The Chattahoochee River
A river runs through it, Georgia that is. It begins in the north Georgia mountains and travels for 500 miles where upon it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Each summer, hundreds of people head for the "hootch", as it's colloquially known, for a little refreshing ride. Toting various and sundry sea-worthy vessels, which may include canoes, old ceramic tubs or simply inter-tubes, week-end sailors take to the seas; well, you get the idea. Point is, there's recreation to be had, as long as it takes place north of Atlanta, for the "hootch", in my opinion, consists of two sections: The clean part, north of Atlanta, and the dirty part, south of Atlanta.
The Clean Part:
Just outside of Habersham, Georgia, two-hundred feet off the Appalachian Trail, a trickle of a spring, clear and clean, begins it's long and winding 500 mile trip to the Gulf of Mexico. Here, as a small stream, it meanders down Hiawassee Ridge and is joined by other smaller rivulets. By the time it reaches the Mark Twain Wilderness Area, which is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, it has run for ten miles and become quite the trout stream. Maintained by the United States Forest Service in order to protect the river's headwaters and watershed, the National Forest provides more than 16,000 acres for hiking, fishing and camping and ceates an ample opportunity for all of this to have a negative impact on the river. In the past it has, currently it doesn't.
Once upon a time, there was Gold discovered in these hills; Native Americans found it, Hernado De Soto came looking for it. Spanish miners panned for it; Easy money floating down a river. Dahlonega produced so much, they sent some to Atlanta; Gold now covers the dome of the State Capitol Building. But the point is;
Thanks to mining and logging, by 1895, this portion of the Chattahoochee was an "environmental disaster." Soil erosion began to clog the river at the 150 mile point. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Federal Government began to buy the devastated land and with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who planted trees throughout the watershed, it has been returned to its original state.
The "hootch", as the river is so affably referred to, runs through the center of Helen, providing locals and tourists alike with popular pastimes always associated with rivers; fishing, tubing, and rafting. Out of Helen, the hootch enters the Nachoochee Valley and becomes much stronger, much wider and becomes navigable from this point on. More major rivers join the Chattahoochee here increasing both it's watershed and it's popularity for canoeing. The river runs east here and heads for more populated areas near Gainesville, Lake Lanier and Atlanta. But it was here in this Valley were it once delineated the eastern border of the Cherokee Nation and a little further south, formed the border between the Creek and the Cherokee. Word has it, that the Cherokee named the river, calling it "chota", meaning stone and "hoche", meaning flowered or marked, which is how stones were perceived in certain areas near a now defunct town known as Hoithletigua.
Onward towards Atlanta, the hootch flows, but not before being dammed up by the Army Corps of Engineers and creating Lake Lanier. A water supply for Atlanta and some say the most important lake in the southeast, it is the most visited corps facility in the country. With 38,000 acres and 540 miles of shoreline, it attracts more than 20 million people a year for recreational purposes. Citizen groups battle the propensity for pollution here and have done much to curtail it. Next major stop and the last one on the "clean" side, is a 48 mile stretch of the hootch where it enters Atlanta. This area is the most popular "rafting" area on the river with sixteen seperate parks and "launching" areas, and access areas for picnics, fishing and hiking. Because of the huge metropolitan area the hootch has just entered, encumbered with a multitude of environmental problems, this is the last of the clean section. Hope you enjoyed the ride
The Dirty Part
Because of rapid and ill-planned growth in the Atlanta area and the seemingly continued use of antiquated and inadequate sewer systems, it's here where the clean river gets dumped on. Raw sewage finds it's way to the hootch here and has "destroyed the quality of life for those who live along the Chattahoochee", in this area that is and maybe it's just coincidence, but this side of Atlanta has always been "the poor side". The Riverkeeper's guide to the Chattahochee states, "From Peachtree Creek down to that South Fulton Camp Creek discharge, the river is disgusting." A local farmer maintains,"Sometimes it smells so bad, it makes your stomach hurt." OK, so once again, you get the idea, from here on, the quality of the hootch takes a dive, no pun intended.
On the plus side, downstream at the next large reservoir, West Point Lake has a reputation as a top angling prospect and bass in huge quantities and quality continue to be pulled in. Further down and on the Alabama side, Lake Walter George has maintained good water quality despite pollution fron nearby Colombus, Georgia. At the last reservoir in Georgia, Lake Seminole, Siltation is the core of it's problems. This weed-filled lake is home to abundant wild-life including geese, and ducks and the surrounding pine bluffs have concentrations of everything from deer to possum. Lake Seminole is also home to a large population of bald eagles. And bidding Georgia goodbye, the hootch enters Florida and changes it's name to the Apalachicola.
From Lake seminole , the hootch travels 107 miles before entering Apalachicola Bay in the Gulf of Mexico and one of the most productive estuaries in the Northern Hemisphere. Ninety-five percent of all shellfish "spend a portion of their lives in Apalachicola Bay." The river's flow protects oysters from oceanic predators and the saltwater marshes acts as filters for pollutants and nursery habitat for young shellfish and finfish. And so the beginning and the end of the hootch's travels are crystal clear and full of optimism, but all's not lost for the muddy middle part either. A three state coalition has been working on a formula that "is protective of water quality, biodiversity, and recreation, while allowimg for economic growth." Centering on improvements for the "dirty" part, they maintain that "the public realizes that there is a Chattahochee River which can be restored," and the portion of the river below Atlanta will no longer be written off.