Archive for May, 2014

Joe Kidd, front left, with his grandfather in the pool beneath Hilly Mills Falls, circa 1946.

Joe Kidd, front left, with his grandfather in the pool beneath Hilly Mills Falls, circa 1946.

Paddle Georgia alumni and Gainesville resident Joe Kidd was born in 1940 in Coweta County. Like many from Coweta and Heard counties, Joe grew up swimming at Hilly Mill Falls about 300 yards from where Hilly Mill Creek meets the Chattahoochee.

In the heady days following World War II, Joe’s grandfather would load up his grandchildren in a horse-drawn buggy and make the rugged trip down dirt Enon Grove Road descending sharply to the creek and river.

Once there, the family outfitted young Joe in an inflatable donut-shaped hemorrhoid pillow (a cast off from an afflicted uncle) to keep him afloat in the deep water below the falls. A fishing trip on the nearby Chattahoochee usually rounded out the journey, and with any luck, a fish fry on the spit of land between the creek and river would follow. In 1946 for a six-year-old boy, this was a summer day well spent.

By 1958, Joe was a senior at Newnan High School and the boys, leaving the buggies of yesteryear behind, drove their automobiles to Hilly Mill and did what young men do. Country music star Alan Jackson, also a Coweta County native and frequent visitor to Hilly Mill in his youth, wrote a song about it, and surely, both Joe and Alan did, in fact, “learn a lot about livin’ and a little ’bout love” way down yonder on the Chattahoochee.

Sunday, my wife Leanne and I joined the now 74-year-old Joe for a journey down the Chattahoochee from Chattahoochee Bend State Park to Franklin. It was the first time he’d visited this stretch of river since his early adulthood.

“We stopped coming when it started to smell so nasty,”  Joe said. “You’d see human waste floating down the river.”

Joe Kidd at Hilly Mill Falls, circa 2014.

Joe Kidd at Hilly Mill Falls, circa 2014.

Joe’s story is one that is heard often in Coweta and Heard counties where generations of families grew up fishing, trapping and hunting on the Chattahoochee downstream from Atlanta. But by the early 1960s, Atlanta’s population was overwhelming the city’s antiquated sewer system and untreated sewage streamed into the river. The exodus from the river in Coweta and Heard counties soon followed.

Joe’s face as he topped the rise and saw Hilly Mill Falls for this first time in several decades finished this story.

A wide-eyed, grinning native son returned to the promised land of his youth.  The falls were as beautiful as ever; the river itself was once again a place worthy of visiting.

As we paddled to the mouth of Hilly Mill Creek, a bald eagle swung across the river in front of us. In a pine at the creek’s mouth, a fledgling bald eagle perched, and reluctantly launched into the air as we made land fall. The river itself, flowed clear and cool; muskrats foraged in the shoals, gar rested in the mouths of creeks, turtles periscoped at the water’s surface before ducking to the safety of the depths. On this Memorial Day weekend, tubers and kayakers lounged on rocks near Bushhead Shoals and anglers crowded Daniel Shoals. One showed off a hefty catfish.

Yes, trash from the big city still piles up at the head of Bushhead Shoals Islands in disturbing flotillas, and even 30 miles downstream from metro Atlanta’s wastewater treatment plants you still occasionally get a whiff of that septic laundry water scent.

Joe Kidd shoots through Daniel Shoals on the Chattahoochee River.

Joe Kidd shoots through Daniel Shoals on the Chattahoochee River.

But, a river that was once dead, has risen from the grave. The change has been remarkable–even in the last 20 years.

When I journeyed the length of the Chattahoochee in 1995, this much-abused section of river seemed largely abandoned. There were few homes, one public park (McIntosh Reserve) and the fish camps so ubiquitous in Joe’s childhood were few and far between.

Sunday we paddled by a row of fish camps–the property owner leases parcels along the riverfront. Our launch site, Chattahoochee Bend State Park in Coweta County, touts nearly six miles of river frontage, and a new Carroll County park with canoe and kayak launches is in the works. Houses are beginning to pop up too. In Coweta and Heard counties, they’re experiencing a river revival.

The Chattahoochee in Coweta and Heard counties  is experiencing a revival--and the area's fisherman are on the front pew.

The Chattahoochee in Coweta and Heard counties is experiencing a revival–and the area’s fishermen are on the front pew.

In large part this revival is owed to their upstream neighbors caring for the river again. Prompted by lawsuits filed by Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the City of Atlanta has begun the long journey to fix its infrastructure. Georgia Power Co., a Paddle Georgia sponsor that operates three power plants dependent on the Chattahoochee, has significantly reduced its impact on the river, and a multi-year campaign by the Trust for Public Land and the Nature Conservancy begun in 1995 has protected some 75 miles of riverfront.

Joe Kidd returned to his youth Sunday. He returned via a new state park in a red kayak, paddling atop an inviting watery path. It was a journey far different from a horse-drawn buggy and far-removed from the “Dead River” days of Joe’s adulthood.

This happy ending brought to you by people caring for their river again.

Joe Cook

May 27, 2014








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Vincent Payne & Keith Haskell paddle past Georgia Power Company's Plant McDonough in Atlanta during a recent Paddle Georgia scouting trip.

Vincent Payne & Keith Haskell paddle past Georgia Power Company’s Plant McDonough in Atlanta during a recent Paddle Georgia scouting trip.

10 years ago on the opening eve of the original Paddle Georgia on the Chattahoochee, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel informed me that unattended boats were not allowed at the boat ramp below Buford Dam. If our group wanted to leave our boats overnight, they said, someone would have to stay with them. I can’t remember the logic…something about national security and preventing terrorist acts–never mind that the gate leading to the boat ramp was to be locked and secured as always.

So…that evening, I camped alone with 100 or so boats in the shadows of Buford Dam with just my wits and a Swiss Army knife to protect the dam and the water supply for the Deep South’s largest metropolis from marauding terrorists.

Meanwhile, back at Central Forsyth High School in Cumming, local school boys were streaking through our campsite in the wee hours of the morning, startling soon-to-be-weary paddlers from their slumber.

A few days later, at North Atlanta High School, with tents scattered all over the campus at Northside Drive, school police officers arrived to inform Dana Skelton that our stay at the school had not been approved and ordered us to pack and leave. To which we replied: “If you’d like to pack us up and pay for rooms at the Holiday Inn, we’ll be happy to go…but I don’t think you really want to do that, do you?” Soon school administrators arrived to calm the officers and we stayed.

Those first seven days of Paddle Georgia were filled with moments like these. It was perhaps the hardest-working week of my life; it was also one of the most beautiful. On the final day of the event, I remember visiting the falls at Hilly Mill Creek in Heard County and seeing, what to me, seemed a picture of heaven–young and old, black and white, kayaker and canoeist–all splashing and laughing together in the cold, clear pool below the falls. That was the moment I knew there was something special about this Paddle Georgia idea.

This year, we return to that original route to celebrate our 10th anniversary. A lot has changed.

This new boat dock at Riverview Landing will serve as our Day 3 take out location. The site is a former junkyard.

This new boat dock at Riverview Landing will serve as our Day 3 take out location. The site is a former junkyard.

In 2005, more than 300 paddlers joined us for the original trip, but only about 150 of those paddled all seven days. This year, we’ll have about 400 “thru-paddlers.” In 2005, Georgia River Network had two paid employees–April Ingle and Dana Skelton; today, it has a staff of seven. In 2005, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper was 11 years old and still working to get the City of Atlanta to clean up its illegal sewage and stormwater discharges into the river. This year Chattahoochee Riverkeeper celebrates its 20th anniversary, and the vast majority of those nasty discharges have been fixed. In the nine years of Paddle Georgia’s existence, the event has guided more than 2800 people down more than 900 miles of Georgia rivers and generated more than $200,000 for river protection.

During the past several weeks, I’ve spent some days scouting the Chattahoochee–identifying take out locations, pit stops and points of interest. My travels have taken me through the heart of the river’s “industrial park”–that section downstream of Atlanta that until the last two decades had all but been written off as a polluted cesspool.

With improved water quality in this stretch of river, the river corridor is also undergoing change. No where is that more evident than at Riverview Landing, which will serve as our campsite for two nights. The former junkyard on the banks of the river in Cobb County has been transformed into a park-like setting, and soon Jamestown, a international development company (and Paddle Georgia sponsor) will begin a mixed-use commercial-residential development there.

Hiding riverside industrial parks, the river's green corridor sometimes makes you forget you are traveling inside Atlanta.

Hiding riverside industrial parks, the river’s green corridor sometimes makes you forget you are traveling inside Atlanta.

Ten years ago, such plans were virtually unheard of on the river’s industrial side. Yet, similar transformations are occurring elsewhere. New riverside parks are going up in Carroll County and the City of Chattahoochee Hills has developed a plan that it believes will maintain the rural character of south Fulton County and dot the river with walking trails and boat launches.

This is not the same river we paddled in 2005. I like to think Paddle Georgia was a small catalyst for some of these changes, but I know for certain that when 400-plus paddlers venture on the river (including its rugged industrial side) next month, the communities surrounding it will take notice. The thought might occur to them: “Hey, maybe that river is worth exploring again.” And, in that small way, our Paddle Georgia participants are slowly changing our rivers.

See you June 20!

Joe Cook

Paddle Georgia Coordinator

May 18, 2014


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