Most of the paraglider pilots flying in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia in the late 90s were trained at Southern Skies in North Carolina. Southern Skies was owned and operated by Chris and Tammie Bowles, who maintained a number of training sites around Taylorville, NC. The only mountain open for paragliding in the area at the time was Moore Mountain, located halfway between Taylorville and Wilksboro, NC. Moore was home to the Buzzards Club, whose members flew both hang gliders and paragliders. Moore Mountain is a good four-hour drive from Atlanta, so the fresh P2s from Atlanta began to look for flying sites closer to home.
John Jensen, Adrian Van Deusens and Jim Parker had heard about Pigeon Mountain, -- an alternate site used by hang glider pilots from Lookout Mountain when the wind is East -- and drove up in August, 1998 to check it out. None of them had made a bluff launch before, so the launch was naturally a bit intimidating. The wind was a very tempting 7 to 9 from the East, however, and everything looked good. John decided to see if he could ground handle comfortably next to the edge, and was almost immediately in the air. Adrian and Jim followed, and Pigeon quickly became a popular paragliding site when the wind was east.
Tut?s Mountain in NE Georgia was a well-known and active hang gliding site in the very early days of hang gliding. It is a relatively small flying site, with tricky conditions in both the launch area and LZ when the wind is strong, and the hang gliding community had moved on to bigger and better sites years earlier as the sport gained in popularity. John Jensen and Jim Parker went up to check out Tut?s Mountain in September, 1998. The launch was a good bit steeper than they were accustomed to at Moore Mountain, so they decided to just ground handle on launch to get the feel of the site. The wind was a smooth 4 to 6, and it was almost impossible to just stand there under an inflated glider and not launch. John and was again first in the air after a few seconds ground handling.
Tut Woodruff, who owns the site, liked to watch paragliding, and also thought it might help bring in people to visit her zoo and stay in the cabins she maintained on the mountain. Tut had been a Director of the USHGA for years, and was keen for us to form a club and use her mountain as home site for the budding paragliding community. A Club was formed, which Tut insisted on naming Tut?s Classic Paragliding Club (Tut?s uncle was Robert Woodruff of Coca-Colas fame, and she wanted a name that identified the club as "The Real Thing"). No one else was especially keen on the name, but it was her mountain, and she was letting us fly free, so we decided she could call it anything she liked. There were only four people flying at Tut?s at the time, and they became the Club?s first Board of Directors. They were Jim Parker, Sandy Foretic, John Jensen and Frank Marquis.
The word got around, and Tut?s soon became a popular flying destination for about a dozen pilots from the Atlanta area. Tut?s Mountain is relatively low, with the launce only 840 feet above the LZ , but there was a paved road to the top and you could go from LZ back to launch in three or four minutes. With such a quick turn around time, new pilots could get in a plenty of launching and landing practice. Frank Marquis once made nine flights at Tut?s in a single day. As much as we liked the convenience of flying at Tut?s, we were soon on the lookout for a bigger, more challenging, and safer flying site.
In January, 2001, John Jenson, Frank Marquis, Jason Bruce and Jim Parker went up to check out Chilhowee. They had been told some Japanese pilots had previously flown the site, together with Dave Bromel from TN, so we were not too concerned about making it to the LZ. The only trick was getting the gliders up between the trees, which allowed only a couple feet to spare on either side at the top, and then running down around the many rocks. There was no room to ground handle, but the wind was straight in at 6 to 10 and smooth. Everyone made perfect launches on the first try.
Chilhowee quickly became the club?s main site. The members got together, and working closely with the DNR Park Rangers, managed to gradually transform Chilhowee into a premier flying site. This was timely, because Tut was having financial problems and had to sell the LZ to a farmer in late 2002. The name of the club was soon changed to Southern Para Pilots.
One of the more industrious Club members at this time was Pete West, an adventurous Australian who had "gone walkabout" from Perth and was touring the world. Pete was elected President in 2002, and took the club to the next level. He organized a towing clinic in April 2002, and got four Club members certified for towing on a private strip south of Atlanta. Pete then bought a pay-out winch for the club, and installed it in the bed of his pick-up truck. When the wind was not good in the mountains, towing operations were conducted at airstrips in Warm Springs and Palmetto, GA, and Ider, AL. Pete organized a towing Flyin at Ider in May, 2004, and a number of additional pilots were certified for towing during the event.
Pete had developed a good relationship with the owner of Rudy?s Ridge, AL. It was a hang gliding site, but the owner was agreeable to allowing us to cut trees as necessary to make it safe for paragliders. A joint hang glider/paraglider Flyin was held in September, 2004. It was a successful event, and paragliders have been welcome to fly there ever since.
The club floundered when Pete moved on to new paragliding adventures in South America. There was a long stretch of unfavorable flying conditions, and a number of the pilots lost interest and dropped out of the club.
In July, 2005, commercial towing operations began at Atlanta Paragliding Enterprise. This operation was to turn out a new crop of pilots just in time to revive the club.