Outdoor Afro’s Georgia networks offer silver- and small-screen views to capture nature, Southern living

The future naturalist framed up the plant IDing scene with such fervor. Conviction. Even care. Every google-eyed expression and conductor hand gesture queued up plant life. As if it was taking center stage. His soft smile pulled community participants into the Lionel Hampton Greenway Trail. The old-growth storyline voice-overed by Southern hospitality. “So, this is actually turkey tail mushrooms,” said Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Dajawn Williams, 27, “and guess what? It’s edible.” “Edible!” One hiker blurted in the background with an unsure side eye. Williams’ grin deepened with a few promising head nods. Oohs and ahhs then bounced around the forest floor. Promptly, he waved the group of 23 local explorers into a direction of more shocking nature sights along their 2-mile urban wander. This Feb. 10 Black History Month activity taught Atlanta attendees how to recognize special species within their Outdoor Afro network and neighborhood greenspace. The experience also unearthed Black contributions connected to the nature preserve.

To that point, the greenway trail is named after former landowner and famous Black jazz musician Lionel Hampton. Hampton donated much of the right-of-way for the trail during 1993. Designed today for cycling, hiking, agritouring, and picnicking. The historic Black district and site on Atlanta’s west side features the most archaeologically significant Civil War trenches in the region. “This area’s infrastructure included a mill, cemetery for enslaved Black people, and a rock quarry,” said guest speaker, naturalist, and local historian James Tyler. “After the Civil War, Black farmers who lived south of Atlanta moved up to become railroad and mill workers.” Over time, these stories evolved into backdrops to what’s now designated as the “Hollywood of the South.” It’s been more than a decade that metro Atlanta’s mushrooming film and TV industry generated blockbuster momentum. Primarily because of the Peach State’s benevolent tax break.

Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO Rue Mapp posing in iconic Surfer Boy Pizza vanagon from Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’ filmed in Jackson, Georgia. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Major studios popped up and big-budget projects like “The Hunger Games,” “The Walking Dead,” and the Marvel franchise settled into their new Southern home. During 2022, Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” became the highest-grossing movie with a female superhero lead at the U.S. box office – the latest example of the high-earning films attracted to Georgia. In recent times, production opportunities have tapered off for some creatives, too. However, Gov. Brian P. Kemp reassured Georgians that the silver- and small-screen industry is forging ahead: “Georgia remains a global leader in film, TV, and streaming productions,” said Kemp in a Sept. 13, 2023, press release by the Georgia Film Office. “Those who benefit most from the significant growth we’ve seen in this industry over the past couple of decades are hardworking Georgians who fill the many behind-the-camera jobs that come with each project. That’s why we’ve worked hard to attract these and other opportunities for those who call the Peach State home.”


Last year, the state celebrated 50 years of the Georgia Film Office, a strategic post within the Georgia Department of Economic Development that helps mature Georgia’s film, TV, and commercial production industries through marketing, scouting, and coordinating project needs. The office reported productions spent $4.1 billion in Georgia during fiscal year 2023. Between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, the state hosted 390 productions, represented by 31 feature films, 55 independent films, 40 commercials, 23 music videos, and 241 TV and episodic productions. Travel an hour and some change south into Middle Georgia where Outdoor Afro participants have the chance to explore newer rural trails, farm life, and film tours later this year. Williams’ next stop: Dauset Trails Nature Center in Jackson, Georgia – a 15-minute ride away from where Netflix’s hit sci-fi drama series “Stranger Things” filmed. The nature center provides mountain and e-bike courses; backpacking and camping; and farmstead sightseeing.

Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Dajawn Williams storytells Georgia’s ecosystem to Atlanta network participants during a BHM24 plant IDing activity. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Williams linked up with Outdoor Afro’s Founder and CEO Rue Mapp at the nature center. The two went on a site visit to reimagine what foraging, farming, and family-centric activities could look like for his network and others in the organization’s “Year of Innovation.” “I’m continually in awe of the natural resources found in our volunteer networks,” said Mapp. “To visit places like Dauset helps people discover opportunities to reconnect to nature close to home, and be inspired by the natural and human history you can always find in these places.” For 15 years now, Outdoor Afro has celebrated and inspired Black connections and leadership in nature across the United States. The national not-for-profit organization reconnects Black communities to outdoor conservation, recreation, and education through networks located in 60 cities and 32 states, including Washington, D.C. By way of more than 1,200 planned and hosted network activities, volunteer leaders like Williams reintroduce more than 60,000 people to the outdoors annually. “We’re on a journey to reach more rural and urban communities,” Mapp said. “Nature, travel, tourism, and the shows and movies we all grew up on are ways to imagine new connections.”

After Dauset Trails, a truck ride to downtown Jackson (the state’s outdoor capital) zapped Mapp into the make-believe town of Hawkins, Indiana, from the TV show “Stranger Things.” She toured real-life locations, replaying memorable scenes from the series’ Hawkins Library, back alley, and Radio Shack. The coolest Outdoor Afro clip of the day: Mapp propped with a pizza box and visor inside the iconic Surfer Boy Pizza vanagon, a.k.a. Pizzamobile. Headed back south on U.S. Hwy 23, a pitstop to Juliette, Georgia, revisited Cicely Tyson’s role in the 1991 comedy-drama “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Where the movie’s Whistle Stop Cafe is still open for business and serves Southern cuisine – most notably, of course, the menu’s crispy fried green tomatoes. Described in one word: De-lish! The final destination for Mapp’s agritourism and film-guided driving tour traveled 42 miles east along backcountry roads to Milledgeville, Georgia. The fourth capital of the state and where actress Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian, in “Pretty Woman” said she came from. 

Williams and Mapp scouting Dauset Trails Nature Center to identify new network adventures for rural communities to experience innovations in agriculture. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Mapp drove through camera-ready site Central State Hospital. Established in 1842, the campus became known as the “world’s largest mental institution” by the 1960s. It included more than 12,000 patients, 6,000 employees, and more than 8,000 acres of land. By 2010, the dilapidated complex closed. Four years later, “The Originals” (spin-off to The CW Network’s “The Vampire Diaries”) filmed episodes at the hospital. Interestingly, the eerie site still produces a pecan grove that attracts the community, schools, and families to year-round nature activities. “That’s the thing about nature,” said Reginal Black, 59, who joined the Feb. 10 Outdoor Afro plant IDing activity. Black relocated to Atlanta from California to live closer to family. “Nature ties us all back to our local histories and community stories,” he said. “Why I’ve been attending network events like this one with the organization and Rue since 2009.”


ABOUT OUTDOOR AFRO: Outdoor Afro is a national not-for-profit organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. What started as a kitchen table blog by Founder and CEO Rue Mapp in 2009 has since grown into a cutting-edge nationwide organization. Outdoor Afro’s U.S. networks include nearly 100-plus volunteer leaders who guide nature activities in up to 60 cities with network participation reaching 60,000 people annually. Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people to the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Connect with @outdoorafro on social and visit outdoorafro.org to follow our year-round nature narratives.