By Diane Wagner
The crisp, cool autumn air is drawing Henry and Clayton county residents to the great outdoors.
On Friday a class from Church Street Elementary School breathed in the season with a field trip to Yule Forest, a working "entertainment farm" on Ga. Highway 155 in Stockbridge.
"I like when we ride in the truck," 5-year-old Brandon Vickers said. "We saw the scarecrows."
While half a dozen hands went up in favor of the motorized hayride around the decorated grounds, with a stop at the petting zoo, others chimed in when Christopher Wilson said he liked the science center best.
"You can touch things," little Nina Blackmon said. "It was fun when I scared everybody with a spider."
And they hadn't even visited the inflatable elephant maze and fun house yet.
Yule Forest owner Susie Grant is a former teacher. She said Randar's Reptiles sends over a mix of exotic animals to spice up the science center, which features everything from bugs and butterflies to sea life and African snakes.
"We even had a crop of new baby Norwegian rats this morning," Science Center guide Ken Campbell said.
Mornings during the week are reserved for group tours of 10 or more. The farm is open to the public on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and, beginning Oct. 12, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. through the end of the month. Call (770) 954-9356 for more information.
"We have seven or so activities going on at the same time, or people can just come by for pumpkins," Grant said. "A lot of things are geared for young children, but it's entertainment for everyone from families to senior citizens."
Bill Horton, assistant superintendent of Clayton County Schools, said Yule Forest is a favorite educational tool for both teachers and students.
"October is a prime time for getting the students out of the classroom and giving them a hands-on experience," he said.
Strolling through a local nature preserve or chowing down on apple fritters at a fall festival are other ways to enjoy the seasonal changes.
* Panola Mountain State Conservation Park in Stockbridge is open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, according to assistant manager Chris Covington. Advance reservations are required for two special events: Geology Day on Oct. 11 at 10 a.m. and the Night Prowl on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m.
"On Geology Day a professional geologist will lead a tour up the mountain,' Covington said. "For the night prowl, you go out in the dark and look for owls, coyotes, hawks, and other nocturnal creatures."
The state park is on Ga. Highway 155, north of Fairview Road, near the DeKalb and Rockdale county lines. (770) 389-7801.
* The nature trails at Reynolds Nature Preserve in Morrow are open from 8 a.m. to dusk. Take Jonesboro Road to Huie Road to Reynolds Road to get there. (770) 603-4188.
* Nature-lovers can also roam the 32-acre Newman Wetlands Center between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. any day. The trail and interpretive center are handicap-accessible.
The park is off U.S. Highway 19/41 on Freeman Road, between Jonesboro and Lovejoy. (770) 603-5606
* Forest Park's annual Autumn in the Park festival will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 18 and 19 in Starr Park. (404) 363-2908.
* Locust Grove is holding a Haunted Halloween Festival on Oct. 24, 25, 31 and Nov. 1. A highlight is the police department's haunted house.
"I don't want to give away any secrets, but the walls melt," Det. Alvin Bearden said.
Younger children should plan on opting for the hayride instead, Bearden said. (770) 957-5043.
* The annual Hampton Fall Festival, set for Oct. 25 in McBrayer City Park, will kick off with a 9:30 a.m. parade.
"We have tons of vendors already and all kinds of great food, crafts and kids' games," organizer Cheryl Jacobs said.
* Oct. 28, 29 and 30 will mark Henry County's first Carnival at Heritage Park. A ghostly trail, rides and other activities are planned for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (770) 954-2031.
* Arts Clayton will offer a trick-or-treat alternative on Oct. 31 with its seventh annual Halloween Festival. The location is changing from The Beach to Creekside Plaza (Ingles shopping center) at 242 Stockbridge Road in Jonesboro. (770) 473-0848.