By Katie Fallon
Growing up in the “Three Rivers” area of Pittsburgh, Bill Odrey has had a love for being on the water from a very young age.
Odrey, now a Sandy Springs resident, has taken that love and brought it to the waters of the Chattahoochee River with the reappearance of the Spirit of Roswell riverboat. Built in 1957, the Spirit of Roswell is an authentic stern paddlewheeler patterned after vessels of the Mississippi riverboat era.
With red trim and a herring bone design, the Spirit of Roswell is now available for charter trips after being exiled to Lake Lanier during Odrey’s permit negotiations with the City of Roswell. Odrey’s home on Roberts Drive is right on the river so he does not have to commute very far.
Odrey said the Chattahoochee River has been a perfect place to offer his riverboat trip. Even though the river is relatively shallow, he said the Spirit of Roswell is ideal for the north Fulton locale because it only drafts eight inches of water. Similarly, Odrey said his boat offers a peaceful coexistence with the many residents who use the river for recreation.
“The boat doesn’t make any wake,” Odrey said. “We don’t have any problems with the rowers or kayakers. This boat is as environmentally friendly as you can get.”
Those who step aboard the Spirit of Roswell at Azalea Park will be treated to a narrated, two and a half to three hour trip that will span roughly six miles roundtrip. With the view from the boat, including wildlife, flora and fauna, Odrey’s business associate Barbara Russell said the trip is scenic no matter what the season.
“It’s just a beautiful trip,” Russell said. “You just can’t believe you’re in the metro area. You feel like you’re on a vacation.”
One person who gets a firsthand view on every trip is Capt. Rick Marton, who mans the helm of the Spirit of Roswell. A commercial boat captain for the last 10 years, Marton has spent a majority of the recent past captaining boats on Lake Lanier. Born and raised on Lake Michigan, he said his experience is well-suited to drive Odrey’s riverboat on the Chattahoochee.
“I’ve driven everything that floats,” Marton said.
The captain, who is also a coxswain with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, takes passengers on a leisurely trip towards the Morgan Falls dam. The Spirit of Roswell’s crew also includes Odrey’s 19-year-old West Highland terrier Ralph, who Odrey said is as comfortable on the riverboat as he is at home.
Russell said Odrey’s now fulltime job as an owner and restorer of paddlewheelers was unavoidable after his lifetime spent on boats.
“It’s in his blood,” Russell said.
In fact, Odrey owns two other boats similar to the Spirit of Roswell. Those boats are docked at Lake Lanier and in Florence, Ore. Odrey also wants to bring a fourth boat to be docked on the Sandy Springs side of the river.
“We’d like to have Sandy Springs represented on the river,” Odrey said.
So far, however, Odrey said he has not received encouragement from the city. He said his proposal to re-zone his property’s classification from residential to commercial so he can develop public access to the river was shot down at a recent land use discussion of the Comprehensive Plan Citizen Advisory Committee.
“I can’t find anybody to communicate with,” Odrey said. “How can you vote down something if you haven’t been there?”
Odrey, who has in the past used the public comment portion of city council meetings to plead his case, said nobody from the city has visited his property to see why current land use provisions should be changed. He said he owns the only piece of residential property that fronts Roswell Road. All other such properties have a commercial designation.
Because there is parking by his property that would accommodate public river access, Odrey said he feels his property should be re-zoned. He said education is his main motivation for wanting the public river access on his property where visitors could board a riverboat celebrating the new city of Sandy Springs.
“I want to help the community,” Odrey said. “I’m not going to get rich.”
Deputy Director of Community Development Vann McNeill said city staff did meet with Odrey on Feb. 14. He said Odrey will have to go through many steps to have a riverboat in Sandy Springs, steps he has not taken so far.
“For Mr. Odrey to locate the riverboat, which is a commercial operation, on his property in Sandy Springs, a rezoning of the property would be required,” McNeill said. “A copy of the rezoning application was given to Odrey for his use and he was instructed that he would need to seek a change in land use for his property as it currently does not support a commercial use. To date, the Community Development Department has nor received a rezoning application for this property.”
McNeill said for Odrey to develop the facilities he wants, he would need to work with the city because it enforces the Metropolitan River Protection Act and the Chattahoochee Corridor Plan on behalf of the Atlanta Regional Commission to ensure protection of the 200-foot buffer along the Chattahoochee River. Similarly, he said Odrey will also have to work with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division as well as the U.S. Park Service because those agencies have purview over the laws and regulations that apply to the river itself.
Currently, Odrey’s Spirit of Roswell is only available for charter trips with private groups at a rate of $1,450 per trip, but Russell said she is working on developing a schedule for public rides for individuals, families and small groups. The boat has a 100 person capacity, but Odrey said the maximum he usually allows is 70 in order to maintain comfort.
The cost of the charter trip includes the services of the captain and crew. Guests are welcome to bring their own food and beverages, as long as none are in glass containers. The spirit of Roswell also offers catering services through Talk of the Town.