Georgia's Scenic Highway 197State Route 197 passes through Habersham and Rabun Counties and its route takes it into the Chattahoochee National Forest. The highway starts south of Clarkesville and soon becomes very scenic. The route follows the Soque River before reaching historic Batesville. An interesting feature on the road is a small ford (locals call "the dip"), where, during wetter times of the year, water crosses over the road before it joins the Soque River.
Clarkesville, the county seat of Habersham, received its charter in 1823. Clarkesville was a resort town for many years, catering to coastal residents trying to escape the heat and diseases of the low-lying areas. The stagecoach from Athens to Clarkesville brought many. After 1873, trains became a popular method of transportation.
Around 1910, a street car, running between the Clarkesville Train Depot and the Square, carried visitors to and from the center of town. About 1924, a paved road from Clarkesville to Cornelia (the first paved road north of Atlanta) further increased the ease of traveling to the city.
Long before Clarkesville became a tourist spot, Cherokee Indians inhabited the area. Around 1540 Spanish explorer De Soto passed through what would become the city of Clarkesville.
In Batesville, S.R. 197 is joined by S.R. 255 and then begins its climb into higher mountains. Sites along the route, include Moccasin Creek State Park, the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery, and Lake Burton. As the highway climbs to its terminus with U.S. 76 in the middle of the Chattahoochee National Forest North of the park, the road becomes very twisty.
Batesville was one of the first settlements in Habersham County from lands ceded by the Cherokee Nation in the early 1800s.
A celebration of the local community's heritage and history is held in October of each year. Historic Batesville Days feature local artisan's wares, historical re-enactments of pioneer mountain living, food, music, entertainment, and a cake walk.
Batesville Georgia has a colorful history of "moonshining" during the 1930s, 40s & 50s as Highway 197 was a primary thoroughfare for hauling illegal corn liquor to customers around Atlanta.
Lake Burton, filled in 1913, is located in Rabun County. It is formed by Burton Dam on the Tallulah River. The lake covers 2,775 acres and has 62 miles of shoreline. It is the largest of Georgia Power's lakes in north Georgia.
It is the first lake in a six-lake series called the Tallulah River Watershed that follows the original course of the Tallulah River. The chain begins with Lake Burton as the northernmost lake followed by Lake Seed, Lake Rabun, Lake Tallulah Falls, Lake Tugalo, and Lake Yonah. The lakes are owned and operated by the Georgia Power Company to generate hydroelectric energy for Atlanta.
At one time these lakes were the largest producers of electricity in the state of Georgia. Now, they only provide peak power supply. The lake was built in a deep valley located along a 10 mile (16 km) section of the Tallulah River. The Lake Burton Dam was closed on December 22, 1919 and the lake started to fill. The dam is a gravity concrete dam, with a height of 128 feet (39 m) and a span of 1,100 feet (340 m). The spillway is equipped with eight gates 22 feet (6.7 m) wide by 6.6 feet (2.0 m) high. The total capacity at an elevation of 1,866.6 feet (568.9 m) is 108,000 acre-ft (133,000,000 m³), of which 106,000 acre-ft (131,000,000 m³) is usable storage. The generating capacity of the dam is 6,120 kilowatts (two units).
The Lake Burton Fish Hatchery and Moccasin Creek State Park are located on the western side of the lake. The lake is home to several species of fish, including Spotted Bass, Largemouth Bass, White Bass, Black Crappie, Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, White Catfish, Walleye, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Yellow Perch.
(from Sherpa Guides) Lake Burton Fish Hatchery features a unique opportunity to view both birds and mammals and explore the habitat of animals that live in both cold and warm water. Several species of migrating ducks, including mallards and buffleheads, mergansers and loons can be seen during the fall and winter on Lake Burton and resting on the hatchery ponds. As winter gives way to spring, songbirds in their mating colors can be seen nesting in the surrounding forested areas. It is also possible to view hummingbirds feeding on colorful plants near the water and forest edges. An occasional osprey or bald eagle may be seen soaring over Lake Burton at any time. Kingfishers and both great blue and green herons stalk the shallow lake edge. While walking the nature trail from the hatchery or traveling Hemlock Trail up Moccasin Creek, you may encounter turkeys or white-tailed deer and small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and rabbits.
If you are extremely lucky, you may encounter a black bear or at least view a bear track on a sand bar near the creek. During trout fishing season, you can fish Moccasin Creek for rainbow, brown, and brook trout. Brook trout are the only trout native to Georgia. Fishing piers along the edge of the lake offer an opportunity to view warm water fish such as bluegill, redbreast sunfish, largemouth bass, and yellow perch in their natural habitat. This geographical area is also a favorite stopover for the monarch butterfly during its annual migration in the spring and summer months.