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Way Down Yonder on the Chattahoochee

Beavers and Muskrats and Minks, oh my!



Canoeing and bird/wildlife spotting are popular activities along Georgia's Chattahoochee River.*

Outdoor Fun Along the Chattahoochee

by Vivian Holley

Beavers and muskrats and minks, oh my! Those are just a few of the natural creatures outdoor enthusiasts might encounter along the Chattahoochee River.

To Atlantans, the beloved river is the “Hooch.” For residents and visitors alike, it’s a wonderland of wildlife and open water right in the big city’s backyard.

Other critters visitors encounter include includes turtles, lizards, and toads. Fishermen will catch brook trout, bluegills and bass. In spring the river banks and parklands are awash with color, as dogwood, redbud, azaleas and wild violets bloom.

National Recreation Area

While Alan Jackson made the river instantly popular when he sang "Way Down Yonder on the Chattahoochee," the river actually was noticed far sooner by political officials. President Jimmy Carter, himself a native Georgian, clearly did future generations a favor when he signed 1978 legislation to protect and preserve a 48-mile stretch of the river

Christened the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, this section of the river came complete with a chain of parkland jewels.

The ancient Chattahoochee starts out in the north Georgia mountains as a sparkling little stream. The spot is Jack’s Knob near the Appalachian Trail. Soaking up rivulets and tributaries, it rushes down the mountainside.

Sometimes the river is slow, clear and cold. Other times it's a muddy torrent. The waterway travels the Piedmont and coastal plain. Then it flows southwesterly to join the Flint River and form Florida’s Apalachicola River. After a journey of some 500 miles, it reaches the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the way the river sweeps smack through the middle of Helen, a mountain town famed for its Alpine-themed look and activities. It also swings past the site of the country’s first great Gold Rush at Dahlonega in 1828.

A major marker on its route is 26-mile-long Lake Sidney Lanier. It was christened after a 19th-century Georgia poet who wrote “Song of the Chattahoochee.” The Corps of Engineers developed this big project on the Chattahoochee in the 1950s. Today, with its busy boat traffic, sandy beach and waterpark, it’s one of the most visited Corps of Engineers lakes in the country.

Hiking, Kayaking, Rafting and Fishing

How do urbanites take advantage of so much nature in their midst? They canoe, kayak and raft. They hike trails that ramble over 50 miles. They check out plants and wildlife, keeping an eye peeled for the occasional Great Blue Heron. Picnics are a given.

Canoeing is an outdoor activity every member of the family might enjoy.*  

They also fish, and quite enthusiastically at that. Why? The river is a stocked trout stream with 22 species listed as game fish. In the upper Chattahoochee are white and striped bass, brook trout, walleye and darters. Toss a line in the lower Chattahoochee and you might catch a bluegill, crappie or largemouth bass. Throughout the river -- north and south -- are rainbow and brown trout, and channel catfish.

In the metro Atlanta area, a good starting point for maps and information is Island Ford Visitor Contact Station. Contact 678-538-1200. Information on 16 different segments of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, plus a list of boat rental vendors, is at www.nps.gov/chat.

Chattahoochee Nature Center

A new 1,977-square-foot Wildlife Clinic is on its way to the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Set near its namesake river, the family-friendly facility is dedicated to environmental education and the rehabilitation of wildlife. The 30-year-old retreat sprawls over 127 acres of preserved wetlands and woodlands north of Atlanta.

Visitors on the Wetlands Trail learn about different types of environments, from a mountain bog to a Piedmont flood plain. They hike the four Forest Trails thick with southern magnolias and loblolly pines. They saunter the river Boardwalk Trail that leads through a bottomland hardwood forest and marsh habitat.

Other stops: the Butterfly Garden and the Beaver Habitat. The raptor and bald eagle aviaries are favorites.

The center welcomes a steady stream of reptiles, amphibians and birds of prey in need of care. “Something is always going on here,” says staffer Lynn McIntyre. “Besides our planned activities, an eagle lays an egg or someone brings us an injured owl.”

Wildlife Clinic will be open by year's end, providing upgraded facilities for animal care. Its opening will also kick off construction of the neighboring Discovery Center, a museum with river-themed exhibits of fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds.

Nature lovers show up throughout the year for naturalist-led trail hikes every Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. From May through September, naturalists lead a weekend sunset voyage on the Chattahoochee for a close-up look at places where beavers lodge and herons swoop.

Canoe trips are two and one-half hours long. Cost is $25 per person for Nature Center members and $30 per person for non-members.

Visitors receive safety instructions prior to setting off by canoes.* 

Contact the Chattahoochee Nature Center at 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell. Admission is $5 adults, $2 for children 3-12 and seniors. Call 770-992-2055 or visit www.chattnaturecenter.org.

Vivian Holley is travel editor for Southern Seasons magazine, contributing editor for Recommend magazine, and an award-winning freelance travel writer/editor specializing in upscale travel including cruising.  She is a longtime member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the Southeast Tourism Society, and the Atlanta Press Club. 

*Photos by Henning von Schmeling, director of operations, the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Photos owned, copyrighted and used with permission of von Schmeling and the nature center. Please do not copy or link to these photos. Thank you.

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