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Dawsonville relishes moonshine beginnings

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    Amicalola falls can barely be seen through dense forest nestled in the North Georgia mountains just a few hours drive from Chattanooga.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Dawsonville, Ga., natives will tell you that the roots for American stockcar racing can be traced back to their hometown, where "shiners" sped to deliver Prohibition-era moonshine, hoping to outrace the law.

In fact, many of the skills used by today's NASCAR racers were learned by drivers speeding illicit booze between North Georgia's deep-woods stills.

And that history is celebrated at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame and the city's Mountain Moonshine Festival every October, when the city's town square comes alive with cars, arts and crafts displays, clogging and music.

"It is just a great place," said Pam Hamalainen, membership director at the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce. "Locals love living here because of the natural resources, and it has a small-town feel. It hasn't become the big city yet."

Dawsonville, which has a growing population of 2,536 residents, according to the U.S. census, is also home to Amicalola Falls State Park and Amicalola Falls, one of the tallest cascading waterfalls in the Southeast.

The eight-mile Southern Terminus Access Trail inside the state park opens into the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail, and is a huge draw for hikers and backpackers.

For another rare sight, visitors can explore the Kangaroo Conservation Center, 87 acres with the largest mob of kangaroos in the world outside of Australia. And there are bargains for shoppers at the North Georgia Premium Outlet.

Burberry, Cole Haan, Gap Outlet, Hugo Boss, Polo Ralph Lauren and Williams-Sonoma are some of the name-brand stores the outlet offers.

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    An Agile Wallaby stands in a Wallaby habitat at the Kangaroo Conservation Center in Dawsonville, Ga. The center provides a home for over 300 kangaroos of nine species.
    File Staff Photo by Brett Clark/Chattanooga Times Free Press

AT A GLANCE

-- Population: 2,536.

-- Best places to visit: Lake Lanier, Amicalola State Park, Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

-- Biggest employers: Nordson and Sleeveco.

-- Miles from downtown Chattanooga: 100 miles.

-- Geographic features: Dawsonville is located northwest of Lake Lanier, a man-made reservoir used as a source of drinking water by Atlanta. Dawsonville is also 10 miles south of Amicalola Falls State Park.

-- Date founded: Dec. 10, 1859.

n Historic info: Gold was discovered near Dawsonville in 1828, stirring violence and anarchy in the area. The city and the county were named for William Crosby Dawson, a well-known Georgia judge, soldier and politician who argued for slavery. Business and population growth didn't occur until after Lake Lanier was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1956.

-- Most-famous resident: NASCAR driver Bill Elliott.

-- Unique traditions: Spring Fling, a two-day convention in May of local artists and crafts, and the Mountain Moonshine Festival in October.

-- Best-kept secret: Animal care experts at the Kangaroo Conservation Center have been saving and breeding endangered kangaroo species for more than 26 years.