On May 14 with the dedication of a new Etowah River Water Trail boat launch at U.S. 411 in Bartow County, a question about the fate of the Etowah River was answered.
Let me explain:
In 2002, my daughter, her mother and I spent 30 days canoeing the 163-mile length of the Etowah River. By journey’s end, Ramsey, then just three-years-old, had learned the call of the pileated woodpecker as it echoed through the forests and could quote the paddlers’ motto: “just go with the flow.”
For me, journey’s end left me smitten by the Etowah…and a little afraid for its future.
What we saw on that journey was a river flowing through rapidly developing communities where tough decisions would soon be made about which way the river should go—down a path of preservation and progress or down a path of defilement and destruction.
We saw in the Etowah the same dynamic that the Chattahoochee River faced in the mid-1970s as Atlanta’s suburbs crept steadily north along its banks.
Thankfully, the Chattahoochee was, in large part, saved thanks to the synergy of local activists, a sympathetic state governor (Jimmy Carter) and a movement within the National Parks Service to create “urban national parks.”
Since 1975, thousands of acres of land have been preserved as the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a string of parks that is visited by millions each year.
The question back in 2002 was this: could something similar happen on the Etowah?
Today, that three-year-old fan of pileated woodpeckers is driving a car and Etowah River communities have answered that question with a resounding “YES!”
In 2002, there were three developed public access points on the river. Through the combined efforts of local governments, private landowners and non-profit organizations (with aid from Georgia Department of Natural Resources Recreational Trails grants) there are now 11 developed public boat launches, and more are on the way.
The same synergy that prompted protection of the Chattahoochee has come together on the Etowah. Non-profit organizations like the Coosa River Basin Initiative (CRBI), Upper Etowah River Alliance, Mountain Stewards, the Mountain Conservation Trust of Georgia, The Nature Conservancy and others have raised money to protect land and establish public access points.
Local governments in Dawson, Cherokee, Bartow and Floyd counties have preserved property and developed boat launches. Even the National Parks Service has lent a hand, facilitating the formation of an Etowah River Water Trail Stakeholders group.
That group, made up of local governments, non-profit organizations, businesses and landowners, is now raising money and aiding local governments in promoting and developing the Etowah River Water Trail.
A new riverfront park project is underway in Forsyth County, the City of Canton just opened a park with a boat launch and the City of Cartersville established a new boat launch last year. The addition of the U.S. 411 site in Bartow County creates a 48-mile trail stretching from Allatoona Dam to Rome and connected by six launches.
There’s even a website, www.etowahwatertrail.org, that includes complete maps and guides of the river, and a guidebook, the Etowah River User’s Guide.
It’s been 13 years since I was first smitten by the Etowah. Today I’m a little less fearful for its future.
Local governments recognize the river and water trail as an amenity for citizens and an economic development tool. Most importantly, more and more people are venturing on the river, discovering its charms and falling in love with it.
This bodes well for the river. A river with many lovers is one that is well kept.