Exploring Atlanta's Waterways
Photograph by John E. McDonald

Exploring Atlanta's Waterways

These are the rivers and creeks that connect us

Edited by Sam Worley

Find your creek.

Surely you’ve got one. Wherever you live in this city, there’s water flowing nearby—Camp Creek, Shoal Creek, Peavine Creek. Each of these waterways drains into one of the three rivers flowing through Atlanta: the Chattahoochee, the Flint, the South. Each of those makes its way to the sea. The South River flows into the Ocmulgee, a tributary of the Altamaha, which empties into the ocean near Darien; around the Florida-Georgia line, the Chattahoochee and the Flint join forces to become the Apalachicola River, which is responsible for a famous oyster hatchery and, not unrelated, an incredible amount of interstate drama over who all this water belongs to.

Is the drama over? Not a chance. The story of the South River isn’t over yet, either: Though threatened by metro development—including the controversial police training center slated to be built in the South River Forest—the river is brimming with potential, according to its boosters, to become a premier site for outdoor recreation. So are stretches of the Chattahoochee downriver of the national park. As such efforts show, these waterways don’t just connect us to the oceans; they connect us to one another, to our past, to our future—even to our faith, as another piece in this package of stories explores. It’s written by Hannah Palmer, who helped launch the river conservation organization Finding the Flint, and more recently created a website whose great purpose is to help Atlantans find their creek: Atlanta Creek League.

“Whenever I talk about the Flint River, people ask me how they can get involved in their local water issues,” Palmer says. “And I always say, ‘Okay, where do you live? What’s your creek?’ And most people don’t know. I thought, we need an easy tool where you can put in your address and learn what your local creek is.” Modeled after a baseball league, with “teams” (creeks) and “divisions” (rivers), the finding tool is meant to be just a first step, Palmer says: “Many Atlanta creeks need a local friends group—like Friends of Indian Creek. My dream would be that, because people are having fun doing this and finding it meaningful, then they would create local groups. Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is big and amazing, but they can’t be on the ground everywhere all the time.”

Formed in 1994, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has been advocating for healthy waterways for just about three decades, which makes it roughly the same age as another important Chattahoochee artifact: the song about our famous local waterway. The video for Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” dropped 30 years ago this spring, but the song hasn’t aged a day—neither has Jackson’s iconic ripped-jeans-and-life-vest getup, which we show you how to re-create here. Of course, communing with your local waterway is about much more than finding the right fit; you could say it’s a lot about living . . . and a little ’bout love. —Sam Worley

The Waterways Issue