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Swift would agree. “Beyond the economics of it, what the RiverWalk did for us is hard to measure. For the first time, everybody felt ownership in the river,” he says. “They could bring Aunt Suzie from Minnesota and show it off. It instilled pride. And that pride brought people together to ask, ‘What else can we do to enhance the area?’” Their answer: the Columbus White- water Park. In 2012, The Trust for Public Land helped the city purchase the land under two outdated dams. Crews demol- ished the dams and used the rubble to build a course of whitewater rapids on the river, right in the middle of town. Adjustable flow rates mean the park can offer different experiences at different times of day: from beginner-friendly waves to the only urban Class V rapid in the country. The variety helped draw 30,000 kayakers, rafters, paddleboarders, and even surfers in the past year—not to mention spectators who gather to catch the action from the shore. The Chattahoochee Brewing Company is a stone’s throw from the water’s edge and a favorite spot for paddlers recapping the day’s adventures over a beer. (The bar’s motto: “It ain’t gonna drink itself.”) “The whitewater park and the RiverWalk have definitely impacted my business,” says owner Derrell Winowich. “The foot traffic has picked up dramatically. People walk in wearing bathing suits, water shoes, you name it.”


“I would consider the investment in the river one of the best things if not the best thing that has happened to the area in a long time,” says Winowich. “It has put us on the map.”


SUCCESS ON THE SCALE THAT COLUMBUS has achieved takes time and planning—the slow and often painstaking work of coalition building, fundraising, and investment required to break ground on a project like the RiverWalk or whitewater park. To navigate the long road to a finished blueway, civic leaders from Chattahoochee Valley towns are looking to The Trust for Public Land for help. “The idea and desire to reclaim the river for people to enjoy


came from the communities on its banks,” says The Trust for Public Land’s Susan Patterson. “They know how much potential the Chattahoochee holds. And we have more than four decades of direct experience helping people unlock that potential—to date, we’ve conserved 18,000 acres along the river and created more than 20 new parks in 15 cities.” In its early stages, one of the biggest hurdles ahead for the Chattahoochee Valley Blueway is the complexity of property ownership along the river. Land for boat ramps, portage trails, and other basic facilities currently belongs to an array of city and state governments, private individuals, and companies—like Georgia Power. In addition, the distance from the region’s economic center in Atlanta has made it tougher to raise the significant private funds needed to jump-start the planning process.


Nevertheless, Patterson and her colleagues are working to rally key stakeholders behind the idea of a river revival. They’re applying for grants and turning the expertise of The Trust for Public Land’s GIS mapping team toward identifying potential sites for blueway infrastructure. And they’re gather- ing examples from across the country to help make the case for support.


“Communities that invest in their waterways see great returns,” says Lelia Mellen, a project director for the National Water Trails System, the National Park Service program that works to support blueway development on rivers all across the country. “Look at what’s happening on the Bronx River, the North Forest Canoe Trail in the Northeast, or the Rock River in Illinois, to name just a few. Water trails generate spending and jobs at outfitters, gear shops, restaurants, inns, and other touch points for the tourism industry. And we see indirect benefits, too, because people want to live in and move to towns that have these kinds of amenities.” With that in mind, planner Travis Carter is making head-


way one property at a time: he’s convinced the city to acquire 800 feet of riverfront next door to the hospital, which owns another 600 feet. A quarter-mile stretch might not seem like much, but Carter believes it could be enough to make a start at reconnecting his community with the Chattahoochee.


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