A new 2.5 mile whitewater rafting course will officially open to the public next Saturday in Columbus.
The project has been in the works for several years and required that crews remove two historic dams. Whitewater Columbus cost about $25 million. The City of Columbus pitched in $5 million and the rest of the money came from grants and private donors.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the project was a solid investment.
“This is a natural part of Columbus, Georgia.” Tomlinson said. “It’s like being on a lakefront or being on an oceanfront. We need to embrace the geography, the topography that we’ve naturally been given and make it a part of our economic development strategy.”
Whitewater Columbus is projected to create 700 jobs and have an economic impact of $42 million each year.
According to John Turner, Chairman of the Chattahoochee River Restoration Committee, the project started as a way to return the river to a more natural state.
“It wasn’t truly a river but it also wasn’t truly a lake,” explained Turner. “It was like two steep-sided bathtubs as it flowed through town. So, in taking the dams out, we’ve restored the characteristics of a free-flowing river and the results have been instantaneous.”
Turner pointed out that herons and fish have already increased their numbers in the area.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association awarded Whitewater Columbus a grant for $600,000 as part of its Open Rivers Initiative.
"The removal of Eagle-Phenix and City Mills Dams is an important step towards the recovery of important migratory fish of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint (ACF) system,” wrote Howard Schnabolk, a NOAA Marine Restoration specialist, in an e-mail to GPB. “Elimination of the impoundments caused by the dams will expose the bedrock, boulders, cobble and gravel that serve as optimal spawning habitats for migratory fishes, such as Alabama Shad. When combined with other fish passage management plans down river, removal of Eagle-Phenix and City Mills Dams will provide highly significant opportunities to rebuild stocks of Alabama shad, striped bass, and Gulf sturgeon in the ACF."
GPB News Now cameras were rolling during a sneak peek visit to Whitewater Columbus. Check back with GPB.org for the video segment next week.