Urban whitewater on the Chattahoochee River
Story and photos by David Haynes
For nearly two centuries the whitewater rapids slept un- seen, submerged beneath the surface of the Chattahoochee River, the result of impoundments by textile-era mill dams.
But for the past two years these rapids, with names like Ambush, Cut Bait, Monkey Wrench and Wave Shaper, have come back to life on the 2.5-mile-long stretch of river that divides the cities of Phenix City, Ala., and Columbus, Ga.
The result is the longest urban whitewater run in the world! River rafting trips and canoe or kayak whitewater enthusiasts are embracing the recently reawakened river, which reopened in 2013, when some 16,000 people took
the thrill ride through the frothing white waves on rafting trips. Last year the number jumped to almost 25,000 and this year projections are for even higher numbers.
The rapids range in difficulty from Class II to IV depending on the riv- er’s flow rate, which is controlled by Georgia Power Company and typically ranges between 1,000 and 10,000 cubic feet per second. This has produced one of the most challenging whitewater runs in the country with rapids strong enough to flip a large raft at high water. And it’s all right downtown.
Both Phenix City and Columbus, which have always been tied together by the river and by numerous bridges that span between the two downtown areas, have each developed “River Walk” trails and parks along the river. In addition to the river-running experience, residents and visitors can enjoy a walk, a run, fishing, frequent concerts and other special events as well take a ride across the Chattahoochee on a zip line. The zip line’s tower resembles the nest of great blue heron, which, along with other wildlife, has made a comeback since the river was restored to its natural state. Brent Tucker, one of the managers at Whitewater Express, the Atlanta-based company that is the primary outfitter for raft trips, kayak instruction and the zip line rides, says their operation has seen a tremendous increase in business since the river trips began in 2013. And he expects 2015 to see double or more raft trips compared to just two years ago.
An avid kayaker himself, Tucker paddles on the Chattahoochee every chance he gets and even surfed his kayak in Wave Shaper Rapid for me to take photographs on my recent visit.
The overall visual effect of the river and two cities is one of nature reclaiming its place in the urban environment. While ospreys soar over- head and great blue herons perch to fish from the rocks that separate the rapids’ channels, nearby will stand a fisherman or a jogger or someone having lunch on a park bench, taking a break from a high-rise office building a block away.
For additional information on Columbus/Phenix City and the river-running opportunities and other happenings there, contact the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-999-1613) or visit their website at visitcolumbusga.com.
For information or to schedule a raft trip or zipline tour, contact Whitewater Express (706-321-4720) or visit their website at whitewaterexpress.com.