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Lake Lanier
Chattahoochee River, Part 2
About North Georgia

by Randy Golden exclusively for About North Georgia

Whether you are drinking a glass of water in one of the many communities that draw from the lake, or you turn on a light during the peak hours of the day and it works, or you are sitting on a campsite watching the sun go down, the Lake Lanier portion of the Chattahoochee River is an integral part of your life and the lives of more than 5 million area residents. Just as with all other parts of the Chattahoochee River in north Georgia a great deal of controversy exists around virtually every aspect of the lake.


Main article: Lake Lanier History
See Lake Lanier timeline from Our Georgia History.

Notables at dedication
Herman TalmadgeGA. Governor
Walter F. GeorgeGA. Senator
Richard B. RussellGA. Senator
William B. HartsfieldMayor, Atlanta
On March 1, 1950 a group of men met in Buford, Georgia and seven of them each turned a spade-full of dirt over in what was a symbolic start to a project that was proposed shortly after construction began on Allatoona Dam in 1941 -- what would eventually be known as Lake Lanier (timeline of Lake Lanier). The meeting of these men was a culmination of effect by a large number of people from local communities, the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the federal government.
Lake Lanier's powerhouse channel
View of Lake Lanier's Buford Dam powerhouse channel.
There was a good deal of disagreement over almost every aspect of the dam. Its uses (should it be designated to provide power, water or recreation?), its location (originally proposed to inundate Roswell), even its name (Lanier would be chosen after the start of construction). Many starting dates are given, from 1950 (dam construction begins) to 1959 (first time Lake Lanier reaches its "full" level of 1071 feet above sea level), 1946 (the date the Army Corps of Engineers was charged with developing the project on the Chattahoochee River, but in our minds the grand lake of the Southeast actually began with the first purchase of land in 1948. Owned by a relative of Forsyth County historian Don Shadburn, Shadburn's Ferry marked the first physical move towards creating what would be known as Lake Lanier.

There were a number of political factors involved in building Lake Lanier. To the west, Allatoona Dam was nearing completion, and the people in the Coosa Valley were already feeling the benefits. Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield was an early, vocal supporter. He was aided in moving the project along by Senator Richard B. Russell, who served on the powerful Senate Appropriation Committee and could always be counted on for supporting hydroelectric projects. Governor Talmadge joined the group after his election in 1948.

Sailboats on Lake Lanier
Sails unfurled in the breeze on Lake Lanier
Shadburn's Ferry would be only one piece of history destroyed by the creation of Lake Lanier. Also covered was the toll-gate run by James Vann, the entrance to the Georgia Road (later known as the Old Federal Highway)
and a number of other ferries that crossed the Chattahoochee River. Many covered bridges were also lost, the most famous of which would be the original Brown's and Keith's Bridge.

Wooden structures that would be covered by Lake Lanier's pool were removed. Concrete and brick structures were left in many cases. On a more personal level, graves were relocated, frequently from small, family graveyards that were common in these northeast Georgia hills.

The dam at Buford was more than just a political achievement. Technological advances had been made since the first dam built in 1902 just outside of Gainesville, Georgia and ironically covered by the completion of the new lake. Although the powerhouse would still need to tie to rock walls, engineers were confident that the river could be stopped with a series of "saddlebacks," dams created from gravel and dirt.

First, a channel was blasted and the powerhouse constructed. Then the Chattahoochee was diverted through the open gates of the powerhouse and the newly created channel while the saddlebacks were built. Once completed the saddlebacks were allowed to sit in place. Finally, on February 1, 1956the powerhouse gates were closed and Lake Lanier began the slow process of filling. In 1957 the first power was generated and in May, 1959 the lake reached its full level for the first time.

One ongoing concern of the Army Corps of Engineers is the wildlife who use the Chattahoochee downstream from Buford Dam. Even before closing the dam to fill the lake, they had determined a minimum "continuous flow" requirement to preserve habitat and breeding grounds. Water always flows into the Chattahoochee River from Buford Dam.

Magnificent homes surround the shores of Lake Lanier
The Lake we call Lanier

Underneath Belton Bridge the Chattahoochee River reaches a key altitude, 1071 feet. The river slows and begins to back up as Lake Lanier is formed. The 26-mile long lake covers almost 47 miles of original riverbed. Along its shores lies growing cities, upscale homes, family fun, and plenty of public access areas for those who want to participate in all kinds of outdoor recreation.


Although the lake only covers 38,000 acres the Corps of Engineers purchased a total of 58,000 acres, the rest accounting for shoreline and islands. Along the shore are private marinas including
Lake Lanier from Aqualand marina
Looking towards Lake Lanier from Aqualand Marina
  • Gainesville Marina
  • Aqualand
  • Starboard
  • Holiday
  • Lanier Harbor
  • Bald Ridge
  • Lazy Days
  • Sunrise
  • Lan Mar
  • Habersham

Want more information on the marinas? Visit Roadside Georgia's Lake Lanier Marinas links

by Kevin Dallmier
Another popular Lake Lanier pastime is fishing. The lake is noted for its fine black bass fishing, especially for spotted and largemouth bass. Another favorite species of Lanier anglers is the striped bass. This hard-pulling species, a member of the "temperate bass" family, is typically found in saltwater but has adapted well to many freshwater lakes and rivers where it has been stocked. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources performs annual stockings of hatchery-produced striped bass fingerlings since this species does not typically reproduce in freshwater. Lake Lanier is the premier destination in Georgia for striped bass angling, with good numbers of trophy fish available.

Lake Lanier is a deep, highland reservoir. Successful anglers have learned to focus on offshore "structure" like humps and points to find the fish. Since the lake is nearly devoid of natural shoreline cover, the fish relate to changes in the lake's bottom. Anglers would do well to carefully study a good lake map to find the best offshore structure. A shortcut to this process would be to simply cruise the lake searching for hazard buoys warning of shoaling and shallow water. Fish these areas thoroughly, since these types of abrupt depth changes are the places Lake Lanier fish like to call home.

Many thanks to noted Georgia Fisherman Kevin Dallmier, whose book Fishing Georgia is available from fine bookstores everywhere, or purchase a personalized, autographed copy from the author. (This is a great gift for any fishermen in your family).

Camping and hiking

There are 46 parks operated directly by the Corps that offer various recreational opportunities. Ten of the parks and Lake Lanier Islands (operated by a contractor under the auspices of the Corps of Engineers) offers camping. Staff favorites include:

Campsite at Chestnut Ridge
  • Chestnut Ridge
  • Van Pugh
  • Old Federal
  • Shady Grove

For more information on the individual areas, the Army Corps of Engineers site on Lake Lanier provides up-to-date information and on-line reservations.

Hiking is good in places, nonexistent in others. One of our favorites is the Laurel Ridge Trail, which connects Buford Dam with the South End camping and day use areas. Start this hike at the Lower Overlook restrooms. This 3.8 mile loop trail is a great way to spend the afternoon, especially if you want to wear the kids out before dinner. A second trail is the Buford Dam Trail, which covers the entire Lower Pool, part of Buford Dam Park. 16 parks do have trails (or a portion of the one's mentioned above), but none of the hiking trails allow dogs.

One interesting idea that comes up again and again is a hiking/biking/walking trail around the shore of Lake Lanier. The existing camping sites would serve as rest stops or overnight stays for visitors. The trail is considered controversial by many, especially homeowners who don't want open access to people between their backdoor and the lake, even if they don't own the property. Recent improvements at the north end of the lake indicate that the Corps of Engineers has begun preliminary work on a piece of the trail.


Lake Lanier has become a destination for golfers from Atlanta and the Southeast. On its shores, or fairly close to the lake are some of the best golf courses in the state. Emerald Pointe and Renaissance Pine Isle whichare both on Lake Lanier, Chateau Elan, in nearby Braselton or one of the less well-known clubs like the semi-private Chestatee Golf Club.

Challenges of the Future

Just as with the other sections of the Chattahoochee River, Lake Lanier faces challenges. Competition for this resource has always been a concern. Residents and local businesses demand recreational opportunities, communities desire drinking water and electricity while further down the river Florida, Alabama and Georgia demand a navigable Chattahoochee, sometimes straining the already overburdened lake. Looking forward, none of these demands are going to be reduced and local residents, outdoor groups and environmentalists are opposing plans for a reregulation dam that might alleviate some of the problems.

County: Hall County
Habersham County
Gwinnett County
Forsyth County

North Georgia Naturally
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