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Chattahoochee River, Part 4
About North Georgia

by Randy Golden exclusively for About North Georgia

Morgan Falls Dam

Our journey down the Chattahoochee River has brought us from the upper reaches of White County to the shores of Lake Lanier, the most popular Corps of Engineers lake in the Southeast United States. From Bowman's Island we journeyed through the Chattahoochee River Valley to Bull Sluice Lake, created by the Morgan Falls Dam. In the final chapter of our Chattahoochee journey, we follow the river to its near death, courtesy of the pollution created by the city of Atlanta and its northern arc of suburbs.

Variations of E.coli levels at Paces Ferry
Source: Chattahoochee River Project
As the water of the Chattahoochee River leaves Morgan Falls Dam it passes the popular Morgan Falls boat ramp and continues a 436 mile trip to the Gulf of Mexico, it already carries a significant amount of both point-source and non-point source pollution. On the west bank of the river, Johnson Ferry park, a mile south of Morgan Falls, holds the remnants of what was once a thriving business - the Chattahoochee Outdoors Center. When the United States Geologic Survey began posting the results of bacterialogical tests on a board adjacent to the launch ramp to the Chattahoochee, enough rafters decided not to "Shoot the Hooch" to make the business unprofitable. It closed in 2002 and both the building and parking lot are overgrown. Rafting is still permitted and outfitters near the Chattahoochee River provide services to many customers, but since the Outdoor Center closed the number of people on the river have dropped by 80%.

Not everyone is unhappy with the demise of the outdoor activity on the river. Immediately south of the Johnson Ferry park the river is bounded by Riverside Drive and Columns Drive, wealthier sections of north Atlanta. For years a pitched battle was fought over the rights of landowners vs. the rights of outdoor enthusiasts to use the river. Unfortunately, the pollution that ended the problem for landowners is coming back to haunt them - a strange smell from the river permeates the neighborhood following rainstorms.

Before Columns Drive ends on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River, Cochran Shoals unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area begins when a small but powerful creek flows into the Chattahoochee. Sope Creek drops 200 feet from the remains of the Marietta Paper Mill to the Chattahoochee. The river was named for a Cherokee chief who would teach his ways to the children of settlers. When troops came to force him to leave on the Trail of Tears, local settlers protected Old Sope and told the Georgia Guard to leave. In 1851 Edward Denmead, a wealthy Marietta businessman, decided to harness the power of Sope Creek by building a grist mill near the top of the descent. In 1855, Marietta Paper Mills was built below Denmead's mill, probably by Denmead, however, his name does not appear on the incorporation papers in 1859

During The Civil War northern mapmakers changed the spelling to Soap Creek and for some reason that became the popular spelling for almost a century. Early in July, 1864, Williiam Tecumseh Sherman (William Tecumseh Sherman timeline) drove Joe Johnston from his Kennesaw Mountain stronghold, then running up against the Smyrna Line and the River Line. He dispatched John Schofield to probe the Confederate right flank for its end, where he was to cross the Chattahoochee. On July 8, 1864, Schofield crossed the Chattahoochee just south of the mouth of Sope Creek.

Nestled between businesses, apartments and homes, Cochran Shoals is the most popular unit of the Area. As the river makes a 90 degree turn and flows briefly southeast, Power's Island appears on the east bank, in front of and under I-285. The island was the center of James Power's businesses. He owned a general store, blacksmith shop, ferry and gun repair business and would sell to both whites and Cherokee. The ferry ran from the south end of the island, crossing in roughly the same place as a bridge carries traffic from Power's Ferry Road today. Power's Ferry Unit of the CRNRA is a popular launch/take-out area for canoers and kayakers. Three roads cross the Chattahoochee in quick succession south of the island, Interstate North Parkway, I-285 and Power's Ferry Road. As the river passes under the last bridge Ray's on the River, a popular Atlanta restaurant, is on the east bank of the Chattahoochee.

As you enter a shoals known as the Devil's Race Course, East and West Palisades rise dramatically from the river on either side of the banks. The "Race Course" is popular with kayakers and the area can present problems to paddlers especially when the river is low. South of the shoals is Big Rock, a frequent destination for rafters in the 1980's and 1990's. So many rafters were hurt jumping into the Chattahoochee from Big Rock that a helipad was built in West Palisades to air lift injured visitors to local hospitals.

As Long Island forms near the east bank of the Chattahoochee River both I-75 and Cobb Parkway (U. S. 41) bridge the river. Continuing south, a square rock abutment on the east bank is the signal for Hardy Pace's land. Like Powers further north, Pace built a small empire, first on the east bank of the river and later on the west side. He built a dam across the river here so that he always had water to power the mill, which was a mile and a half further south on the Chattahoochee. On July 5, 1864, General O. O. Howard advanced to a pontoon bridge built at the ferry by Confederate forces and fought a battle for the bridge. Although General Thomas Wood [US] secured the bridge, Rebels successfully destroyed it before a crossing.

Before the modern bridge carrying traffic on Paces Mill Road over the Chattahoochee is the vintage 1903 steel bridge built to replace Paces Ferry itself. This was the center of Pace's holdings including a mill and general store. Unfortunately, the bridge also marks the beginning of the end of the Chattahoochee north of West Point Lake. Two and a half miles further south the river runs past the South Fulton sewage discharge at Peachtree Creek. The effluent that reaches the river here creates one of the most polluted stretches of all major American rivers.

Once this area was home to Moundbuilders and Creek Indians. When Lt. George Gilmer left Fort Daniel with orders to build a fort at Standing Peachtree to protect settlers, he ended up at the confluence of Peachtree Creek and the Chattahoochee River. Atlanta pioneer James Montgomery built a ferry here in 1820, and the Western and Atlantic Railroad chose it as the place to cross the river in 1845. Today, this is where our journey ends, not because we want it to but because it is unsafe to continue.

County: Fulton County
Cobb County

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