Monday, July 14, 2008
"Out of Habersham"
by Randy Golden
exclusively for About North Georgia
Scramble 200 feet down Coon Den Ridge from the Appalachian Trail (AT) and a leaf covered spring is usually visible even to the casual visitor. From this gentle outflow a mighty river is created. It flows through the heartland of Georgia, both physically and historically. Clean, fresh, and sparkling at this point, the water is begining a 500+ mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico as the Chattahoochee River.
Headwaters to Helen
In Chattahoochee Gap near the intersection of Jack's Knob Trail and the Appalachian Trail, a blue sign with a white "W" points towards the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. A short descent from the AT takes hikers to a spring where fresh water flows year-round; this is the start of the Chattahoochee River. Leaving the spring the river is barely a small stream. As it wanders down Hiawassee Ridge the river grows, picking up water from many unnamed rivulets. At 1.3 miles (Horse Trough Mountain) the first bridge spans the riverbed, now almost four feet wide. The bridge carries hikers to beautiful Horse Trough Falls.
Courtesy Joe and Monica Cook
Now plunging more than 1500 feet in less than ten miles the river grows rapidly as many tributaries join it in the Mark Trail Wilderness Area, which was created specifically to protect the Chattahoochee River's headwaters and watershed by the United States Forest Service. More than 16,000 acres of camping, hiking, fishing and scenic driving in this wilderness can be accessed by the Chattahoochee River Road (FS 44). Winding for 11 miles the road parallels the Chattahoochee River along the river's steepest descent. From its start .5 miles south of Unicoi Gap this winding, occasionally steep road is an excellent fall drive, with many deep reds early in the leaf change season (peak time is normally Oct. 15-20).
As use of the Chattahoochee National Forest has grown, so has the impact on the river. Camping, especially primitive camping, where ignorant or uncaring campers leave garbage and human waste near the Chattahoochee has an obvious negative impact on the river. Frequent use leaves the campsite areas barren and rains wash the exposed Georgia clay into the river more quickly. By the time the Chattahoochee River leaves Mark Trail Wilderness Area it is a good trout stream, sometimes navigable after a heavy rain. In spite of the nearby camping, the river remains relatively undisturbed. It was not always that way.
From the early 1800's until the 1930's the Unicoi Turnpike climbed to Unicoi Gap along the ecologically fragile banks of the Chattahoochee River north of Helen. The roadway connected settlers in Tennessee to the Savannah River and was one of the routes used to bring supplies inland. Starting in 1829 use of the Unicoi Turnpike increased dramatically. It became a major shipping route for the gold that had been discovered in the Chattahoochee's watershed during the Georgia Gold Rush.
Gold played an important role in the early history of the upper Chattahoochee. The mineral had been taken from various places along the river since the 1500's, but it was Georgia's Gold Rush that would send this portion of the Chattahoochee watershed into a century-long ecological tailspin. At first prospectors would pan for gold. This activty reduced or destroyed the riparian buffers (the fauna that transitions from river to forest) in the areas of greatest activity. Once the alluvial gold had been taken, mines were dug, increasing the pollution with run-off. In the 1850's hydraulic mining took an even greater toll on the land and the river, leaving barren earth where forests once stood.
Between 1850 and 1880 farmers built homesteads on the banks of the river. For thirty years the area supported these farmers, but crop failure became an increasing problem because of poor farming techniques. The farmers slowly sold out to lumber companies eager to harvest the upcountry trees that the farmers had not cleared. From 1880 until 1930 lumber companies like Byrd-Matthews in Helen, Georgia, routinely clear-cut wide areas of land. By 1895 the entire watershed of the Chattahoochee north of Helen was an environmental disaster. Soil erosion from these barren mountains clogged the river for the rest of its 350 mile journey through the heart of Georgia.
Starting in 1910 the federal government began to buy the devastated land at rock bottom prices. It was considered worthless. Over the last century the land was allowed to return to its original state. In the 1930's Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps planted trees throughout the watershed. Today, thanks to the Forest Service management only camping is permitted along the river.
"The Hooch" is a nickname bestowed upon the river by sportsmen and outdoor recreation fans alike.
Smith Creek (Smith Creek Trail), formed at Anna Ruby Falls, is the first major river to join the Chattahoochee. This creek doubles the size of the river's watershed just before it enters Georgia's Alpine village of Helen (Helen's history and tourist information). During the early 20th century both Smith Creek and this portion of the Chattahoochee River served as a transportation route for the lumber cut in the upper watershed. Wood was floated downriver to the Byrd-Mathews saw mill in Helen. Here it was cut and shipped south by rail to Atlanta. In the 1920's the industry had cleared most of the land and moved further west.
On the rocky riverbanks hotels, restaurants, shops and manufacturing all impact the river. Additionally, the large festivals the city holds, such as Oktoberfest, attract hundreds of thousands of people to the banks of this still young river. Luckily, the townspeople have taken an active stewardship towards the Chattahoochee. While the rapid growth of the city has destoyed much of the riparian zones Helen is actively working on reducing its impact on the waterway. For example, wastewater is treated, then filtered through land before returning to the river.
Helen to Belton Bridge
South of Helen the river begins a wide, sweeping curve, forming the northern end of Nachoochee Valley. Wider and stronger the Chattahoochee is navigable from this point to the Gulf of Mexico. At the intersection of Highway 75 and 17 a gazebo rests high atop the northernmost remnant (on this river) of prehistoric moundbuilder culture known as the Mississippeans. By 1500 AD the Moundbuilder culture had left the area and they were gradually replaced by the Cherokee. This portion of the river was known as the Chota to the Cherokee.
More major rivers (Dukes Creek, Soque River) join the Chattahoochee, increasing its watershed. Canoeing is popular, with a number of well-known places to put-in. Through the lovely, wide Sautee-Nachoochee Valley the river winds east, then south as it enters increasingly populated areas.
In treaties signed with the United States in 1817 and 1819 the Chattahoochee River was used to delineate the eastern border of the Cherokee Nation. Further south it formed the border between the Creek Nation and the Cherokees. In the late 1830's both these Nations would be forcibly moved west, the Cherokee in a sad series of events today called The Trail of Tears, the Muscogee tribes in a flight generally referred to as the Creek Removal.
As the Chattahoochee forms the boundary between Habersham and White County the health of the river is challenged by the increase in population as well as run-off from high production chicken and cattle raising techniques in use near its banks. Erosion, too, creates a problem. River banks play an important part in the health of the Chattahoochee. As urban sprawl claims more land, the plants, trees and grass near the banks are destroyed and soil dumps into the river. In spite of the challenges in this area the ecological effort is still preservation; further south it becomes a rescue mission.
Georgia's poet-laureate Sidney Lanier wrote a poem called "Song of the Chattahoochee," about the river that runs through Georgia's heartland:
Out of the hills of Habersham,
Down the valleys of Hall,
I hurry amain to reach the plain,
Run the rapid and leap the fall,
Split at the rock and together again,
Accept my bed, or narrow or wide,
And flee from folly on every side
With a lover's pain to attain the plain
Far from the hills of Habersham,
Far from the valleys of Hall.
So out of the "hills of Habersham" we follow our river to the "valleys of Hall." Only the valleys that Lanier speaks of so eloquently no longer exist. They are covered by the waters of the Chattahoochee, dammed some 26 miles further south, backing up at normal level to Belton Bridge. The soil and pollution that has washed into the river further north is about to come to a stop in Lake Sidney Lanier
North of Atlanta
by Randy Golden
exclusively for About North Georgia
Fishing on a foggy morning at Bowman's Island
Leaving Buford Dam, the Chattahoochee River flows into the pristine Bowman's Island Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, the southernmost cold water trout stream in the world and the first of the series of federal parks that define the river over the next 20 miles. The rugged environment, barely two miles long, is beloved by fishermen throughout the Southeast. Two hiking trails explore the northern portion of the Chattahoochee River here, the Buford Dam Trail and the Laurel Ridge Trail. Over the next 13 miles only two crossings of the Chattahoochee exist today, GA Highway 20 and McGinnis Ferry Road.
Highway 20 crosses the river at Fish Weir Shoals, where Cherokee Indians built a wattle dam to help them catch fish. The Cherokee were plentiful in today's Forsyth County. The Chattahoochee served as a dividing line of sorts between the Cherokee and Creek Nations, especially in this section of the river. Following battles in Slaughter Gap (west of Blood Mountain) and Taliwa, near present-day Ballground, the Indian Nations established a border defined as the first ridge south of the Chattahoochee. Here the border was closely enforced -- either Nation crossing it could start a war. Further on, where the Cherokee did not have many towns, a trading zone grew where both Cherokee and Creek could transact business.
In addition to McGinnis Ferry, there were other crossings, most notably Orr's Ferry, Settles Bridge and Rogers Bridge. The Rogers brothers, George and William, were a notable historic family. These two mixed-blood Cherokee were wealthy and they signed the Treaty of New Echota. Once in Oklahoma, George decided to return to Georgia and sued the state of Georgia for the right to purchase his home from the settlers who won it in the 1832 Georgia lottery. In 1839 his suit resulted in the overturning of Georgia's removal law, but by that time it was too late for the Cherokee Indians - they had already been forced west on the Trail of Tears. George's brother William is also famous - his grandson was a homespun comedian before World War II, Will Rogers.
Today's Suwanee, Georgia is the first major city near the river south of Buford Dam. Until 1820 Suwanee, Cherokee for "echo," was a Cherokee village near the confluence of Suwanee Creek and the Chattahoochee River. As settlers in North and South Carolina encroached on Indian land, the Cherokee from those areas moved to west Georgia, past Suwanee. At this point the town became known as Suwanee Old Town.
Suwanee Creek was once a major point source of pollution of the Chattahoochee River. Flowing south from Buford, the river was the dumping grounds of the Bona Allen Tannery (now Tannery Row). For many decades, Bona Allen Tannery was the largest in the world and chemicals and dyes from the plant were dumped into Suwanee Creek. From here they made the journey to the Chattahoochee. When the plant closed in the 1970's, environmentalists thought it would take a hundred years for the land to become fertile, but only 30 years later the creek is the centerpiece of the Suwanee Greenway.
From Abbotts Bridge Road north, only 3 small parcels of land are unprotected by the state and federal government. Both park, state and city officials consider this land "undeveloped" and intend to use them for various purposes as Atlanta expands north. South of Abbotts Bridge housing is frequently visible from the riverbank, in some cases illegally encroaching on the 50-foot easement from the 100-year flood plain. The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Areas south of this point have at least some development and many are completely developed. Abbotts Bridge and Medlock Bridge have boat ramps, and Jones Bridge has a nice take-outs near either parking lot.
At Jones Bridge (on Barnwell Road north of Holcomb Bridge Rd.) are the remains of an antiquated vehicular bridge, abandoned in 1922, but used until the wooden floor boards rotted. In 1940 workmen dismantled half the bridge, probably to sell the scrap metal in the open market. They never returned for the second half, which remains as a historic reminder of a by-gone era. Jones Bridge features some 5.0 miles of hiking trails, including a loop near the Chattahoochee River Environmental Education Center, a facility used to instruct classes on the importance of the river.
Located in Island Ford (GA 400, exit 6, turn left at the stop sign, then right on Dunwoody Place and Roberts Drive) are the headquarters of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, in the rustic home of Judge Samuel Hewlett, who served on Georgia's Supreme Court. The land was purchased by the federal government from his estate. Island Ford, which later became a ferry, never progressed to a bridge because of lack of traffic and competition from nearby Jones Bridge and Roswell Bridge. Today it is hard to imagine fording the river at this point because of Buford Dam, 28 miles upstream. The water level is kept high by the continuous flow requirement for the dam set by the Corps of Engineers. Before the dam the water level would drop a few days after the rain and expose Island Ford Shoals.
Bull Sluice Lake from the
Chattahoochee Nature Center
Past Island Ford on the opposite bank of the river, the city of Roswell, Georgia has developed a series of small parks connected by a multi-use trail that gives bike riders and walking enthusiasts a 3-mile long Riverwalk to practice their sports. The path presently begins at Don White Park and runs to the intersection of Azealia Drive and Willeo Road, according to Jeff Pruitt, Administrator of Park Services for Roswell. Pruitt told us of plans to connect Don White with the Big Creek Greenway in Alpharetta. The path passes through the Vickery Creek Unit of the Chattahoochee River NRA, which affords more than 5 miles of hiking opportunity, and in September, 2004, Roswell built Georgia's newest covered bridge connecting the unit to Roswell Mill Trail. Also along the bike trail is the Chattahoochee Nature Center, which features an interpretive center including raptors as well a three miles of hiking trails.
During the Atlanta Campaign, Cavalry General Kenner Garrard captured Roswell Mill (hike to Roswell Mill) just north of the Chattahoochee on Vickery Creek/Big Creek on July 5, 1864. General George Thomas's troops crossed the river for the first time in this area on July 16. From here they moved south and engaged the Army of Tennessee in the Battle of Peachtree Creek on July 22.
The last of the Chattahoochee River National Parks above Morgan Fall Dam is Gold Branch, whose 5 miles of hiking trails attracts experienced hikers (there are some hiking areas that are dangerous) and includes a significant portion of the original Roswell Road. We could not find any information on successful gold mining in the area, so the creek may have been named by a hopeful settler. At Gold Branch the park is no longer bound by river bank, but by lake shore. Bull Sluice Lake is the impoundment of Morgan Falls dam. Completed in 1904, the dam was purchased by Georgia Power in 1912 and is still used to generate electricity for Atlanta.
End of the Journey
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.
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 childern 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 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 begining 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.
Brown's Bridge Over Lake Sidney Lanier
Inspection Party of Lake Sidney Lanier
Excavation Work On Lake Sidney Lanier
Building Lake Sidney Lanier
Brown's Bridge Construction Over Lake Sidney Lanier
Congress authorized Buford Dam for construction in 1946 as part of the overall development of the nation’s waterways after the Second World War. The river and harbor legislation that came out of Congress during this time period was targeted at developing the nation’s rivers systems for national defense, flood control, power production, navigation and water supplies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was involved in hundreds of projects all over the United States, as the scope of this massive undertaking was unprecedented.
Funding for construction first appeared on the horizon for the project in late 1949 as part of a multi-million dollar public works appropriation for the State of Georgia which saw $750,000.00 go to Buford Dam. This money was used to complete the initial planning and design phases of the project such as the powerhouse design and for the start of construction. The ground breaking was held on the Gwinnett County side of the future dam site on March 1, 1950.
Hundreds of people from all over North Georgia braved the cold damp weather conditions to make the trek along the water soaked muddy roads to get to the groundbreaking ceremony. The work on the three saddle dikes, main earth dam, powerhouse, as well as bridge & highway relocation and construction would take over seven years. Although the work would be completed by private companies they would have to follow government specifications agreed to at the time the contracts were awarded.
During this time period the government would also have to acquire the rights to over 56,000 acres of land and see to the relocation of over 700 families. This was necessary in order to prepare the land for a 38,000-acre reservoir with over 692 miles of shoreline. The government followed strict guidelines spelled out in the “River and Harbor Act” legislation in acquiring private property for public use. Careful attention was paid in removing homes, barns, wells, fencing, and other physical property to prevent navigation hazards on the lake in the future. This one aspect of the project’s construction had a price tag of over 19 million dollars. Most property was purchased for between $25 and $75 per acre. When complete, the total cost of the project’s construction, including the acquisition of land related items, was nearly 45 million dollars.
On February 1, 1956 the gates of the intake structure were closed on the lakeside of the dam starting the slow process of creating the reservoir that was eventually named Lake Sidney Lanier after the Georgia born poet and musician who died in the 1880’s. It took over three years for the lake to record its normal elevation of 1070 feet above sea level for the first time on May 25, 1959. The dedication was held on top of the intake structure parking lot on October 9, 1957.
ReservoirThe lake's original lake and authorized purposes were to provide hydroelectricity, navigation, flood control and water supply for Atlanta.
The $1 billion project was approved, ground breaking was in 1950 and more than $2 million had been spent by the Corps on preliminary construction when the House Committee on Appropriations refused to provide more funds in June 1951. During that summer Atlanta mayor William Hartsfield traveled to Washington numerous times pressing Senators Richard Russell, Jr. and Walter F. George to restore funding to ensure Atlanta's water supply during droughts. Hartsfield was back in Washington in 1955 for $11 million more for the dam, which had a target date of 1956, again stressing the importance of an adequate water supply for the city. Again, funds were forthcoming and the dam opened on
Lake Lanier began filling in 1956, and in 1957, 20 miles downstream, Morgan Falls Dam was raised to regulate the flow from Buford Dam to give Atlanta water during the hours it was needed most. The foresight of the entire project was confirmed in early fall of 1958 during two solid months of drought which would have left the Chattahoochee and its tributaries nearly dry, if not for the Buford Dam.
Since the 1990's, the Corps of Engineers, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have all been fighting for use of the water held in Lake Lanier. Federal law mandates that when a river flows between two or more states, each state has a right to an equal share of the water. Additionally, other laws such as the Endangered Species Act require that water be available for threatened or endangered species that live in or around Chattahoochee River and Apalachicola Bay.
Drought 2007-2009USACE revealed that the new lake gauge at the dam, replaced in December 2005, was not properly calibrated, yielding a lake level reading nearly two feet (over half a meter) higher than the actual level. Because of this, nearly twenty-two billion U.S gallons (over eighty-two billion liters) of excess water was released over and above the already planned excess releases to support both the successful spawning of gulf sturgeon in the Apalachicola River and to protect several species of mussels in Apalachicola Bay from excessive saltwater intrusion.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue said that the Corps had created a "manmade drought", because most of the state is already experiencing dry conditions. This came at a time when outdoor water-use restrictions were already being put in place by local governments, because of enormous water use on the many lawns which have replaced the forests in newer suburban areas. Mainly because of this incident at the lake, the state then declared a drought and enacted a ban on outdoor water use from 10AM to 4PM, in addition to the permanent weekly odd/even address system. Other local counties have imposed further restrictions or even total bans, based on each water system's conditions. Outdoor watering has since been banned completely as the state has fallen under the worst drought in its recorded history.
On October 16, 2007, Governor Perdue gave the USACE until the evening of October 17 to come up with a plan for the continued release of water for Florida wildlife. Senator Johnny Isakson stood before the Georgia General Assembly saying, "The health, safety and welfare of people are threatened. They are threatened by an act this Congress passed that had no intention to threaten them." He eventually withdrew his threat to sue the Corps of Engineers, but the Lake Lanier Association indicated that it will attempt a private legal action. Governor Perdue's attempts to reach an agreement with Florida over water releases fell through, leaving a final decision on releases from the lake in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Eventually, on February 18, 2008, the water level of Lake Lanier rose back, above the record-low levels set in November, rising to 1,052.80 ft (320.89 m), even higher than the December 1981 level of 1,052.7 ft (320.9 m), effectively ending the record-low phase of the drought crisis.
A similar drought situation also occurred in late 2008. At the end of the year, the water level stabilized around a final low of 1,051.00 ft (320.34 m), recorded December 8, 2008 at Buford Dam. That level was only slightly above the 2007 low of 1,050.79 ft (320.28 m) from December 26, 2007.
However, after rainfall during the winter of 2008-2009, on March 30, 2009, the climatologist of the state of Georgia, David Stooksbury, declared the drought over, noting, "soil moisture is near normal, stream flows are near normal. Small and medium-sized reservoirs are full." Stooksbury continued by noting, "There is still the 500-pound gorilla sitting in the room and that’s Lanier." In May 2009, the water level of Lake Lanier rose to exceed 1066 ft, reaching a high of 1,066.71 ft (325.13 m) in mid-June 2009. Yet it did not reach the full summer pool of 1071 ft during mid-2009, remaining over 4 ft (1.2 m) lower. Regardless, the concerns about the health of the lake and Atlanta's water supply were in full retreat. Due to weeks of heavy rains and flooding in North Georgia, Lake Lanier reached full pool in mid-October 2009. The record high is 1,077.2 feet (328.3 m) set in April 1964.
The record-low lake levels had revealed parts of the lake bottom not seen since the 1950's, when approximately 700 families were moved from the area to create the lake. An abandoned stretch of Georgia Highway 53 ran along one edge of new shoreline, and concrete foundations from homes and part of what was once the Gainesville's Looper Speedway were uncovered. More recent additions to the lake - including discarded trash, boat batteries and even sunken boats - were discovered, and local efforts to clean up the lake bottom were organized. Several automobiles, some stolen, and discarded firearms were also recovered by law enforcement officials.
GeographyThe lake is in Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Gwinnett, and Lumpkin counties, split about 60%, 30%, 5%, 4%, and 1% respectively, filling the valley into numerous small arms and fingers. The former thalweg of the Chestatee and the Chattahoochee south of it form the county line between Hall and a tiny corner of Gwinnett to the east, and Dawson and Forsyth to the west.
One of the main purposes of the lake is flood control downstream of the lake, mainly protecting metro Atlanta. There have only been two major flooding events on the downstream section since the construction of Buford Dam. The most recent flooding event was in 2009.
Minnesota (chosen as an arbiter from a neutral location) ruled that Congress never authorized Lake Lanier to be used as a source of the water supply for metro Atlanta. The state was given three years to stop withdrawing from the lake (except for the adjacent cities of Gainesville and Buford), unless Congress authorizes it, or the three states which use the basin come to an agreement. The Atlanta Regional Commission chairman noted that if enforced, cutting drinking water to 75% of the region would require disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Recreationboaters, houseboats, jetskiers and others, particularly around the summer holidays. Over 7.5 million people per year visit the lake, including its marinas and the Lake Lanier Islands waterpark. The rowing and sprint canoeing events during the 1996 Summer Olympics were held at the lake. It also hosted the canoe sprint World Championships in 2003 at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club.
One resort hotel sits on the lake: Emerald Pointe. A second hotel, Pine Isle was recently demolished. Both were sold by CNL Hotels & Resorts, a hotel investment firm in Florida, to Georgia businessman Virgil Williams. Both assets sit on a ground lease from the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority which in turn leases the land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Established in 1957, Holiday Marina has become synonymous with Lake Lanier. Holiday Marina in Buford, Georgia, and Aqualand Marina near the town of Flowery Branch, are two of the largest freshwater marinas in the world.
Lake Lanier was the site of the 1997 Bilderberg conference.
Every year from mid-November through December, Lake Lanier Islands are decorated with over 6 miles (9.7 km) of holiday lights, one of the world's largest light shows. Magical Nights of Lights is an animated drive-through display that ends with a Holiday village, carnival rides, bonfire, Santa Shop, live nativity, etc.
Lake water levels
The dropping water level slowed to 0.05 ft (0.02 m), as measured on November 17, 2007, after local rains continued and the water flow had been reduced at Buford Dam. However, water levels continued to decline almost daily during the month of December 2007 (see table below; December record low levels in bold-face font).
|Water levels at Lake Lanier.|
|New low levels are shown bolded. Record lows are dated 1 day later than table, adding "0.01" foot. (Surface elevation in feet, divide by 3.28 for metres)|
Finally, on February 18, 2008, the water level of Lake Lanier had risen back, above the record-low levels set in November, rising to 1,052.80 ft (320.89 m), even higher than the December 1981 level of 1,052.7 ft (320.9 m), effectively reversing and ending the record-low phase of the drought crisis. As of April 21, 2009, the lake had risen back to 1063.39 feet.
Multiple rain storms further to the south, along the Chattahoochee River to Apalachicola Bay, brought increased fresh water to the Florida wildlife in November and December 2007, despite the reduced water flow from Lake Lanier at Buford Dam. Rainfall along the Chattahoochee River was often greater than at Lake Lanier, spanning the much longer length of the river.
Metropolitan Atlanta received far above-average rainfall amounts throughout September and October 2009, and experienced record floods. On October 14, 2009, Lake Lanier had risen back to above full pool at 1071.01 feet. The record high is 1,077.2 feet (328.3 m), set in April 1964.
- "Growth, growth everywhere but not a drop to drink" News article about the 2007-08 drought
- Lake Lanier daily water levels (measured and posted daily by USACE at Buford Dam): http://water.sam.usace.army.mil/gage/acf/prob1.txt
- Lake Lanier Protection Group
- Lake Lanier News
- Lake Lanier Information
- Lake Lanier - US Army Corps of Engineers
- Lake Lanier Statistics & Historical Data
- Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau
- Lake Lanier Rowing Club
- Lanier Canoe and Kayak club
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Lake Hartwell is a man-made reservoir bordering Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah, Tugaloo, and Seneca Rivers. Lake Hartwell is one of the southeast's largest and most popular recreation lakes. The lake is created by Hartwell Dam located on the Savannah River seven miles (11 km) below the point at which the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers join to form the Savannah. Extending 49 miles (79 km) up the Tugaloo and 45 miles (72 km) up the Seneca at normal pool elevation, the lake comprises nearly 56,000 acres (230 km²) of water with a shoreline of 962 miles (1,548 km). The entire Hartwell "Project" contains 76,450 acres (309 km²) of land and water. I-85 bisects Hartwell Lake and makes the area easily accessible to visitors.
Map of Lake Hartwell
Lake Hartwell is named for the American Revolutionary War figure Nancy Hart. Nancy Hart lived in the Georgia
The Droughts and water levels of Lake Hartwell 1989 was the first year the lake hit a level 3 dropping to its lowest level during the drought that year. 2008 was the second time the lake hit a level 3. In the year of 2008, due to severe drought in the southeastern United States, the lake dropped to over 22 feet (6.7 m) below its normal water level in December 2008. This revealed old highways that were typically underwater, exposed islands that are usually topped with buoys to warn boaters, and left some boat shells sitting on dry land.
The Lake reached it lowest level, 637.49 ft. msl, on December 9, 2008. The highest lake elevation was 665.4 ft. msl, reached on April 8, 1964. Overall the average lake elevation is 657.5 ft. msl. As of the first of October 2010, the lake is back up to just over 654 feet, 6 ft lower than full pool of 660 ft. This rebound in lake level is due to releases from the lake being suspended for a month ending April 10, 2009 in an effort to return Lake Hartwell to normal elevations.
Aerial view of Savannah River before construction of the Hartwell Dam.
Early Lake History
The area around Lake Hartwell has a rich history, much of the land inherited from the Cherokee Indians and from early settlers. Many streams, rivers and recreation areas have been named after these early settlers. Issaqueena, a young Indian maiden who rode to Fort Ninety-Six to warn settlers of an attack, allegedly named some streams. Along her journey, she marked her travel by naming streams that she encountered for the number of miles she had covered. Issaqueena named Six-Mile, Twelve-Mile, Three-and-Twenty Mile and Six-and-Twenty Mile creeks, which are still a part of the lake today. Talked about earlier is Nancy Hart, for whom Hart County, Ga., Hartwell, Ga., and Hartwell Dam and Lake were named after her. A few other historic figures that lived around this area were Andrew Pickens and John C. Calhoun, both were Statesmen from South Carolina. William Bartram was another fellow that traveled the area recording vegetation types and plant species.
Building Lake Hartwell Dam 1958
ChallengesThe first challenge was in August 1956 when Mrs. Eliza Brock and her daughter refused to allow workmen to come on their property to begin clearing for the reservoir area. This involved 103 acres of land that the government gained ownership of in June 1956. Apparently Mrs. Brock never received the offer for her land therefore refusing to allow them on her property. After delaying construction, Mrs. Brock eventually settled on $6,850 for her property. The next challenge took place in late 1956 when Clemson College objected to the damage that would be done to its property as a result of the impounded water in the reservoir, including plans that would flood Memorial Stadium. After countless meetings Clemson finally settled on an agreement where two diversion dams would be built in the vicinity of Clemson College and rechannel the Seneca River.
Lake Hartwell Dam and Lake 1961
FishingSince its construction, Hartwell Reservoir has provided good fishing habitat for many species. Bream, catfish, smallmouth bass, walleye, and largemouth bass are naturally occurring species in the lake, with quality fishing available for those species. The most popular fishing on Lake Hartwell, however, has become pursuing striped bass. Striped Bass, also known as rock fish, were discovered to be able to survive in freshwater after the construction of a dam on the Santee-Cooper system in lower South Carolina trapped many striped bass in fresh water. Striped bass were eventually introduced to the three lower Savannah River System lakes: Hartwell, Russel, and Thurmond. The species has done well, but due to the need for moving water to successfully hatch eggs, must continually be stocked in the lakes. These fish provide anglers with a fishing challenge more likened to saltwater fishing, with anglers tending to use larger boats, conventional reels, and oftentimes trolling techniques. State record fish have come from all three of the lakes holding "stripers" on the Savannah River system. 60+ lb. fish have been caught on Lake Hartwell, with 20 lb. fish being common. The majority of striped bass caught on the lake will range from 5 to 12 pounds.
Building Lake Hartwell 1958
Building Lake Hartwell 1955
- Camping. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages 9 campgrounds at Lake Hartwell with a total of 524 campsites. Many of the campgrounds include restrooms, showers, boat ramps, playgrounds, electric and water hook ups, courtesy docks, group camping, and designated swimming areas.
- Biking trail. The Corps of Engineers Lake Hartwell office partnered with the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) to build a 7.6-mile multi-purpose trail at the Paynes Creek Campground area.
- Fishing. Hartwell is home to many different types of fish including largemouth bass, bream, hybrid and striped bass, crappie, white bass, trout, and walleye.
- Swimming. The lake is suitable for swimming but there have been over 200 deaths on the lake through the years.
- Water sports. The Lake is a venue for a variety of sports such as tubing, waterskiing, and wake boarding.
- Boating. Boating is a huge part of the recreation side of Lake Hartwell. There are five marinas along the lake, including Clemson Marina, Big Water Marina, Harbor Light Marina, Hartwell Marina, and Portman Marina. Also along the lake are many boat ramps.
- Wildlife. There are more than 250 species of birds and 40 different mammals around Lake Hartwell. In addition there are numerous aquatic, reptile and amphibian species there too. Some wildlife one may find includes wood ducks, chickadees, blue birds, screech owls, flying squirrels, wild turkeys, snakes, raccoons, and the great blue heron. Occasionally one may see a deer swimming across the water or drinking at the shore, even black bears have been spotted on the lake.
Hartwell Lake is one of the southeast's largest and most popular public recreation lakes. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1955 and 1963 as part of a flood control, hydropower, and navigation project, authorized purposes now include recreation, water quality, water supply, and fish and wildlife management. Each year, millions of people utilize the many public parks, marinas, and campgrounds conveniently located around the lake to pursue a variety of outdoor recreational experiences -making Hartwell one of the most visited Corps lakes in the nation.
Hartwell Lake is a man-made lake bordering Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah, Tugaloo, and Seneca Rivers. The lake is created by Hartwell Dam located on the Savannah River seven miles below the point at which the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers join to form the Savannah. Extending 49 miles up the Tugaloo and 45 miles up the Seneca at normal pool elevation, Hartwell Lake comprises nearly 56,000 acres of water with a shoreline of 962 miles.
The Flood Control Act of 17 May 1950 authorized the Hartwell Dam and Reservoir as the second unit in the comprehensive development of the Savannah River Basin.44 The estimated cost was $68.4 million based on 1948 price levels and preliminary designs. The original project provided for a gravity-type concrete dam 2,415 feet long with earth embankments at either end, which would be 6,050 feet long on the Georgia side and 3,935 feet long on the South Carolina side. The 12,400-foot-long dam was to be topped with a roadway 24 feet wide. The main dam was to consist of two nonoverflow concrete sections on the right and left banks 887 feet and 940 feet long, respectively; a gravity-type concrete spillway 588 feet long equipped with 12 tainter gates 26 feet by 40 feet in the channel; and a powerhouse on the South Carolina side of the river.45 Full power pool was designed to be 660 feet above mean sea level. At this elevation, the reservoir would extend 7.1 miles up the Savannah River to the confluence of the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers; 41 miles up the Tugaloo to within approximately 2 miles of the existing Yonah Dam; 27 miles up the Seneca to the mouth of the Little River, South Carolina; 2 miles up the Little River to the Newry site; and 7 miles up the Keowee to the Old Pickens site. The reservoir would cover 56,500 acres and would involve the relocation of 3 sections of railroad totaling 2 miles, the raising of 2 railroad bridges, construction of 6 sections of new state high- ways totaling 19.6 miles and 9 sections of county roads totaling 12.7 miles, the construction of 9 new bridges and the raising of 4 existing bridges, and the relocation of 2 power transmission lines.46
Construction of cofferdams on South Carolina side. Aerial view downstream.
As construction of the dam got under way, the specifications changed from time to time. The length of the concrete portions of the structure was reduced to 1,900 feet, the roadway was removed from atop the dam and made to cross the river just below the dam site, the size of the tainter gates was increased from 26 feet by 40 feet to 35.5 feet by 40 feet, and the Powerhouse was relocated from the South Carolina to the Georgia side of the river. Periodically, construction costs were revised upward to a final figure of almost $90 million. The first appropriations for construction were made on 15 July 1955, and the first major contract was awarded 14 October 1955 for construction of the earth embankments.47 Filling of the reservoir began in February 1961 and was completed in March 1962.
When the dam was constructed, 5 penstocks were provided for the installation of four 66,000-kilowatt generating units and a future 80,000-kilowatt unit. The fifth unit was completed in 1985, bringing the total generating capacity to 344,000 kilowatts (a “rehab” of units 1 – 4 took place from 1997 – 2000. This increased the total generating capacity to 422,000 kilowatts). The Hartwell project has provided not only electricity for municipalities and electric cooperatives but also an ample water supply for industry and domestic use. Power is sold through the Southeastern Power Administration (SEPA) to private power companies and public cooperatives. From 1962, when power was put on line, through September 1988 SEPA paid the Corps $118,485,133 for power. The total cost of the Hartwell Project was $89,240,000 (in 1963).48
Hartwell Dam and Lake. View southwest towards Georgia embankment.
In addition to power production, 5 feet of storage above the maximum power pool has been reserved for flood control. This feature at Hartwell, along with that at Clark Hill (Clark Hill was renamed J. Strom Thurmond in 1987), reduced flood damage in the areas downstream by an estimated $363,000 annually. Hartwell alone prevented an estimated $9.47 million in flood damages through the regulation of flood flows from 1962 through FY 1987 (from 1962 – 2000, Hartwell Dam prevented $13.7 million in flood damages). The combined control by the Hartwell and Clark Hill multipurpose projects permitted the use of some of the earlier undeveloped lowlands below Augusta for agriculture and also allowed extensive development in the low areas of Augusta. Flow regulation at Hartwell also increased the dependable production of power at Clark Hill and benefited navigation by increasing the minimum streamflow below Augusta. Water released through the turbines as power is generated at Hartwell and provides adequate regulation of flow in the river below the dam to benefit fish and wildlife, to aid navigation below Augusta, and to increase the dependable power at Clark Hill.49
The large lake created by the impounded waters at Hartwell has been used extensively for recreation. The number of visitors to the project has increased regularly from about 750,000 in 1962 to 9.6 million during 2000. This ranked Hartwell third of the ten most popular Corps projects in the nation. The Corps has developed 61 public-use areas in addition to recreational facilities provided by private club and quasi-public groups.
Hartwell Dam and Lake. Progress of Hartwell Dam construction. Spillway and Sluice gates open for test.
The Hartwell Lakeshore Management Plan was initially approved in 1979 after more than 4 years of work by Corps personnel, 4 public meetings, and a congressional hearing. This plan for the orderly development of the lake's shoreline serves to protect and manage the shoreline, establish and maintain acceptable fish and wildlife habitats, and help meet the recreational needs of the general public. The Management Plan became the subject of controversy because adjacent lakeshore landowners were being required to improve their property to meet the standards established by the Corps of Engineers. The plan sought to achieve a balance between the needs of these landowners while at the same time promoting a safe, healthful use of the lakeshore for recreational purposes.50 The Hartwell Plan which was revised and updated in 1989 after another series of public meetings and workshops held in September 1988, provided a set of maps of the entire lake, pinpointing areas where private mooring facilities(eg. boat docks) were permitted as well as areas where docks were in a "grandfather" status. It also gave basic information on requirements for the construction of mooring facilities and those permits or licenses required by landowners for any facilities placed on government property.51 Information on activities such as mowing and underbrushing was also provided in the Plan.52 The Hartwell Shoreline Management Plan was again revised and updated in 1998.
During construction, the Hartwell project was seriously challenged on only two occasions. The first instance was in August 1956 when Mrs. Eliza Brock and her daughter refused to allow workmen to come onto their property to begin clearing for the reservoir area. The controversy involved 103 acres of land that reverted to government ownership on 21 June 1956 when a formal "declaration of taking" was filed by the Corps of Engineers. Apparently, Mrs. Brock never received an offer for her land and therefore refused to allow government workers on the property. She and her daughter used a rifle to hold off contractors until a court order was served on 27 September. After delaying timber cutting procedures for more than a month, the 78-year-old Mrs. Brock settled the issue out of court and accepted the Government's offer of $6,850 for her property.56
The second challenge to the Hartwell project came in late 1956 when Clemson College objected to the damage that would be done to its property as a result of the impounded water in the reservoir. Correspondence between the Corps of Engineers and Clemson relating to the construction of the Hartwell project and its effect on the college began as early as 1949. In addition, representatives of the college and the Corps held numerous meetings prior to 1956. At a 16 December 1952 meeting in the office of DL Robert F. Poole, president of the college, a proposed plan for the Clemson College area was presented to college officials. In a letter of 5 July 1955, the Corps furnished the vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the school with information on plans for acquisition, relocation, and protection of facilities in the Clemson area. This information was substantially the same as presented to the college officials in December 1952.57 The Board of Trustees then pledged their cooperation in the Hartwell project.58 By 1956 DL Robert E. Edwards had assumed the presidency of Clemson College, and on 29 June 1956 the chairman of the Hartwell Dam Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees transmitted to the Savannah District a report compiled by a private engineering firm on the Hartwell project as related to Clemson College. Based on this report, three plans were proposed by the board for the protection of school holdings. In order of preference, these plans proposed the following: lowering the power pool from 660 feet to 610 feet; diverting the Seneca River around the endangered college property to prevent the anticipated flooding; or compensation for college lands and facilities that would be affected by the impounded waters. The Corps proceeded in anticipation of reaching agreement on the basis of the third plan until December 1956, when the Clemson trustees declared the land irreplaceable and the damage that would be done to the college irreparable.59
Following the claims made by Clemson of irreparable damage resulting from construction of the Hartwell project, and the support which these claims received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, construction on the project was halted pending further investigation. The Chief of Engineers attended a meeting at Clemson College on 20 December 1956 and subsequently requested authority from the Public Works committees of both the Senate and the House to restudy the project. Following the authorization, the Corps did a restudy during the early months of 1957. One curious circumstance that surfaced during the restudy was the fact that the Department of Agriculture had conveyed more than 7,600 acres of bottom land along the Seneca River to the college for the payment of one dollar in December 1954, more than four years after the authorization of the Hartwell project. This had been done without the knowledge of the Department of Army. In December 1956, the Department of Agriculture declared that the damage to this land “would be so great as to cast serious doubt on the economic feasibility of the project."60 Following the restudy it was concluded that redesigning the project with a power pool of 610 feet would be economically unfeasible and that the only alternative was to provide for the diversion of the Seneca River so that impounded waters would pose no threat to the Clemson College lands. On the basis of this revised project, work was resumed in 1957 and completed in December 1963.
The two diversion dams built in the vicinity of Clemson College in 1961 to rechannel the Seneca River and protect valuable school facilities were constructed of random earth fill raised on alluvial soil. Seepage on the dry or protected side of the structures required numerous repairs over the years, so in 1982 steps were taken to solve the problems permanently. The solution involved constructing concrete cutoff walls within the existing earthen dams using slurry wall panel method. This technique, borrowed from an earlier construction method used at the West Point project, involved excavating a trench along the entire length of each of the earthen dams and filling the trenches with a soupy masonry mixture that, when hardened, formed a relatively impervious concrete wall. Work on the lower diversion dam at Clemson was completed in December 1982, and seepage was reduced to the level anticipated. Work on the upper dam began in June 1983 and was completed in June 1984, well ahead of schedule.
Fast Facts about Hartwell Lake
At a glance, here are fast facts about Hartwell Lake:
Home to Tugaloo State Park and Hart State Park
56,000 acres of water
962 miles of shoreline
Created by damming the Savannah River
Authorized by Congress with the Flood Control Act of 1950
Construction began in 1955
Opened in 1962
10 Million visitors annually
80 parks and recreation areas
13 campgrounds with more than 700 campsites
Five marinas with gas docks, pump-outs, restaurants, boat docks, shops stores
Places to Visit
- Issaqueena Dam. To find the Dam head north on the Keowee River, past Clemson, and you will take a right turn into this "magical cove" that contains a waterfall. It is about 25 feet tall and 150 feet wide overflow out of Lake Issaqueena into Lake Hartwell. Many people will drive or park their boats and hike around this area on a pretty day. Regardless of all the danger signs, people insist on sliding down the waterfall into the lake. Wear a lifejacket though because some tragedies have happened here before.
- Eighteen Mile Creek. Eighteen Mile Creek is not quite eighteen miles long, but it is a nice curvy and narrow waterway. It is off of the Seneca River at buoy marker S-42. It is well known for among fishermen and birds. The curvy waterway goes for about five miles and ends in a big shallow area and an old bridge with lots of birds and wildlife.
- Rock Quarry. There are several overhanging rocks to leap from. The heights of the rocks vary with the changing lake levels. Some areas within this cove are shallower than others so be careful when jumping off the rocks.
- Ghost Island. This is the largest island, heading toward Portman Marina from Oconee Point. When looking at the island search for the highest point, you can simply look for the tallest trees on the center of the island. Start hiking to this point and you may find as many as fifty grave headstones. Many of the stones are very small and cannot be read due to age and years of weather. There are several tomb-like, above ground concrete vaults with markers identifying the graves from the War of 1812. There are also graves from the 1700s. The area in which it is located looks like it could have been an old home place or church but the only thing left was the graves. Many people camp on this island unaware of their "company".
- Andersonville Island. Andersonville, SC was once a well-known port and resort town with a barge system that traveled daily to Savannah, Ga. For many years this town flourished and had many businesses, factories, and tourists that would come from all around. Andersonville was said to be as large as Anderson, SC or Pendleton, SC, but all that is left is a large island nearly 400 acres in size. It is by far the largest island on the lake, between two and three miles long. It has a paved road that stretches from one side to the other but is grown over now. On the island one can find anything from building ruins, to artifacts, to rare plants and wildlife.
- Clemson Football. Clemson football games have always been a draw for boaters on Lake Hartwell. The University and stadium tower over the lake. During football season, boats from all over the lake travel up the Seneca River to come watch the games. You can park your boat on the left side of the long earth dike and walk up the hill to the famous Esso Club or to the game.