woods.”

Cloudland Canyon State Park, a popular destination for outdoor tourists with its towering waterfalls, 1,000-foot canyon and extensive hiking trails, has for decades offered overnight cabins as well as campground accommodations.

The park’s 17 cabins stay pretty solidly booked – reservations are accepted 13 months in advance, and for peak times Wilson says calling that early is not a bad idea – and the Georgia Park Service had long had plans to expand overnight use by adding another recreational vehicle campsite, said Wilson.

“But in looking at our occupancy rates, we realized we didn’t need another campsite,” said the ranger. “So when the funding came up for the new campground, we made the recommendation to put the yurts in instead. We’d seen how successful they were in other parks and we thought they’d be a good fit here.”   

What is a yurt? “It’s basically a permanent tent, or a canvas cabin,” said Wilson. Historically, the odd, round little homes were used for centuries by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia. These wanderers carried the support beams and fabric walls around on their yaks or camels and reassembled them from place to place.

At Cloudland Canyon, the yurts are less mobile. Situated privately far apart in a wooded area near the canyon’s western rim, they are wood-framed structures with canvas walls, each with its own open-air living area out front – lamppost, fire pit, fixed picnic table – and railed wooden deck behind. 

But the park’s yurts are built on the same ancient plan as the Mongolian originals – wooden supports bend from the top of the circular walls to meet in a compression ring up top, creating the characteristic domed roof. The rounded shape offers heating efficiency and is resistant to heavy snow, strong winds, even earthquakes. 

Besides, yurt proponents find the circular walls and dome roof nurturing. “Yurts provide a reprieve from the rectilinear excesses of modern culture and remind us, through their circular form, of the unity and interconnectedness of all things,” writes Becky Kemery, author of Yurts:  Living in the Round.  

Thus yurts are often used these days for meditation or spiritual purposes, or in the healing arts. “People seem to sleep better in yurts, and often dream more,” writes Ms Kemery.

Ranger Wilson is not the type of guy who talks much about rectilinear excesses, and he makes no promises about dreams, but he did comment on the yurt aesthetic: “It fits in the landscape well.” 

And just as practically, he expects the yurts to fit naturally into Cloudland Canyon’s climate. They are 20 feet in diameter and equipped with electric radiators for heat in the winter. For summer, each has four windows in the canvas walls that can be zipped open as well as a central skylight with a ceiling fan.

“We’re anticipating it, especially up here with our climate, being relatively cool with the ceiling fan and the ability to open the skylight and get a draft going,” said Wilson. “We’re anticipating it being quite comfortable in the summer.”

Inside, each yurt is one big, airy room with gleaming hardwood floors. The units sleep a maximum of six with three double beds, one being a high bunk and the other two futons that fold into sofas for day use. Furniture also includes minimalist lamps, tables and chairs. One of the 10 yurts has been rigged to be completely handicapped-accessible.

  The yurts are not plumbed but are arranged campground-style around a common bathhouse with toilets, showers and laundry facilities. Also included in the Yurt Village is a central community space with grill, picnic area and a playground for children.

Wilson says the park plans to rent the yurts for $70 a night, making them midrange between campsites ($16 for walk-in, $28 for RV) and cabins, which rent nightly in the $130-$150 neighborhood.

If you’re interested in booking a yurt, the park is taking reservations now – call (706) 657-4050 or visit gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon – though construction boss Jack Smith (who chased the Sentinel firmly out of the way of the pavers) asks that would-be visitors restrain their curiosity until opening date.

Cloudland Canyon has recently added to its tourist draw by adding more equestrian and mountain bike trails to its more than 45 – “By the time the Connector Trail is finished, it’ll be closer to 65,” said Wilson – hikeable miles.

Additionally, the park is the only one in Georgia with caves on the premises, and it offers cave tours through a concessionaire, the Georgia Girl Guides, or G3, April through October. The caves are closed in the cold months due to bat hibernation, but G3 offers guided hikes in the winter including the second annual First Day Hike on Jan. 1. For more information on that, readers may visit georgiagirlguides.com.

Ranger Wilson invites the public to visit Cloudland Canyon Park, partake of its myriad delights and, especially, admire its new yurts. “I just want to get folks out here to experience them and get their feedback and hope they enjoy it,” he said. “They’re a great addition to the park.”


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