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HUNDRED YEARS AGO, the Chatta- hoochee Valley was a thriving hub of the U.S. textile industry. As the river passed through booming mill towns like West Point, Lanett, and Langdale, its steady current powered mills where raw cotton


was woven into cloth, then shipped downstream to the Gulf of Mexico and on to consumers at home and abroad. But as manufacturers moved overseas in the latter half of the 20th century, the valley’s industrial engine sputtered to a halt. Travis Carter is the planning director for Valley, Alabama, and he doesn’t sugarcoat his answer when I ask him what that’s like: “Growth here is really, really slow,” he says. Median household income in the city of 9,500 is still more than $10,000 below the national average. Only five or six new homes are built each year. A few years ago, The Trust for Public Land got together with Carter and a handful of other civic leaders in the Chattahooch- ee Valley to kick around ideas for revitalizing the region. They represented communities with similar goals: boosting the local economy, improving public health outcomes, attracting young people—and carving out an identity as a place with something to offer. Talk kept coming back to the river, the region’s most significant natural resource. A century ago, it was the engine that powered the valley’s industrial growth. But there’s more to the Chattahoochee than raw power: it offers both mel- low paddling and whitewater rapids—“mild to wild,” locals like to say—plus vibrant forests, a rich cultural history, and moderate water temperature year-round. With these assets in mind, Carter and the others wondered if their river could be harnessed again—this time, as a recreation destination. “Recreational development could jump-start jobs and


wages,” Carter says. “Growth could snowball, bringing people to the town, and then industry, and maybe even schools— since we don’t have a school system here in Valley. I don’t want to exaggerate, but the blueway is the kind of thing we need to get this city going.”


THE BLUEWAY OFFERS BOTH MELLOW PADDLING AND WHITEWATER RAPIDS — FROM “MILD TO WILD.”


42 · LAND&PEOPLE · SPRING/SUMMER 2017


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