Etowah River boat launches taking off in Canton

Published in Cherokee Ledger News August 25, 2010

Etowah River boat launches taking off in Canton

By: Janet Pelletier

Published: 25 August 2010

When Joe Cook and his fellow guides take canoeists and kayakers on paddle trips down the Etowah River, they know it’s going to be an uphill battle—literally.

 “Right now, there is no public access to the river,” Cook, who is executive director for the Coosa River Basin Initiative and Riverkeeper, said. “I’ve got pictures of the take-out at Boling Park in Canton and you almost have to be a gymnast to get your canoe out of the water at the end of the trip.”

 So, the process begins: Cook tosses a rope down the hill, ties it to the canoes and one by one pulls the vessels out of the riverbank. The same process is then started for the participants.

It’s no wonder then, Cook said, that not everyone desires to partake in the experience.

“When you have to do that to get out of the water, your average family is not going to get out there and have to go through that kind of trouble to get in and out of the water,” he said.

That’s why, for the past few years, Cook and other officials, have been lobbying for public boat launches.

The idea is to create a 160-mile-long canoe and kayak trail, the River Blue Trail, which would stretch from Dawsonville down through Cherokee County, Lake Allatoona and south to Rome.

Cook said Forsyth County has gotten the ball rolling, and after purchasing some land for public use, is close to getting access points constructed. 

 Despite the difficulties of not having boat launches, Cook said many people are willing to rough it for the experience of being out in the nature. The CRBI hosts roughly 18 paddle trips per year and the group has been averaging 40 people per trip.

 “A lot are people who have never been on the river before,” Cook said. “And what we hear from people is that ‘we always wanted to get out on the river, but we didn’t know how to do it, and there’s no public place to get out on the river, so we just assumed it wasn’t available to us.’”

In fact, there are no public boat launches in Cherokee County on the Etowah, save for Lake Allatoona, Cook said. There are two boat launches on the Upper Etowah—one at Highway 9 just south of Dawsonville and another at Kelly Bridge Road, which is privately-owned, but accessible by paying a fee.

It’s a shame, Cook said, because there are so many untapped resources on the Etowah.

 “If you were to build a walking trail through Cherokee County and you built it from one end of Cherokee County to the other, it’s going to cost millions of dollars,” he said. “The Blue Trail idea is something you can put in place for a few thousand dollars. We can build a canoe and kayak launch for around $10,000.”

The Etowah River is home to more fish weirs (traps that were set by Native Americans to catch fish for trade and to feed their communities) than all other Georgia rivers combined, Cook said.

“I believe there are over 60 fish weirs on the Etowah, these structures where you can go out and walk on top of a rock dam that was placed there 500-1,000 years ago by Native Americans,” he said. “That’s a pretty neat thing, I think.”

The timing couldn’t be more appropriate, Cook said, because Cherokee County is growing and the population is going to need more passive recreational opportunities.

As Forsyth County gets started, Canton is also poised to start construction of its first boat launch at Boling Park by the end of the year, according to Diane Minick, executive director of the Upper Etowah River Alliance.

“We are working with Mountain Conservation Trust and the city to do the survey and apply for the permits,” Minick said. “We are hoping that we will be able to put the launch in during December. We will also be stabilizing the site with unique erosion and stormwater control practices with funds provided by the World Wildlife Fund and the Coca Cola Company.”

Minick said there will also be a launch site at the new river park below Brown Industrial Park.  

“The Alliance is also working with The Nature Conservancy to identify areas where launch sites could go in,” Minick said. “We hope to create a series of launch sites from the already existing sites in Dawson County down to the lake. We have applied for an assistance grant from the National Park Service to help us with Blue Trail planning and are working with other counties in the watershed to make all of this happen.”

A total of $500,000 was given to the CRBI as part of a legal settlement that was reached with the developer of the Canton Marketplace shopping center regarding environmental permits it obtained for development. Part of that money—$25,000—will fund the Canton launches. Other funding sources include a $10,000 grant CRBI expects to receive from California winery Redwood Creek, a $10,000 grant from REI in Kennesaw, and the issuance of a “challenge grant” by the Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga, Tenn., in which the foundation will fund $1 for every $2 CRBI raises, up to $10,000. 

“That $10,000 will be used to create a Web site and interactive maps that will show people where the take-out points are, where the historic points are in each section of the river … provide them educational information about the river,” Cook said.

The public can donate to that effort on the CRBI Web site, by clicking on the “donate” button on the home page. 

The effort is not unlike what occurred with the Chattahoochee River some 30 years ago, Cook said. Today, he estimates there are 12 public access points along the Chattahoochee, from Buford Dam to Peachtree Creek, through north Atlanta.

“The Chattahoochee back in the mid- to late ‘70s is where the Etowah is right now, as far as the development pressure,” Cook said. 

For updates on the Canton launches, visit 

The next paddle trip by CRBI in Cherokee County will be held Aug. 28. The 15-mile trip will travel from Old Federal Road to East Cherokee Drive. Call Alan Crawford for details at (706) 291-7449 or e-mail him at .

For complete article with pictures, go to:


Document Actions