A nonprofit friends group for the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area formed relatively recently, in 2012, but its volunteers have already undertaken big projects.

A kids’ fishing pier at Island Ford in Sandy Springs, a comprehensive trail study and a new stairway improving access in the Vickery Creek Unit are a few of the projects by the Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy, said board president Phillip Hodges.

Phillip Hodges, board president of the Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy. (Special)

“The National Park Service would like for all national park units to have a friends’ group,” Hodges said, and Conservancy fills that role.

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (NRA) has a big economic impact on the nearby communities, including Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. The more than 3.4 million visitors to the park spent $152 million in those communities. That supported 2,160 jobs and created a cumulative benefit of $213 million to the local economy, a recently released National Park Service report said.

“National parks are a vital part of our nation’s economy, especially for park gateway communities, such as those along the Chattahoochee River, where millions of park visitors enjoy outdoor recreation opportunities each year,” said Acting Superintendent Ann Honious.

In addition to its park project work, the Conservancy has presented education programs.

“More recently we have helped with some park infrastructure improvements such as the new stairway across the covered bridge in the Vickery Creek Unit in Roswell. That was a big project,” Hodges said. “We have recently replaced the kids’ fishing pier in the Island Ford Unit where the headquarters is.”

The group also funded the park’s first comprehensive trail watch study for the whole park.

“Many of the trails are degraded and they need work. A lot of that work can be done through volunteers, another aspect of the Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy,” Hodges said.

With the National Park Service recently reopening the Chattahoochee River NRA to volunteers amid the pandemic, they will have a chance to get back to work.

“Besides raising money for improvements, replacements or creating something new, the conservancy’s goa is to increase volunteerism, to do things like work on the trials which are well used – some might say overused – and need a lot of attention,” he said.

Current projects for the volunteers include a dog waste campaign, which is a big issue in the park. He said despite what some people think, bagged or unbagged dog waste left on the trails is not a god thing. The rains wash the waste down and into the river, polluting it.

The Conservancy is working to increase the number of dog waste stations and adding “snappy new signage that we hope will help a little bit,” he said.

Another big project is the replacement of the Jones Bridge Unit overlook.

The third project, improving the shared-use trails in the Cochran Shoals subunit, still needs approval from the National Park Service. The shared use trails are the only places within the Chattahoochee River NRA where mountain bikes can be ridden.

The Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy has added some of its own money to what Hodges called a generous grant from REI. The partnership includes Mountain Bike Atlanta, and he was waiting to hear how much that group could contribute before the project’s scope could be completed.

“Out of 80 miles of trials there are only 7 miles where you can legally mountain bike. Those seven miles of trails are worn out,” Hodges said.

The project was tentatively budgeted at $50,000.

“It is great that the trails are open, the parking lots are open. People can get out,” Hodges said. “I can tell you the park service has been very measured and very careful. They are careful about visitor safety and employees’ safety. We do hope people will get out and enjoy the park, but just be smart, safe, and stay six feet apart.”

For more information, see chattahoocheeparks.org.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.