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Gates to Heaven’s Landing opening for solar eclipseGates to Heaven’s Landing opening for solar eclipse

Pilots requested to call Georgia airstrip in advancePilots requested to call Georgia airstrip in advance

Pilots up for a high-mountain solar eclipse adventure on the East Coast are invited to Heaven’s Landing Airpark—a private airstrip tucked among tall Georgia pines, rolling hills, and forests—as long as they make prior arrangements. “It’s going to be fun,” predicted Holly Ciochetti, who established the 2,724-foot-high aviation retreat in 2001 with husband Mike, a Cessna 210 pilot.

Heaven's Landing is a mountain airstrip community nestled among the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia's Rabun County. Photo courtesy of Heaven's Landing.

The north Georgia solar eclipse gathering for aviators started out as a low-key event for property owners so they could witness “the opportunity of a lifetime.” When other pilots learned that the gates to Heaven’s Landing would be opened to outsiders, news spread like wildfire. “There was so much interest that we decided to open it up to outside guests as long as they call 706/212-0017 or email in advance,” explained Ciochetti, who is organizing a feast for spectators.

Only a tiny sliver of northeast Georgia is touched by totality—the phenomenon when the moon completely blocks the center of the sun, and it occurs at precisely 2:35 p.m. At the mountain airstrip in Rabun County, the period of darkness that showcases the sun’s atmosphere should last about two minutes and 35 seconds.

“I think the people that are flying in are the luckiest,” she said, ticking off expected arrivals from five states. “We already have people coming in from Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Kentucky, and even one from as far away as Texas.”

Ciochetti was eager to share what she called “the most beautiful thing on the planet” with general aviation pilots, but stressed that Heaven’s Landing is a small community and pilots need to make prior arrangements so she can gauge how much food, water, and sodas to have on hand. Lunch will be served promptly at 12 p.m. because the solar showdown begins an hour later.

A partial solar eclipse is shown in this Sept. 13, 2015, image released by NASA. A total solar eclipse will occur over North America on Aug. 21. Photo courtesy of NASA.

“My caterer flipped out,” confided Ciochetti, after she decided to open the airfield to transient pilots. The Total Solar Eclipse Party menu was recently adjusted for the expected crowd. A few calls to the Rabun County tourist development authority nearby revealed that officials were “preparing for 40,000 cars” to visit the north Georgia mountains for the solar eclipse.

Eclipse-viewers at Heaven's Landing can expect “awesome Asian chicken salad; fresh mixed greens; croissants and yeast rolls; roasted vegetable medley with a light dressing; pasta salad; potato salad; and a dessert tray.” Lemonade, soft drinks, and water are included for $25. Children ages 5 to 12 eat for half price, and those under 5 will eat for free.

Protective eye wear also will be provided—as long as supplies last. Ciochetti advised pilots to consider bringing their own solar shades just in case.

Runway 05/23 is 5,062 feet long and the field’s elevation is 2,724 feet. To the north, the terrain rises rapidly to almost 5,500 feet, as it nears the Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area and makes for some spectacular scenery. According to pilots familiar with the mountaintop retreat, approaching the narrow strip can be challenging if conditions are gusty. The wind can be strong in some spots, light in others; density altitude also should be considered. “When pilots call, I usually put them in touch with Mike because he knows the terrain and the landing pattern tips for first-time visitors.”

The nearby region is known to Southerners as an outdoor person’s paradise, and the development is surrounded by a national forest, “which is what most people want,” said Ciochetti. She warned that there won’t be overnight accommodations on site and ground transportation to Clayton will be challenging. “If they [pilots] plan on landing here and having lunch with us, that will be fine.”

For pilots with friends in the area, the city of Clayton is less than four miles away and is a favorable spot to explore the waterfalls of western North Carolina and northeastern Georgia. Outdoor-oriented travelers rave about the challenging whitewater of the Chattooga River that straddles the Georgia and South Carolina border, scene of the movie Deliverance. Nearby Lake Rabun and Lake Burton are inviting to anglers, boaters, and swimmers.

Heaven's Landing is a mountain airstrip community nestled among the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia's Rabun County. Photo courtesy of Heaven's Landing.

The riveting Tallulah Gorge—a 1,000-foot-deep gash in the Appalachian foothills—is a few miles due south and bordered by a 63-acre lake with campsites, a visitor’s center, and shelters. The gorge is described by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as “one of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern U.S.” Recreationalists from Atlanta and points further south have long flocked to its cool, deep pools of rushing water for a summer respite. For $5, visitors may watch the phenomenon from the lip of the gorge, “which will be in the direct path” of the eclipse, according to the parks department.

“It’s just Mike and I, and we started planning this place in 2001 so we’re a mom and pop for sure,” explained Ciochetti. “The solar eclipse party gives people a chance to see how beautiful the development is, and we want to show it off.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Fly in, US Travel

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