The idea is to bring people back to the river.
Not that long ago, back in the 1980s or 1990s, the Chattahoochee River regularly lured hundreds of boaters or rafters on a summer weekend. “Shooting the Hooch” became a standard way to beat the summer heat in metro Atlanta.
Back then, taking a ride on the river was easy. A contractor that operated in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area rented rafts to people who wanted a chance to bounce through the cold river rapids hidden at the heart of metro Atlanta’s suburbs. The contractor even shuttled people from their parked cars to the point from which they launched their boats or rafts. Riding the river was as easy as an amusement park ride.
But things changed. People, worried about sewage leaks and other pollution in the Chattahoochee, drifted away to other summer amusements.
“All of a sudden people were afraid of the river,” said Park Service Ranger Jerry Hightower, who has worked on the Chattahoochee for 33 years.
In the late 1990s, the concessionaire closed.
By the time Nancy Walther arrived at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in 2002, the rush of people floating the river had slowed to a trickle.
“It just wasn’t easy,” said Walther, now chief of resource education for the national recreation area, which is operated by the National Park Service. “It wasn’t convenient. The health of the river was an issue at that time, as well. … We had a lot of sewage spills when I first got here.”
But the river has cleaned up, park rangers say. “This stretch of river is cleaner than it was 40 years ago,” Hightower said.
The park service now advises people that when the water is clear, “it’s healthy” and there should be no pollution problems, Walther said. When the water turns brown, she said, people should check with the park service’s water quality hotline to make sure there is no problem.
Still, she said, it’s time for people to get back on the water. There has been some headway. On the most recent Fourth of July weekend, she said, the park took in nearly twice as much in entrance fees as on a typical weekend. Rangers “could see people up and down the river,” she said. “It was just peppered with people.”
“It was looking like the good old days,” Hightower said. “You saw a lot of family groups.”
On July 30, they hope to bring in even more people to ride the river.
That Saturday, the national recreation area and Sandy Springs Hospitality and Tourism host the fourth annual Chattahoochee River Summer Splash, a chance to float a six-mile stretch of river from the Morgan Falls Dam to the Powers Island unit of the national recreation area. The event lasts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with boats launched from 8:30 a.m. until noon. There’ll be food and music, too, Walther said.
People who want to take part can bring their own boats or rafts or rent them from contractors. A shuttle bus will be on hand to take riders from their cars to the launch point.
Participation in the annual splash has grown steadily, she said.
In 2008, its first year, 330 people took part. The number rose to 380 in 2009 and 516 last year. This year, Walther is hoping to see more than 1,000. “People are starting to learn about it,” she said.
They’re seeing it’s easy to shoot the hooch again. At least for a day.
“What we’re trying to encourage is family recreation,” Walther said. “We want people to get back to the river.”
The event: A float of 6 miles on the Chattahoochee River, from Morgan Falls Dam to Powers Island. Park at Rivers Edge, near the Powers Island unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
When: July 30, 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. A bus will shuttle participants from the parking area to the launch point from 8:30 a.m. until noon.
For info: www.nps.gov/chat
To register: 678-538-1280 or 770-206-1447
To rent boats or rafts: Chattahoochee Outfitters, 770-650-1008, www.shootthehooch.com; The Dam Store, 770-945-4000, www.riverecologic.com; High Country Outfitters, 404-814-0999, www.highcountryoutfitters.com; Whitewater Learning Center, 404-231-0042, www.whitewatergeorgia.com.
Tips for participants: Wear sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and shoes that can go in the water; take snacks and bottled water; don’t bring bottles or Styrofoam coolers. You might want to bring a change of clothes, too.