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Ellijay: Apples, outdoors and mountain bikes

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    Pedestrians shop downtown in the city of Ellijay, Ga., nestled in the North Georgia mountains just a few hours’ drive from Chattanooga.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Bite into a fall apple in Georgia and chances are it was grown in the hills and valleys surrounding Ellijay.

Known as the "Apple Capital of Georgia," the area produces more than 600,000 bushels of apples in 25 varieties.

"If you think of apples, you think of Ellijay," said Mona Lowe, Ellijay's Better Hometown manager. "We also see Ellijay as a sort of base camp for outdoor adventure, but that doesn't replace that apple."

The crispy red fruit gave birth to the agritourism industry in Ellijay and surrounding Gilmer County. Visitors to the rustic mountain town can pick apples and other fruits, sample fresh-pressed apple cider or taste dozens of apple products ranging from apple butter and apple bread to apple donuts.

In the fall, the area hosts the Georgia Apple Festival -- two weekends filled with events surrounding the apple harvest.

The town also serves as the jumping-off place for hundreds of outdoor adventurers who come to experience the mountains and rivers of northern Georgia. Its second moniker is the "Mountain Biking Capital of Georgia," with more than 100 miles of single-track mountain biking trails.

Two nearby state parks, a national forest and a wildlife management area all provide hiking trails, campsites, fishing spots and other outdoor adventures.

Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the 2,175-mile-long Appalachian Trail, is at the edge of Gilmer County. The Benton MacKaye Trail and the Pinhoti Trail also end in the county.

Ellijay lies where two rivers, the Ellijay and the Cartecay, come together to form the Coosawattee River. While the rivers do not have any whitewater, tubing, canoeing and kayaking are popular pastimes.

Historic downtown Ellijay offers a taste of what a mountain town once was, Lowe said.

"This is typical small-town America, in the best way," she said. "It is your typical mountain village in the early 20th century, where everybody walks around the downtown square and says hello to everybody."

AT A GLANCE

• Best things to do: Carters Lake, Chattahoochee National Forest, Gilmer County Courthouse, Ellijay City Cemetery, Kell Farm, Chieftain's Trail, Downtown Ellijay.

• Biggest employers: Hospitality industry.

• Miles from downtown Chattanooga: 70.

• Landmarks: Carters Lake, Coosawatee River, Cartecay River, Ellijay River, Chattahoochee National Forest.

• Date founded: 1834.

• Historic info: In 1540, Hernando de Soto and his conquistadors were the first Europeans to enter the area. Gilmer County was created in 1832 from part of Cherokee County. It was named for George Rockingham Gilmer, a state legislator, member of Congress and Georgia governor. Cherokee Indians lived in the area until their removal in 1838 to Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears. Ellijay and East Ellijay were founded within years of each other and remain separate towns, although they are close together. The area grew during the late 1800s railroad expansion into the southern Blue Ridge Mountains.

• Most-famous residents: R.T. Henson, who passed away in 2007, was an artist, a painter, an inventor, a sculptor and a writer. Oscar Poole owns Col. Poole's Bar-B-Q in East Ellijay, a restaurant that boasts Oscar Poole's Pig Hill of Fame, where more than 3,000 red, yellow, white and blue plywood pigs graze on the hillside.

• Unique traditions: Georgia Apple Festival, the Cherry Log Festival, the Apple Classic Auto Show, the Fourth of July Parade.

• Fun fact: Ellijay was the site of an Indian village and bears an Indian name meaning "earth green there."