ATLANTA A river with a history of ferry boats and Civil War battles may one day provide a new route for hikers who finish the Appalachian Trail to continue south until they reach the Gulf of Mexico, a national conservation group says.
Leaders envision the Chattahoochee River as a way to allow Appalachian Trail hikers to reach the Gulf either on trails along its banks or in a canoe or kayak on the river. The trail already stretches from Maine to north Georgia.
The Chattahoochees headwaters, in the north Georgia mountains, are near the trails southernmost section.
The idea is that someone looking for adventure could hike the Appalachian Trail, and then get off the trail and go to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee, said Curt Soper, the Georgia-Alabama state director of the Trust for Public Land.
The nonprofit has worked for years to acquire land in the area and make it available to its partners, such as the National Park Service. The new route could become a reality within the next decade, Soper said.
The trust already has acquired and set aside 17,000 acres of land that touch 76 river miles from the Chattahoochees headwaters to Columbus, Ga., Soper said.
The trust also is working on a project known as the Chattahoochee Valley Blueway, which involves 52 miles of the river from the city of West Point to Columbus, southwest of Atlanta near the Alabama line. The aim of that project, expected to be completed in the next three years, is to create a so-called canoe trail, a well-marked waterway with several places to launch canoes and kayaks, Soper said.
In metro Atlanta, there already are more than 70 miles of hiking trails along or near the river within the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, created in 1978 by former President Jimmy Carter.
Soper and others believe theres great interest in such projects.
The idea of a way to walk from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico is a wonderful idea that I think would generate a lot of interest and passion and would be wonderful if some way, somehow, we could make that work, said Patricia Barmeyer, an Atlanta lawyer who serves on the Georgia advisory council of the Trust for Public Land.
South of Columbus, the Chattahoochee forms the Georgia-Alabama state line.
A hiking trail could be on either side of the river, which would offer some flexibility in creating it, said Tony Aeck, an architect who serves on the Trust for Public Lands Georgia advisory council.
After the Chattahoochee crosses the Georgia-Florida line, it becomes the Apalachicola River and flows across Floridas panhandle, entering the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Bay.
It would be a natural extension and a beneficial one for us, said Anita Grove, executive director of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce in Apalachicola, Fla.
Vast amounts of public land exist along and around the Apalachicola River, Grove said.
Homer Witcher, a 70-year-old hiker from Daleville, Va., said hes supportive of the idea. Witcher has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, and plans to hike it again in a few years.
Any time you can have more trails, its good, I think, Witcher said.
However, an extended trek to or from the Gulf Coast would be more difficult because of concerns about cold weather farther north and in higher elevations, he said.
Many hikers take five or six months to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.