Chattahoochee River named first National Water Trail

Native Atlantans with a past penchant for polyester will remember the Great Ramblin’ Raft Race that took place on the Chattahoochee River every Memorial Day weekend. The event attracted over 300,000 revelers, many overflowing from the notorious Riverbend Apartments, and the festivities became the de facto kickoff event of summer. Fast forward 30 some years and our beloved river has come a long way, baby.

The Chattahoochee River Water Trail (its grown-up name) was recently designated the first river as part of the National Water Trails System, a new system aimed to increase access to water-based outdoor recreation, promote community stewardship of local waterways, and encourage tourism. The new system is an initiative from the U.S. Department of the Interior and was signed into order by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar under the banner of the National Trails System Act of 1968.

“We submitted an application last fall, working extensively with the Department and National Park Service for several months to raise the awareness of the Chattahoochee as well as meeting all criteria for the program,” said Patty Wissinger, Superintendent of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. “We were thrilled when the river within the park was selected as a national model.”

The park and new water trail encompass 18 developed public access points, connects with other local city and county parks and serves 3.2 million visitors annually. And in addition to providing over 65% of public green space within the urban Metro Atlanta environment, the Hooch provides Atlanta with the majority of its drinking water. On any given day, the river is heavily used by kayakers, canoeing enthusiasts, tubers, rafters and thirsty people alike.

Wissinger hopes that the new classification will increase the park and river’s traffic.

A lot people don’t realize that the Chattahoochee is part of the National Parks system and exactly what that means for us,” Wissinger added. “It attracts a lot of green businesses to our Metro Atlanta area and improves our quality of life as well.”

With each designation, signage, technical assistance and resources will be provided to build on and promote the development of quality water trails. Water trails that are designated can become catalysts for restoring the health of local waterways throughout the community.

The National Trails System Act of 1968 approved the establishment of a National Trails System comprised of National Recreation Trails, National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails. Although National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails can only be designated by an Act of Congress, National Recreation Trails may be designated by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture, according to the National Park Service.

Though the raft race is a thing of past and "died under the weight of itself," Wissinger said that she hopes many generations to come with make memories shootin' the Hooch.

"We’re so proud that the river is a place where young people can come out and enjoy activities that are actually out-of-doors," she said.