Smithgall Woods

Education Center


Smithgall Woods Regional Education Center

Smithgall Woods
Education Center

Smithgall Woods Regional Education Center (SWREC) was established at the Smithgall Woods - Dukes Creek Conservation Area in 1997 in response to the growing demand for hands-on environmental education. Smithgall Woods is situated on 5,600 acres, most of which was acquired by the state of Georgia through a gift-purchase from Charles Smithgall, Jr., a noted conservationist and entrepreneur. Dedicated as a Heritage Preserve and managed as a conservation area by the GA Department of Natural Resources, the park is open to the public. Activities include hiking, biking, fishing, picnicking, wildlife observation, hunting, group camping, upscale lodging and special events.

SWREC offers both onsite and outreach programs for students of all ages in cooperation with GA Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR) Wildlife Resources Division, GA DNR State Parks and Historic Sites Division and Pioneer RESA. Teacher workshops are held to help teachers learn more about North Georgia's ecosystems and the unique opportunities available at Smithgall Woods while earning PLU credit.

All programs are site-specific and are grounded on biologically-sound principles. GA DNR professionals from Parks, Game Management, Fisheries Management and Law Enforcement collaborate to share their personal experiences and expertise on a wide variety of topics. All programs correlate to the Georgia Performance Standards (available upon request).

Two or three hour-long programs can be combined for a half-day field trip experience, or single programs can provide an in-depth study addressing specific educational objectives. Teachers, parents and chaperones are encouraged to participate or even to lead an onsite activity. A variety of habitat types - pond, stream, field and forest - as well as an informative, self-interpretive Discovery Room allow for unlimited educational opportunities.

Reservations, Accommodations & Facilities

  • Please call (706) 878-3087 for field trip reservations.
  • Onsite field-trips are available in the Fall (Sept. 20-Nov. 22) and Spring (March 27-May 24) and are typically scheduled on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Outreach programs may be scheduled anytime during winter months but usually are restricted to Mondays and Fridays during Fall and Spring.
  • Onsite group size is typically limited to 60 students.
  • Please be ready to provide the following information:

    • Teacher's name and contact information
    • Name and mailing address of school or organization
    • Choice(s) of dates and programs
    • Number and grade-level of students
    • Identify any "special needs"
  • Fees

    • OnSite: A $5 per student fee is charged for onsite programming with a minimum group charge of $50.
    • Outreach: Outreach programs within the 11-county Pioneer RESA area is $65 per program.  Outreach programs conducted outside of the Pioneer RESA area are $75 per program plus $40 mileage fee.
    • Home School/Civic Groups: same pricing as school systems.
    • Group campers: $5 per child with a $50 minimum group charge.
    • (No charge for teachers/chaperones accompanying students)

Trip Tips

Teachers and chaperones are expected to participate and to assist with student discipline and safety. You may bring food/drinks to eat lunch onsite. There is a drink machine at the Visitors' Center and restroom facilities are available at or near all programming sites. Weather appropriate clothing (layered) is recommended, as are insect repellent and sunscreen. Bus or van drivers are expected to remain with the group.

Teacher-Led On-Site Activities

Any teacher or youth leader may conduct teacher-led educational programs at Smithgall Woods.

Opportunities include hiking a 1.5-mile interpretive trail, walking a half-mile wetlands loop/beaver pond trail with a tree-ID key, or fishing at one of the park's two ponds. Stop by our indoor Discovery Room to learn more about local history and ecology.

Please call ahead to schedule your group to use Smithgall Woods' facilities or educational equipment.

Onsite programs for students in grades pre-K through 2nd grade are teacher-led. Groups must be properly chaperoned and supervised for safety at all times. Use of shelters and facilities is subject to availability and must be reserved in advance. The following K-2 activities are outlined in our program guide and instructions with written worksheets are available upon request:

  • Birds and Worms:  Play a game by pretending to be birds in search of food to demonstrate how both predators and prey use camouflage as a survival adaptation.
  • Environmental "I Spy": Enjoy a teacher-led nature hike while finding objects in nature whose names begin with letters on a game card.
  • Living or Nonliving:  Learn about the traits of living and nonliving things during a brief discussion before taking a teacher-led nature hike to classify objects along the trail.
  • Matching Leaves with Trees:  Take a teacher-led scavenger hunt and find trees that match laminated leaf cards or that fit special categories.

Outreach Programs - All Ages

Winter months are an ideal time to plan an outreach program. Scheduling at other times is subject to staff availability. Talks are 45-60 minutes in length, can be adjusted for any age group and include:

Animal Adaptations

Find out how form and function combine to help animals native to our area find their niche in life. Examine skulls, pelts, antlers, shells and shed skins while discussing animal behavior, predator avoidance and feeding habits.


Learn about those amazing 8-legged, silk-spinning marvels as you view larger-than-life images of spiders through a fascinating power-point presentation.

Birds of Prey

These precision aerial hunters have been the subject of legend and the inspiration for human-designed flying machines. Find out why eagles, hawks and owls deserve special respect and protection.

Dress a Beaver

Learn how special adaptations help nature's engineers to survive and thrive in their aquatic environment. A beaver costume makes this learning experience fun for all ages.

Snakes and Other Reptiles

Gain a new respect for these often-misunderstood creatures. Both models and live specimens allow students to learn about the anatomy, morphology and lifestyle of GA's snakes and turtles.

Other Programs...

Benthic Bugs & Bioassessment:  In this simulation activity, students seine for macroinvertebrates in order to determine water quality in a stream.  Students will convert decimals into percentages and determine ratios.

Dress a Fish:  Learn the characteristics of fish and their amazing adaptations for survival.  A fish costume makes this activity fun for everyone.

Toothpick Fish:  This simulation activity demonstrates how an environmental disaster can impact genetic diversity.

Using a Dichotomous Key:  Learn how leaves are classified by using a dichotomous key.  This lesson was designed as an outreach program but can be conducted in the classroom as a hands-on activity.

Ways of the American Indian:  Hear about the Native Americans that first inhabited Georgia and how their skills and ingenuity helped them to utilize North Georgia's natural resources.  Clothing, pottery, weapons, games, musical instruments and crafts are displayed.

Ask us about new programs. Talks on conservation, careers in the wildlife field and other topics may be requested.

On-Site Program Choices - 3rd Grade & Older

Aquatic Activities

Fishing is Fun:  Learn the basics of how to think like a fish, how to tie a fisherman's knot and how to use spin-casting equipment. Bring your own worms, crickets or other bait suitable for bass and bream.

Pond Exploration:  Watch how students' natural curiosity is rekindled as they collect tadpoles and learn about aquatic plants along the edge of a small pond or beaver wetlands.

Rolling Down the River:  Determine how much water is drained from a watershed by quantitatively analyzing a stream's velocity and discharge.

Stream Ecology:  Use a kick-seine to collect and identify benthic macro-invertebrates (aka 'stream critters'). Learn how stream health is related to the presence of certain insect larvae and what it means to "match the hatch."

Water Canaries:  Analyze pond or stream water for pH, phosphorus and nitrates, dissolved oxygen, temperature and bacteria. Find out how human actions impact these physical and chemical characteristics of our water supply.

Habitat Studies

A Walk Through Time:  Learn about how our environment changes over time and how different stages of forest succession influence wildlife. Discuss the impact each of us has on this natural process through both intentional and accidental actions.

Biodiversity Word Walk:  Hike along the  Wetland Loop searching for letters that spell a mystery word.  Participate in activities at each letter station.

Champion Trees:  Hone your basic math skills while applying the measuring methods used to place trees in the National Register of Big Trees. Estimate the height, crown spread and circumference of a tree to see if it qualifies as a "Champion Tree."

How Many Bears?:  Demonstrate the concepts of biological carrying capacity and limiting factors by imitating bears in search of food. Learn about black bear biology and habits.

Oh, Deer!:  Play an active game to illustrate the importance of key habitat components as they relate to survival of our white-tailed deer population.

Plight of the Pitcher Plant:  Explore the causes of plant endangerment and what can be done to protect them and their ecosystem.  Observe living pitcherplants in their natural habitat.  This seasonal program is only offered in May.

Tree ID:  Learn the basic terminology of tree identification while walking a half-mile trail. Use a "dichotomous key" to name over a dozen trees common to North Georgia.

Navigation and Compass Reading

Basic Orienteering:  Learn how to use a compass to "find your bearings." 

Orienteering Math Relay:  Solve a math equation using "order of operations" after navigating a predetermined course to find puzzle parts. 

Ways of the American Indian

Hear about the First Peoples that inhabited our area and how their skills and ingenuity helped them to utilize North Georgia's natural resources.

Archery: Try your hand at the skill of shooting arrows with a bow while learning about how technology has advanced through the ages both as a means to obtain food and as a popular outdoor sport.

Other Programs

Gold in Them Thar Hills:  Pan for gold while reliving some of the excitement of the Gold Rush Days at Dukes Creek.

Mystery Herb Garden:  Use a medicinal guide in a scavenger hunt to find and identify plants that could be used to treat mystery ailments.

Teacher Workshops

Adopt-A-Stream:  Provides training in both chemical and biological monitoring. 

Basic Archery Instructor (BAI):  Certifies teachers as Level I instructors in preparation for implementing archery as part of the school Physical Education program.

Project Learning Tree (PLT), Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), Project WILD (Wildlife in Learning Design):  These workshops expand teachers' understanding of ecological principles and provide them with multidisciplinary curriculum guides.

For information on dates and costs of upcoming workshops, please call Smithgall Woods (706-878-3087) or contact Pioneer RESA (706-865-2141).  Teachers can receive 1 PLU credit for each 10-hour workshop.  Project WET, Project WILD, Project Learning Tree, and Basic Archery Instructor workshops can be conducted as outreach for interested schools with advanced notice.