We who inhabit this Southern metropolis have always been two-hearted about the Chattahoochee River. The river that runs through Atlanta begins as a trickle high in the North Georgia mountains, 80 miles above the city in Union County, gathering size and strength as it tumbles southward. If you enjoy hiking or kayaking or fishing, or if you live near the river you probably know what a treasure it is. But there’s more than meets the eye to the river that provides water to 3 million local residents.
A version of this story originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Living Intown magazine.
1. Its significance dates back to Atlanta’s early days.
Morgan Falls, in Sandy Springs, was one of the first hydroelectric dams in the Southeast, built in 1904 to run the streetcar system 18 miles south in Atlanta. Georgia Power still operates it, producing enough electricity for 4,000 homes, but now its main purpose is to help re-regulate water flow from Lake Lanier.
2. The river hosted a floating festival in the 1970s.
Local politicians were hesitant to allow residents to float down the river because of the Ramblin’ Raft Race, an event that colored perceptions of the river for better or worse. At its peak during the 1970s, the race attracted more than 300,000 people every Memorial Day weekend to “Shoot the Hooch” on a flotilla of makeshift craft. A 1972 documentary film called it “a wet Woodstock,” but it ended in 1980.
3. It only became a National Recreation Area in the last 40 years.
Almost 3.2 million people a year use the recreation area, which is part of the National Parks system. In the early 1970s, a group of outdoors enthusiasts who called themselves the River Rats became alarmed over a plan to blast away at the granite outcroppings for a sewer line. They lobbied for a federal preserve along the river and were fortunate when Jimmy Carter became president and pushed for the bill that created the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in 1978.
4. You never know what wildlife you’ll spot.
In addition to the trout you can catch in the river, there are also some more unusual residents to the wildlife region. Visitors to the Cochran Shoals trail in East Cobb should look out for the river’s most exotic resident, an 8-foot alligator nicknamed “Hoochie.”
5. Creek Indians once lived along the river.
For almost two decades, one of the most historic places on the river was hidden behind a locked gate with a “No Trespassing” sign. Beyond the barrier was the site of the Creek Indian village Standing Peachtree — the fount of Atlanta’s most famous place name — which was soon replaced by Fort Peachtree, built to protect settlers during the War of 1812. The property belongs to Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management, which takes in river water and treats it for use near the mouth of Peachtree Creek. The park was closed before the 1996 Olympics out of concern that someone might contaminate the city’s water supply; it remained off-limits until last fall, when it reopened.
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