Get Outside, Georgia!

By the light of a glow worm

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Here’s a true story:

Once upon a time, I decided to hike to a waterfall that’s a few miles off the beaten track. There’s a trail that goes to the waterfall, and though there are some tricky spots on the trail (including one that I had once whimsically named the “Cliff of Certain Death”) the hiking really wasn’t too bad.

At least, it wasn’t too bad as long as there was daylight to see by.

The problem developed when, about 45 minutes before dark, I finally realized that it was probably time (okay, way past time) to turn around and head back. So I did, hiking with all diligent speed (fancy words for as fast as I dared) back toward the car.

You see where this is going. Yes, I had waited too long to head back. The first mile or so of the return trip was fine, but somewhere in there the light started to fade. Afternoon turned to twilight, and twilight turned to sure-enough dark, and I was still a mile from where I’d parked the car.

Hiking in the dark is not all it’s cracked up to be. Later, my wife would ask me, “But you had your light, didn’t you?” She was referring to a nice and new and very high-tech headlamp that she’d gotten me as a gift, knowing that I’d eventually do something where I needed it.

“My light?” I replied.

“Yes, the one I gave you for your birthday.”

“Oh, that light,” I said.

“Well, does it work?”

“I guess so,” I said. “But I’m not really sure, because it’s still there on the mantle where I put it when you gave it to me. Back in April…”

That earned me a “good grief” look for sure.

But I digress.

Without a light, it was a real adventure getting out of the woods. In fact, at some points, the only way I could tell where the trail went was by looking for tiny spots of glowing blue-green light marking the way, those courtesy of tiny little creatures usually referred to as “glow worms.”

And that brings us to the subject at hand: a series of “Foxfire” hikes this month at Anna Ruby Falls Scenic Area.

“But not really foxfire,” said David Carswell, co-manager of the site.

True foxfire, he explained, is a bioluminescent fungus that grows on decaying wood. Instead, what you’ll be looking for on an Anna Ruby “Foxfire” hike is a small glow worm. Specifically, it’s “Orfelia fultoni,” which David described as a type of gnat larvae which lives along the edges of the trail from the Anna Ruby visitor center up to the falls.

Rangers have been leading glow worm hikes at Anna Ruby Falls for about 30 years, and they’re as popular now as they were when they started. It’s easy to understand why, too, for along some sections of trails, particularly from the large damp rock outcrop up to the first footbridge over the creek, there are lots and lots of these softly glowing little creatures just waiting for you to spot them.

During May and June, which seems to be prime glow worm season, rangers at Anna Ruby Falls lead weekly after-dark hikes that give you a perfect chance to look for these fascinating little creatures. Participants gather at the main gate to Anna Ruby Falls Scenic Area and then make their way to the visitor center, where David talks for a few minutes about what you’re going to be seeing. Next comes a nighttime hike to the falls. And then, on the return trip from the falls to the visitor center, everyone switches to red lights, so you won’t affect one another’s night vision, and looks for the glow worms on the way back to the visitor center.

“We ask people to have red filters on their flashlights,” David said, explaining that red light does not mess up night vision like white like does. “We remind folks about that when they register.”

The return trip to the lodge is a leisurely one, with plenty of time to look for the glow worms along the side of the trail.

What if it rains?

“We don’t mind the rain,” David said, explaining the hike will take place as long as it’s not a downpour that’s too heavy for spotting the glow worms and as long as there’s no lightning or no bad storm warning. The worms don’t seem to mind the rain either.

In fact, David added, “Damp, humid, warm nights seem to be best for spotting the glow worms.”

This month’s remaining “Foxfire” glow worm hikes at Anna Ruby Falls are set for Tuesday, June 6; Thursday, June 15; Thursday, June 22 and Wednesday, June 28. But note that these hikes are very popular and fill up quickly, so it is important to check with the site first to make sure that a spot is available. Call the Anna Ruby Falls Visitor Center at 706-878-1448 to preregister.

Cost for the hike is $4 for adults and $2 for kids ages 3-10. For reasons of safety, children age 2 or younger are not permitted on these hikes.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

And oh yes– about that earlier hike I tried to make to that other waterfall…

Did I make it back? Well, yes, but a lot later than I’d planned. At some points the light of glow worms was the only light marking the way for me, so I have a special place in my heart for these little creatures and their soft blue glow.

I have one other thing now too: a permanent place in my day pack for that head lamp!


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