Two days after finishing school in 1979, Allen Dean joined the ranger staff at Clarks Hill Lake, now known as Thurmond Lake, and he has been there ever since.
"I graduated Saturday and came to work on Monday," he said. "I've always loved this place."
With 70,000 acres of water -- and almost as many acres of federally managed collarlands -- the mammoth project once dubbed "Georgia's Inland Sea" has its share of fascinating sites.
"Bussey Point, with all its picnic sites and camping areas, is definitely one of the best," he said. "You can bicycle in or ride horseback and it has 10 miles of trails."
The 2,500-acre wilderness peninsula also has natural beaches and water pumps -- and fewer visitors than the popular and more easily accessible parks and swimming areas.
Farther up the lake, near the Broad River Wildlife Management Area, the ruins of a 19th century mill rise like granite ghosts from the forest floor.
"At one time, there were two grist mills and a spinning factory," Mr. Dean said of the ruins nearly hidden by foliage.
Access to the area is always a challenge, and a March tornado dropped many trees in the area.
"It's one of the neatest places to visit, but the roads are a little rough getting in. You wouldn't want to take your Lexus down there," he said.
The stone earthworks and brick sluices once used water to power wheels that spun cotton and milled flour. Burton's Mill was built in 1840 and the Hopewell Cotton Factory was from the same era.
Another of Mr. Dean's favorite sites lies just off a peninsula at Bobby Brown State Park in Elbert County, where the submerged remains of Petersburg can be found.
The Colonial city once rivaled Augusta in population. Today, when the lake falls 15 feet or more, the chimneys and foundations of the community rise to the surface like ghosts from a distant past.
In the office at the state park are a collection of artifacts from the area's Colonial heritage: bricks, farm implements, tools, bottles, horseshoes, pieces of flintlock rifles and other leftovers from a city that died out as rail and overland shipping outpaced river commerce.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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"Boat rides on the historical Petersburg Boats (from downtown at 13th Street and Walton Way) are a must for the many visitors." -- Billy Cooper
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