Although the computer age has brought enjoyment and entertainment to people with the click of a mouse, metro Atlanta residents are turning back to the oldest but most enduring form of pleasure: communing with nature along the Chattahoochee River.

This is how Bill Cox, superintendent of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a division of the National Park Service, described the renewed interest in the river from hikers, rafters, canoeists and others who are returning to the outdoors for exercise and enjoyment.

“People and communities have really recognized what a great resource the Chattahoochee River is,” he told more than 40 members of the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs at its Aug. 19 meeting at the Hilton Atlanta Perimeter Suites hotel in Sandy Springs.

“There is a demand for more hiking, biking, canoeing and rafting opportunities on and around the river, and we are working in conjunction with partners such as the Trust for Public Land, Cobb County and the Atlanta Regional Commission to meet that demand.”

Cox said the recreation area and Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park account for almost 75% of the visitation to the 10 National Park Service units in Georgia.

“The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is one of 419 National Park Service units and one of 18 national recreation areas nationwide,” Cox said.

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is 48 miles of the river from Buford Dam down to Peachtree Creek in Atlanta, and there are 15 separate land units along that stretch, he said.

“We have close to 3 million visitors annually, which puts us in the top 40 of the National Park Service units,” Cox said.

According to the area’s website, the number of visitors in the past decade has dropped from a high of 3.173 million in 2015 to 2.736 million the following year, though it increased to 2.873 million in 2018.

After tracing the overall activities and events along the Chattahoochee, Cox touched on a number of planned and ongoing improvements to parks in Sandy Springs and nearby areas, designed to keep up with the increased interest in outdoor recreation opportunities.

For instance, at Island Ford Park in Sandy Springs, which is the area’s headquarters, a plan is being discussed to improve public recreation opportunities and provide more services at that location.

Also in Sandy Springs, Powers Island, the park’s concessioner, the Nantahala Outdoor Center provides canoe, kayak and other outdoor adventure activities and is a popular spot for youth and other groups to enjoy rolling down the river during the summer months, Cox said. The center is always looking to improve its services and welcome more groups and individuals.

Cox said plans are underway to renovate Vinings’ Paces Mill park, the southernmost unit in the recreation area, with help from the Cumberland Community Improvement District.

“This is a $10 million project. We are close to beginning our construction documents on this project and I am very excited about it,” he said.

In Roswell, a planned city project to change the entry into the city, known as the Gateway Project, will result in a wide variety of improvements to the recreation area’s Vickery Creek unit. It is going to change some of the parking lot areas and improving the trail connections between the Roswell Mill Park and Riverside Park, Cox said.

“You will be able to actually hike all the way from the (Roswell) Mill area and back, and plans are to build a pedestrian bridge across Vickery Creek.”

At the Abbots Bridge unit near Johns Creek, park service officials are in talks with Duluth officials for a future greenway connection between the Abbots Bridge and McGinnis Ferry units of the park.

Benjy Dubovsky, the club’s program coordinator, said Cox’s address was “informative.”

“He was very knowledgeable about the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, what it has to offer and what is on the horizon with regard to upcoming programs and projects,” Dubovsky said.

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