River Park Symposium

Dozens of residents and people interested in supporting the Chattahoochee River and its parks meet at the Sept. 18 River Park Symposium at the Island Ford Visitor Center in Sandy Springs.

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — Sweeping plans are in the works for North Atlanta’s national parkland that borders the Chattahoochee River. 

On Sept. 18, park directors from Forsyth County and North Fulton cities met with Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Superintendent Bill Cox and Chattahoochee Nature Center Executive Director Chris Nelson to share their latest park plans and discuss the future of the river. Dozens of residents, Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy members, and local and state representatives attended the symposium in the Island Ford Visitor Center in Sandy Springs. 

The symposium, now it its third year, is held annually by the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy, the official friends group for the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. This year’s symposium focused on local trails and was sponsored by Visit Sandy Springs and Cox Enterprises.

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is among the top 40 most visited national parks in the nation and has three times the economic impact of the Atlanta Braves, according to Conservancy Board President Sally Bethea.

But, the parks need some help to improve its services, she added.

“It’s worth investing in and it’s worth protecting,” Cox said. “The parks alone have $15-$16 million worth of improvements in the works… because our citizenry is asking for it. They’re asking for better places to hike, exercise, bike and connect with nature, especially along the Chattahoochee River.”

For the past five years, Cox and his team have focused on Paces Mill, Vickery Creek and enhancing the national water trail designation.

And while quality of the water in the river had been improving for several years, park representatives said they’ve seen it plateau and lose ground recently, Cox said. 

The biggest two factors that influence the river’s health, he added, are pathogens and sediment, and the two largest sources of pathogens are human activity and dog waste.

“Those little bags you see on the trail?” Cox said. “They are not biodegradable, and they are not fertilizer.”

Bethea said the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy is working with the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area to launch an awareness campaign to curb dog waste pollution along the river. 

Local city and county representatives also provided updates on their park and trail plans along the Chattahoochee River.

Roswell is working toward a Riverpark Master Plan to invest in and maintain the parkland along the river. The parkland, especially the Riverwalk Trail, has become a widely popular area in Roswell for residents and visitors alike, said Roswell Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Leatherman.

“There are very few times Riverwalk isn’t being used by the community,” he said. “On a weekly basis, we’re seeing nearly 6,000 trips in Phase V, which we just installed.”

The Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell is likewise working on a campaign to, among other nature center upgrades, replace the aging boardwalk on the riverside and build a pedestrian bridge connecting the boardwalk over Willeo Road to the nature center. The campaign has already raised $4 million of the $8 million needed for this project, Nelson said.

Over to the north and east, the City of Johns Creek has scattered national parkland in between large swaths of residential areas. Johns Creek Assistant Public Works Director Chris Haggard said the city is looking at ways to connect those parks to each other and to other city trails. One of the major plans is to create a loop within the Abbotts Bridge Unit that people can use to run 5Ks. 

National parkland runs north from Johns Creek into Forsyth County up to Buford Dam. 

The greatest wants by residents there include trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, river access and a disc golf course, said Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Outdoor Division Manager Matthew Pate.

This year, Forsyth was able to honor one of those requests and opened an 18-hole disc golf course in Chattahoochee Pointe Park.

The work on these parklands will continue, and people should begin thinking about how to raise the next generation to appreciate and support natural lands, Cox said. 

“It really does take a village to manage this urbanized area,” he said. “It will take all of us to do our part to protect this investment over time.”

For more information about the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, visit nps.gov and to get involved, visit chattahoocheeparks.org.

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