TRENTON, Ga. — The deep canyon carved into Lookout Mountain in Georgia is a far cry from the sandy beaches and palm trees Cloudland Canyon State Park's new manager grew up with in Miami.
But Brad Gibson's ties to the Chattanooga region are deep enough he sees the move as a logical step for his young family. About four weeks ago, the 41-year-old began managing the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' 3,488-acre park, located about 20 miles southwest of Chattanooga.
Cloudland Canyon is one of Georgia's most rugged state parks, offering camping, yurts, cabins, hiking, picnicking, cave tours, disc golf, geocaching and pond fishing. Recently, mountain bike rentals were added to help augment expanded bike trails. And renovations are underway for five cabins that are expected to open in August, officials said.
The sea-to-mountain move was tempered by Gibson's summers from age 9-13 at his grandparents' cabin on Black Mountain in North Carolina, he said. He learned to love summer life and whitewater sports in the mountains.
"So I'm kind of a mountain boy at heart. Don't get me wrong, I love the ocean and I love surfing, I love doing all those things, but this is definitely good for the itch for being outdoors," Gibson said on his 27th day on the job.
He said he's an avid mountain biker who paddleboards, kayaks and enjoys most other water sports, including coastal activities like scuba diving and snorkeling.
Gibson has 25 years of experience in parks management and is a certified parks and recreation professional under requirements of the National Recreation and Park Association. He has a biology degree from Florida International University and holds multiple American Red Cross instructor certifications.
For more than 20 years, Gibson worked for a private community, Miami Shores Village, running a multimillion-dollar aquatics center. For the last three years, he worked for the parks and recreation department of Rockdale County, Ga., after moving there three years ago to marry his wife, Krista.
Krista Gibson lived on Lookout Mountain and attended Covenant College, where she later worked before moving to Atlanta to work as an event planner, an occupation she continues. The couple and their 10-month-old son, Grey, make their home in the park, and Krista's parents and sister live nearby, he said.
"So we are thankful to be back in Dade County," Brad Gibson said.
The wild animals of Cloudland Canyon are a bit different than those he's encountered in South Florida, but ocean critters have plenty of teeth and bad tempers.
Gibson was bitten by a moray eel while diving about 10 years ago in the Florida Keys.
"Oddly enough, on the same trip, I learned that I was allergic to sea urchin," he said.
The eel bite left holes in his gloves, and a little later after being bitten, he accidentally put his hand on a sea urchin. Its spines delivered a sting through the holes in his glove, causing his arm to nearly double in size, he laughed.
But he won't see many sea urchins or eels on Lookout Mountain, other than on a plate, perhaps.
Gibson's favorite experience so far has been meeting people who live nearby and Cloudland's campers, some of whom he compares to campers in the Florida Keys because they're "so laid back and enjoy being outdoors."
Gibson said he and his family "look forward to the journey ahead."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.