The New Hooch

The Chattahoochee River was once so polluted that raw sewage floated at its surface. This was both disturbing to see, and harmful for the thousands of metro Atlanta residents who depend on the river water for drinking. In 1995, The Trust for Public Land initiated the Chattahoochee River Land Protection Campaign to help clean up 300 miles of the river and conserve its riverbanks. To date, we’ve transformed a 48-mile stretch of the river—part of the Chattachoochee River National Recreation Area—from a dumping ground to a clean, vibrant waterway.

Thanks to these efforts, “The Hooch,” as locals call it, was recently declared the First National Water Trail by the Department of the Interior in an attempt to promote the river and raise awareness of its vast assets and recreation opportunities. Secretary Salazar also asked The Trust for Public Land to collaborate on plans to make the recreation area more accessible to the people of Georgia and the tens of millions of people who visit Atlanta.

“The Department of the Interior is basically saying that our extensive efforts along the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area are working and that it’s a great example to follow in other parts of the country,” says Curt Soper of The Trust for Public Land.

The Chattahoochee National Recreation Area is the second most visited national recreation area in the country. Yet a large number of city residents don’t even know it’s accessible—and it’s never been much of a tourist draw. “It’s a very well-known spot for land-and water-based activities for people in rural areas outside of the city,” says Debra Edelson with The Trust for Public Land. ”But we want to improve the inroads to make it more visible and accessible to Atlanta.”

Building the community’s relationship with the Chattahoochee will help ensure it is cared for into the future. “We want this to be on the beaten path for people who come to Atlanta,” says Jacqueline Lunsford of The Trust for Public Land. “It’s all about encouraging people to get out and connect to the river, because the more people connect to it the more they take responsibility for it.”

The recreation area currently includes 11 spots where people can launch boats, SUP boards, kayaks, or canoes. While the majority of people who explore the Chattahoochee do so from the surrounding land via hiking and biking trails, local officials hope the National Water Trail recognition will encourage people to get out and do some paddling, too.