|From Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center|
(note: the trails are completely free, but the center itself charges a small admisision, that is why this is categorized as Free, and Under $10 a person)
About 4 years ago, a new idea came to fruition in Gwinnett County. An idea to build a type of nature preserve on Ivy Creek. As a person always looking for a getaway that doesn’t require too much getting away, I rejoice in these endeavors. What Gwinnett County has built is something of a marvel, spitting distance from the Mall of Georgia in Buford. Sure its an hour away from Atlanta, but for us Gwinnettians, its right in our backyard. And it is known today as the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center (abbreviated as GEHC).
The main building itself is a bit of a wonder in its own right. Unlike other similar nature centers like Autrey Mill, they leaned a little more to the future than to the past, creating a modern building and focusing on the science of nature. The main building a gold certified green building, meaning that it is at the forefront of energy conservation, and it carries several hands on exhibits about the nature and ecology of the area. I personally didn’t enter the building, being more interested in the trails, but the reviews are pretty stellar, especially from children. They are open 9am to 4pm, Monday thru Saturday, with the exception of 8 major holidays and the cost is $7.50 (adult), $5.50 (Seniors and ages 13-22 with Student ID), or $3.50 (ages 3-12), with a $3 additional charge for non-Gwinnett residents (Admission Pricing Here) . At this point the exhibits focus mostly on Water conservation, but there are rotating exhibits. The building is also a popular event facility for weddings and the like.
Like I said, I went for the trails. There are 4.8 miles of unpaved trail with and additional 2.9 miles of paved trail listed as 11 separate trails. The dirt trails are mostly short bursts that vary from .1 to 1 full mile, so my suggestion is to do several of them to get your exercise. I kind of wandered through several of them alone with no map or actual destination. What I found was an enjoyable wilderness setting, minutes from the hustle and bustle of the Mall of Georgia. There are some ups and downs but nothing too difficult (their ratings are on the map here). The best trails in my opinion were the sweet gum (because of the distance) , the two more strenuous trails (Forest Ecology and Holly), and the Ivy Creek Greenway (mostly for the Ivey Creek views). The Homesite loop trail has potential as they are in the process of collecting some old buildings, most notably the Chesser Williams House , but there is nothing there as of March 2010.
Taken as a whole, the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center is a serene oasis in a busy part of Gwinnett County. Children and families should love it. And its destined to get better as they add improvements and exhibits. I couldn’t help wishing I had brought my bicycle as I thought it would be a fantastic bike path. I saw no bikes the day I went, but the website says they encourage bike enthusiasts to use it.
Approximate Time: Varies
Approximate Distance: anywhere from 2-7 miles
Trail Surface: paved, gravel, compact soil
Features: Modern Building, riverside walks, bridge ruins
Overall Rating: B
Scenic Quality: B
Hours of Operation: Trails Dusk to Dawn
Facilities: at Vistor center
Maps: map here