Cleaner Chattahoochee ‘not the same river’ it used to be

by Sarah Fay Campbell

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This Paddle Georgia participant had an unusual companion during a paddle session along the Chattahoochee’s Coweta County section. 


The 450 participants in this year’s Paddle Georgia event got to see a river that has taken on new life in the past several years.

The sections of the Chattahoochee River that flowed through Atlanta’s industrial areas were once considered “dead” from pollution, and the ill effects stretched far downstream.

But as Atlanta has worked to clean up its outdated sewer systems, the river has recovered. Much of the work Atlanta has done has been the result of lawsuits filed by the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

This year’s trip was the 10th one for Paddle Georgia. The first one, in 2005, was also held along the metro-Atlanta section of the Chattahoochee.

“This is not the same river we paddled in 2005,” said Paddle Georgia Coordinator Joe Cook in the Paddle Georgia blog.

In late April and early May, Cook spent time scouting out the route. “My travels have taken me through the heart of the river’s “industrial park” – that section downstream of Atlanta that until the last two decades had all but been written off as a polluted cesspool.

“With improved water quality in this stretch of river, the river corridor is also undergoing change.”

That change was the most evident at Riverview Landing in Cobb County, where the paddlers camped for two nights. The property used to be a riverside junkyard. Now it is a park, and there are plans for a mixed-use development on the property.

“Ten years ago, such plans were virtually unheard of on the river’s industrial side,” Cook said. “I like to think Paddle Georgia was a small catalyst for some of these changes, but I know for certain that when 400-plus paddlers venture on the river – including its rugged industrial side … the communities surrounding it will take notice. The thought might occur to them – hey, maybe that river is worth exploring again. And, in that small way, our Paddle Georgia participants are slowly changing our rivers."

Newnan residents Jim and Jacob Wiglesworth were among the participants. The father and 10-year-old son made the trip in a canoe. They were home by late Friday, choosing to skip the fish fry, the closing celebration and the final night of camping in Franklin.

Jim read about the trip in The Newnan Times-Herald. “I had never heard of it,” he said. But he was intrigued.

“My dad and I had always talked about doing this kind of trip, and we just never found the time. So when I found out about this, I signed up for my son and I, to just have some time on the river with him.”

He signed up, and was notified he was among those chosen in the lottery.

“It was fun. It was long. It was pretty challenging,” Wiglesworth said, mentioning the small stretches of whitewater along the river as being the most fun.

But it was tiring. Sometimes, Jacob would curl up in the bow of the boat to take naps.

One day, as they were floating past riverside golf courses, Cook challenged the paddlers to a contest to see who could find the most golf balls. “Jacob kept wanting to jump out and collect golf balls. He came in third,” Wiglesworth said.

“We saw a lot” during the trip. Friday “we actually had a Bald Eagle fly over, which was pretty cool,” he said.

Water gun fights were encouraged, so, before the trip, the Wiglesworths went out and bought some quality water guns.

Wiglesworth had a canoe already, but bought another one especially for the trip. He said Jacob “said he wants us to go in separate kayaks next year.”

Wiglesworth wants to take all three of his children on a long paddling trip, though they may not go with Paddle Georgia.

“We had a good time. We met a lot of people from all over the place,” he said.

Mom Stacy said it was interesting to watch them the week before the trip. They made “many, many trips to Dick’s and Academy to get things they needed to stock up on,” she said.

“I was thrilled they got picked in the lottery. Things like that are really wonderful bonding experiences between parent and child. That is memories made with Jacob he will never forget."



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