River Escape: The Chattahoochee Offers Ways to De-Stress from the Daily Grind
By Everett Catts
Given the name “rocks-marked” or “painted rock” by the NativeAmericans' Muskogee tribe, Georgia’s Chattahoochee River dates back 100 million years. Spanning 430 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Florida border, where it meets the Apalachicola and Flint rivers, the Chattahoochee was used by indigenous people for transportation, fishing and water collection.
Today the river is still a vital resource, providing 70 percent of metro Atlanta’s drinking water, or more than 300 gallons per day. It also is a major source of electricity, with 12 hydroelectric dams located along the Chattahoochee. But it also has become the metro area’s playground, offering a variety of recreation and sports activities for adults and children alike.
Country singer Alan Jackson, who grew up near the river in Coweta County, paid tribute to it with the 1992 song “Chattahoochee.”
"Yeah, way down yonder on the Chattahoochee / Never knew how much that muddy water meant to me"
Where to Enjoy the River
With 15 park units along a 48-mile stretch of the river, the National Park Service’s Chatahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) offers an abundance of activities for people in metro Atlanta and beyond. Established in 1978 and opening two years later, the park system started with 345,956 visitors in 1980. Last year it had 3.5 million visitors and was the 21st most-visited federal park among 423 park units in the nation.
In 2012, it received the designation of the Chattahoochee River NRA Water Trail as the first National Water Trail. The CRNRA’s park units offer places to launch boats for canoeing, kayaking and rafting; trails for walking, hiking, biking and running; places to go swimming and fishing and endless opportunities to study nature. In fact, the park system has a Parks as Classrooms program where teachers can get curriculum materials and take students on field trips.
And there’s plenty to study. The CRNRA has nearly 360 animal species and 944 vascular plant species combined on its park properties. Superintendent Ann Honious says the CRNRA stands out because “the Chattahoochee corridor possesses those nationally significant resources that it takes to be a national park.”
“There’s also historic resources,” she added. “The park offers multiple opportunities within our scenic river corridor to pursue outdoor recreation, reconnect with nature and discover history.”
But with parking at a premium in most parks, Honious says park visitors should plan ahead and visit the CRNRA’s website for details on where to park. Also, each park unit has a $5 entrance fee that can be paid online.Since the parks don’t provide boats or equipment for visitors, they can be rented by contacting Shoot the Hooch or the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Roswell’s River Parks
But the federal government isn’t the only one with parks showcasing the Chattahoochee’s offerings, as many cities and counties along the river also have parks. With seven parks located along the river, including two in partnership with Fulton County, the city of Roswell may have more riverfront parks than any city in Georgia.
“That is truly what sets us apart in our region. Folks move to Roswell for all the right reasons: safe community, good services and good schools, but when it comes to the park system, that is what we have that no other neighboring community has: the river,” says Post 5 Roswell City Councilman Will Morthland, the city’s recreation and parks department liaison.
Morthland says when he and his family moved to metro Atlanta from Birmingham, Alabama, they chose Roswell partly because of its riverside parks and the plethora of activities they offer. At least one park, Riverside, hosts a free monthly concert series.
Peace Among the Hustle and Bustle
The CRNRA represents 20 percent of metro Atlanta’s greenspace. “It provides great opportunities to get out in nature in an urban area,” Hoinous says. “You can be pretty close to the city, or if you go to the northernmost units, it’s pretty remote where you can have that solitude in nature, though we have a variety of opportunities.”
That’s the feeling Shawn Winter, who with his wife moved from Iowa to Cobb County in June 2020, gets when he’s home. They live in an apartment along the Chattahoochee by the Fulton County line. Their apartment complex has several places to sit by the river and enjoy its serenity, as well as spots to put your own or rented boats into the river.
“I’m down there at least on a weekly basis if not multiple times a week, especially in warmer weather,” Winter, a Kansas native, says of the chances to sit by the Chattahoochee. “That’s the big one for us, growing up in the Midwest and moving to a big city and landing at a place like this where we often say we don’t even feel like we’re living in the city because of living here … right next to the river. It’s oftentimes a place of rest for us and a reprieve from the business of city life and the work we’re doing.”
The National Park Service and Georgia municipalities are partnering with the Trust for Public Land to help create the Chattahoochee RiverLands, which, when completed, would form 100 miles of new riverfront trails and parks connecting 19 cities across seven counties, from Forsyth south to Troup, according to the Trust’s website. It will build 42 access points and eight campsites.
In Atlanta, plans are underway to build Riverwalk Atlanta, a new park with a five-mile greenway along the Chattahoochee with 500 acres of greenspace. Created from the acquisition of 17 properties, it will connect to both the Proctor Creek Greenway and Silver Comet Trail.
So grab your gear and your family and head to your nearest park to see everything the Chattahoochee has to offer.
For More Info
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
City of Roswell
Georgia River Network
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Shoot the Hooch