The Chattahoochee River flows through metro Atlanta for about 100 miles, past leafy suburban neighborhoods, gritty warehouses, and picturesque parks. But Atlanta grew up around the railroad, not the water, so the river stays a good distance from downtown. In many spots, you can stand along the river’s edge and feel like you’re out in the country.
As the Atlanta region grew, the river in many places proved an afterthought – something to cross on the way to work or school or the store. While parts of the Chattahoochee are packed on the weekends with hikers, tubers, fishermen, and runners, access to the river remains limited in many areas.
The Chattahoochee River is full of untapped potential. So says Walt Ray, a program director at the Trust for Public Land in Atlanta. His nonprofit organization has joined forces with the city of Atlanta, Cobb County, and the Atlanta Regional Commission to study a 100-mile stretch of the river, from Buford Dam on the north to Chattahoochee Bend State Park in Coweta County on the south.
The Chattahoochee River Greenway Study aims to create a new vision for the river’s future – one with greater public access and new investments to increase bicycle and pedestrian usage. The goal is to make the river a focal point of the entire region, while building on metro Atlanta's legacy of stewardship of this vital natural resource.
Ultimately, multi-use trails near the Chattahoochee could connect to the Silver Comet Trail, Atlanta BeltLine, and others to create a vast regional network envisioned by the region’s bike-ped plan, Walk Bike Thrive! The $1.5 million study, funded by federal and local sources, is expected to kick off soon and take a year and a half to complete.
“As a region, we have considered the Chattahoochee to be kind of our back door,” said Ray, of the Trust for Public Land. “The question now is, how do we make it our front door? How can we make the Chattahoochee a part of people’s everyday lives, rather than a place people drive to, spend a day, and enjoy maybe once a year?”
Byron Rushing, Bicycling & Walking Program Manager at ARC, said the Chattahoochee Greenway Study could be transformational. "The Chattahoochee has become one of our region's most popular recreation spots," he said. "The challenge of this study is to figure out ways of increasing public access while making sure that we continue to make environmental protection a priority."
The Chattahoochee River Greenway Study breaks the river into several sections, each with its own opportunities and challenges. Let’s take a tour of metro Atlanta’s great urban waterway.
North: Buford Dam to Peachtree Creek
As the river meanders south from Lake Lanier, it cuts through the heart of the north metro suburbs, including portions of Suwanee, Johns Creek, Duluth, Peachtree Corners, Roswell, and Sandy Springs. Public access is generally very good, with stretches lined by multi-use trails and parks.
This area also includes the popular Chattahoochee Nature Center and the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, which offers access to prime hiking trails along the rugged riverbanks. Much of the river’s north section is under National Park Service control, which provides protection for dozens of miles of riverbank.
Middle: Peachtree Creek to Cambellton Road
In this section, the river forms the border between Cobb and Douglas counties to the west and Atlanta and Fulton County to the east. The Chattahoochee runs through a sprawling industrial park, passes the Fulton County airport and Six Flags Over Georgia before flowing under I-20. This area, with its limited residential development, holds great potential for creating new parks and trails.
Activity is already heating up. Cobb County has developed plans for Mableton Discovery Park, 103 acres of green space fronting the river. Planners envision two 12-foot-wide, 6-mile-long paved trails – one on the Cobb side, the other on the Atlanta side, connected by a pedestrian bridge. Atlanta has also recently opened a 3-mile section of the Proctor Creek Greenway, with plans to extend the path to connect with the BeltLine and the Chattahoochee River.
South: Cambellton Road to Chattahoochee Bend State Park
The southern portion of the river holds great opportunity for recreational development. It’s largely rural in character, passing through acres of dense forests, open pastureland and a few lightly populated communities. One challenge will be building the roads and other infrastructure needed to provide access to the river.
Photos courtesy of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Christian Murillo and Jason Green
What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.