2007 Race and Festival Help Out the Hooch
Green current flows at Chattahoochee festival
In another time, in another Chattahoochee River race, Marcus Eriksen's raft would have been made of empty beer kegs he personally drained during the trip. Instead of 400 canoeists and kayakers, there would have been about 60,000 people bobbing, weaving, floating and chug-a-lugging on the chilly current.
But Saturday, Eriksen's raft was made of 170 empty two-liter soft drink bottles, duct tape, recycled plastic bags and a discarded satellite dish he used as a seat while padding the socially and environmentally conscious, fifth annual Back to the Chattahoochee River Festival.
"I made this raft with some high school students for Earth Day," Eriksen said as he pulled his craft from the river race finish line and toted it on his shoulders to the parking lot of Riverside Park in Roswell. "It's environmentally conscious, a good use of discarded plastic."
Ericksen, a host of the "Commando Weather" show on the Weather Channel cable network, was the closest thing to a celebrity at the race and festival that drew more spectators than paddlers.
The crowd was a far cry from the days of the notorious Ramblin' Raft Race, last staged in 1980. "That race didn't do as much damage as everybody thinks," said Jerry Hightower, a National Park Service ranger who, for three decades, has stood watch over this stretch of the river north of Atlanta. "But it set the wrong tone for the river."
That event was sponsored by Budweiser and Miller. Racers usually drifted down the stream in rubber rafts. And there were the odd entrants, including some Georgia Tech students who took to the water in a concrete canoe that instantly sank.
"This is a wonderful event, more for family and children," said Hightower. "We do have a beer, Sweetwater. But they're a sponsor because they use Chattahoochee River water to brew it."
The Sweetwater Brewing Company beer barge was anchored just offshore.
"They have to stay out there because the city of Roswell won't allow alcohol in the park," said Hightower. Steve Farace, one of the brewery owners, was on deck, helping distribute free cups of suds to paddlers as they finished the race.
"This is our way of supporting the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper because they save the river so we have good water to brew with," he said. Banners hung on the sides of the barge, bearing the slogan: "Give of Your Liver to Save the River."
Nancy Walther, chief of Research Education for the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area, said there were two level of racers. The professional group, which paddled 10 miles; and the recreational group, which traveled 8. They all started at 9 a.m., upstream, at Garrard Landing Park at Holcomb Bridge Road. The professional group went an extra mile down the river, then doubled back to Riverside Park finish line.
Afterward, Dave Steele sat on a bench under a shade tree near the parking lot, waiting for his kayaking partner to return so they could load the boat.
"I guess it took us about an hour and a half," he said. "We were just doing it for recreation."
Still, Steele and his partner weren't completely easy-going. "Oh no," he said. "We paddled. We weren't about to let anybody pass us."