published Sunday, February 26th, 2012

‘Georgia Outdoors’ show explores Cloudland Canyon

Sandra Okamoto/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
A view of the bluffs at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Dade County, Ga.
A view of the bluffs at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Dade County, Ga.
Photo by Dan Henry.

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Sharon Collins is a self-professed geek when it comes to the topics she covers as host of “Georgia Outdoors” on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The show airs at 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and repeats at noon and 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

“I get all the glamorous things — bats and frogs,” she said. “When I’m doing a segment on frogs, I become immersed in the frog world and become a frog geek. I’m just a geek.”

For a recent segment, “Two Canyons,” she visits Cloudland Canyon in North Georgia and Providence Canyon just south of Columbus.

She says people who know her and those who recognize her from the show often stop to ask her what’s coming up.

When she says she’s doing a show about Georgia’s canyons, she gets blank looks.

People often say, “What? We have canyons in Georgia? You’re kidding me, right?”

Collins tells them that there are indeed canyons in Georgia and to watch the show.

“The Georgia state parks are struggling a bit,” she said. “I hope this show will bring a lot of people to the parks as visitors. I try to do these shows in a documentary style.”

“MAGICAL”

She calls the canyons “magical” and “elegant.”

Regarding Cloudland, Collins said it is “in the very tippy northwest corner” of the state.

She was looking for the Georgia state quarter, which was issued in 1999. It turned out the state motto covered up the area where the canyon is.

“It just slices off Cloudland,” Collins said. “Nobody can tell me why. It’s just really funny. I was going through hundreds of quarters, and I couldn’t find one. I guess it’s not one of those things that stays in plentiful supply.”

One of the rangers at Cloudland found the quarter.

“It was a weird kind of deal,” Collins said.

Though she’s been to Columbus numerous times, she had never been to Providence Canyon.

“I didn’t know it was even there,” Collins admitted. “And it’s wet down there. It’s not at all what I expected. I went down with a retired geologist, Rich McWilliams, and got to see the junked cars. It has a kind of a certain charm. It’s not like the art installation in Texas with the Cadillacs (Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo). You can see trees growing through these cars.”

Collins was in Providence Canyon last fall.

“I kind of had my own little guide,” she said. “He [McWilliams] kind of explained the rise and the fall of the sea level. It’s hard for people to understand and believe that you can pull up sea shells from the bottom of the canyon.”

Collins said she likes to show viewers that “Georgia really does have some pretty cool stuff.” Originally from Virginia, Collins says she often heads out of town when she has a few days off.

“I hope once in a while, this show will encourage people to stick around,” she said.

Collins moved to Atlanta in 1991 to work at CNN and left the company in 2006. She was with CNN Headline News’ “Down to Earth” and “Earth Matters.”

Collins formed her own company doing freelance producing and commercial videos.

“I got a couple of nice trips to Mexico and Hawaii” out of those jobs, she said.

“Then my old friend at CNN became president at Georgia Public Broadcasting and called me. She said, ‘You love to work on those nature stories, would you do this show?’

“My love was always nature and I’ll pick up anything including snakes. I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’ and that was two years ago.”

GEORGIA HIGHLIGHTS

In the two years, highlights of “Georgia Outdoors” include the show on the Okefenokee Swamp and a show on waterfalls.

“The waterfalls. I was astounded. They are so beautiful,” she said.

Collins is also fond of the wildlife of Georgia, including the wading birds like egrets.

And those bats?

“I had trouble convincing people that bats are really cute,” she said. “One of the ladies here said, ‘Well, Sharon, I watched and I can’t say they’re cute, but I don’t hate them any more.”’

That’s all Collins asks — watch the shows with an open mind.

And remember her motto: “Nature rules and we follow along.”

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