published Friday, October 7th, 2011

Former Cloudland Canyon State Park staffers start guide service


by Andy Johns
Amy Ward, Georgia Girl Guides co-owner/lead guide, left, and Christine Rose, Georgia Girl Guides co-owner/naturalist, speak about their new business while standing at the entrance to Sitton's Cave. Their venture offers cave tours, backpacking trips and bicycle rentals as a concessionaire with Cloudland Canyon State Park.
Amy Ward, Georgia Girl Guides co-owner/lead guide, left, and Christine Rose, Georgia Girl Guides co-owner/naturalist, speak about their new business while standing at the entrance to Sitton's Cave. Their venture offers cave tours, backpacking trips and bicycle rentals as a concessionaire with Cloudland Canyon State Park.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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Contact Georgia Girls Guides at georgiagirlguides.com. Or call 706-913-7170 or 423-834-1057.

Entrepreneurs are always looking for opportunities — even if that opportunity is 100 feet underground.

Amy Ward and Christine Rose think they’ve found one and will begin this weekend running cave tours, renting bicycles and leading backpacking trips at Cloudland Canyon State Park.

“We had to look at how do we do what we love to do in a place we love and make money,” said Rose, standing near a bin of helmets and headlamps in what used to be the park’s pool house.

Until this summer, she and Ward had worked at the park. But with constant talk of state budget cuts, they decided to go out on their own and incorporate as Georgia Girls Guides.

On the job, they noticed visitors were looking for a few more services from the park and saw an opportunity.

“Almost every day somebody would come to me and ask about caving,” Rose said.

They offer three tours of Sitton’s Cave at the bottom of the canyon, ranging in price from $20 to $50. They also plan to rent bikes for $10 per day and lead two-night backpacking trips on an exclusive trail for about $200 per trip.

Under their agreement, a percentage of Georgia Girl’s revenues goes to the park, which is why the state is encouraging more parks to enter similar partnerships.

Park manager Bobby Wilson said every state park has been asked to put together a business plan in an attempt to bring in more revenue.

“This will definitely fit,” he said.

He said he also gets many questions about caving and bike rentals and thinks campers and other visitors will jump at the chance to add a little more adventure to their outings.

“It’s a fantastic idea,” said Georgia State Parks spokeswoman Kim Hatcher.

She said concessionaires run swimming pools and horseback rides in some parks, including a stable at Fort Mountain in Murray County.

The Girls’ first customer, University of Alabama education professor Rebecca Ballard, said cavers should be ready to learn a lot about the subterranean world but also be prepared to get dirty.

“All the clothes went straight into a garbage bag,” she said. “I still have dirt in my shoes and I’ve already washed them.”

On the two-hour cave tour, Ballard, who had never been in a cave before, said she saw bats, an underground river and loads of rock formations. About a third of the route requires crawling and another portion involves wading through water, but Ward and Rose said parts of the route will work for most anyone — 6 to 96 years old.

Ballard admitted she “had no idea what were getting ourselves into,” but she enjoyed the trip.

“It was great to get in there and see what the Earth had done over the years,” she said. “I would absolutely do it again.”

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about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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