Landlocked though Atlanta may be, the Chattahoochee River serves as the pulse of the city’s water use, not just for its recreational paddling opportunities, but as a source of drinking water for nearly four million Georgians. While Atlanta’s main artery of the 430-mile river flows through Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a 48-mile section, the basin as a whole is the most-used water source in Georgia.
From the trickles of a stream in Blue Ridge to the Flint River at Lake Seminole, Atlanta-based nonprofit organization the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper protects, preserves, and restores the Chattahoochee River Basin.
Since 1994, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has grown to more than 7,000 members who participate in water monitoring programs , volunteer clean ups , and watershed paddle outings , all with an effort to increase awareness of the river’s vital water source.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2014. A staggering amount of more than 20 tons of trash was removed from the waterways throughout the organizations various clean up events. The biggest dent in this waste removal came from the organization’s annual “Sweep the Hooch” event, where more than 7 tons of trash was removed in one day. The event continues to be the largest single-day river clean up in Metro Atlanta.
The 4 th annual “Sweep the Hooch” is fast approaching on April 11, and the goal is to recruit 800 volunteers. Volunteers will spread out across 70 miles of the river at 38 project sites to paddle the river, wade the banks, or hike the trails along the shores to clean up trash and perform trail maintenance. The annual clean up directly impacts the health of Atlanta’s closest water sources from the Chattahoochee River.
Beyond “Sweep the Hooch,” the Riverkeeper’s “Back to the Chattahoochee River Race and Fest” brings the community together for a day of paddling races and festivities. The day kicks off with a paddling race, open to all kayakers, canoeists, and SUPers. Throughout the 8-mile stretch from Gerrand Landing Park to Riverside Park, you’ll dip through a few series of class I and II rapids. The race is aimed toward recreational paddlers, but if you want to race for time, register for the competitive category.
At the finish, race participants of legal age will be greeted with a cold brew from Sweetwater Brewing’s beer barge. The race caps at 400 paddlers, and tends to sell out. Registration opens April 24 and the race and festival are on June 13. If you don’t paddle, the festival itself will host 80 vendors ranging from outfitters to artisans to eco-friendly groups.
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper also hosts several watershed outings, which bridge the gap between river service and paddling fun. While the trips are geared toward the novice paddler, experienced paddlers will enjoy the educational aspect of the trip. Each outing focuses on cleaning up the river, and educates you on the river’s ecosystem. For 2015, the organization is planning up to 17 trips that range from day paddle trips in the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area, to overnight camp and paddles in North Georgia’s Headwaters section.
“These outings take you to places that you normally wouldn’t have access to,” says Outings Manager Tammy Bates. “We get special permission from park service rangers to camp and paddle in rare spots, like Mill Creek Gap’s Buzzard’s Roost.”
With warmer weather, the Chattahoochee River will soon populate with kayakers, SUPers, fishers, and tubers. Bates offers this advice to all enjoying the river, its tributaries, and the surrounding trails. “Pack out your trash, because if not you are littering in your drinking water. Bring a garbage bag with you, and if you happen to see other people’s garbage, clean it up too.”
The Riverkeeper also has a hotline (404-352-9828 ext. 16) that you can report sewage spills, fish kills, and stream buffer violations.