ATLANTA—As part of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st-century conservation ethic, miles of Georgia’s Chattahoochee River are now America’s first National Water Trail. The Department of the Interior (DOI) is expanding the trail system to “reconnect Americans to the natural world and support a strong outdoor recreation economy in communities across the country,” according to a DOI press release.
The DOI chose a 48-mile section of Atlanta’s essential waterway because it already had made progress in health, safety, and community involvement, according to Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Rachel Jacobson.
“The river was not as clean 10 years ago as it is today,” she said to The Epoch Times.
Atlanta accumulated years of mounting federal fines while it failed to modernize its sewer-handling systems. Heavy rains triggered sewage spills into the Chattahoochee, both from Atlanta and development upstream.
Mayors, conservationists, business leaders, tourism advocates, federal officials, and park rangers met on Aug. 28 to build a “tourism marketing strategy for the Chattahoochee River Corridor that would complement Atlanta’s other sightseeing attractions,” according to the press release.
High water and predicted thunderstorms scuttled a planned float down the river that would have celebrated the event.
Jacobson said the water trail designation does not directly bring dollars to an area, but “We hope it will make the case for us to go back to Congress and show community support and increased tourism dollars,” and thus support more conservation funding.
“Our donations have increased, visitors have increased, and TPL [Trust for Public Land] is more excited than ever to work on land acquisition.”
Patricia Wissinger, superintendent, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Park
It also inspires public–private partnerships, said Jacobson. Though the application process for a waterway to become a federal water trail has high standards, “We want as many as we can get.”
In her opinion, “I don’t know that the American public knows how important pubic–private partnerships are. There’s a huge amount of synergy between the private sector and the public sector to promote these values.”
Park Superintendent Patricia Wissinger agreed. She said in an interview that since the designation was announced in February, “Our donations have increased, visitors have increased, and TPL [Trust for Public Land] is more excited than ever to work on land acquisition.”
TPL is a private conservation group that directly buys land in order to preserve it for people. It protects both historic and naturally beautiful parcels by purchasing them and holding them until governments can buy them and turn them into parks. When possible, it donates land for parks.
TPL was essential to the water trail. It started the Chattahoochee River Land Protection Campaign in the 1990s. The coalition of donors, government agencies, and other nonprofits have purchased more than 16,000 acres and have protected over 76 miles of riverfront, said David Martin, chairman of the Georgia Advisory Council for TPL, in a 2010 interview.
Wissinger said that Georgia’s elected representatives care about the river, especially Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), whose “office has been very supportive of the park.” She also said that Congressman Tom Price (R-Ga.) “is a very good friend of the park,” which is in his district.
Wissinger said that she has noticed more and more people using the river, especially young people. “They are not always just looking into screens. This generation seems more connected to nature,” she added.
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