Like many students in Warnell (or Warnellians—as we are affectionately called), I grew up in a small rural town in Georgia. Chickamauga, Georgia, is located in the top left corner of the state and is smooshed right in-between the Tennessee and Alabama borders. My house was isolated from our neighbors on twelve acres of land with trees lining the property. Most of the time I felt like I was in a world all to myself where I could run around with my cats and dog and have a front row seat for the sunset each night. Only a 25 minute drive from me was Chattanooga, which has been named “Best Town Ever” twice by Outdoor Magazine for recreation and nature lovers alike—the perfect place for me!
When I started attending UGA in the Fall of 2015, Athens was a completely new adventure for me. It was nothing like Chickamauga, and not even that much like Chattanooga. Whereas Chattanooga was diverse and sprawling in its views and opportunities, Athens was crowded and tight. There was no beautiful river running right through the middle of it, with mountains and ridges on either side. The only place I could get a good view of the sunset was from one of the top floors of my dorm building, and even then it could never compare to back home. To be honest, my first year was hard, and I missed the feeling of being outside every second possible. Living on the seventh floor of a high-rise makes that pretty difficult. It wasn’t until my sophomore and junior years when I started learning how to adapt to my new surroundings.
Warnell played a huge part in me realizing all that Athens had to offer. I had already caught onto the amazing music and food scenes, but I was still itching to get my nature fix. Soon, I started taking classes where I had labs outside, for hours! These labs and the activities exposed me to some of the outdoor opportunities in Athens. I started going to the botanical gardens, Sandy Creek Nature Center, and even my favorite place to collect ticks, Whitehall Forest. And from those labs and classes, I made friends who had that same itch (for nature, not from the ticks) as me. I realized that while Athens might not be able to give me absolutely all of the views and solitude I desired, I was less than a two hour drive to plenty of national forests and state parks. I also realized I was only a 20 minute drive from the best Frisbee golf course in Oconee County, and that I could get outside and walk my dog to a park from just about anywhere in Athens. Athens will never be my “home-home” but I was able to make it a happy home.