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Waterways recognize no borders

Whether flowing in creeks or poured from a glass onto the ground in Ringgold, Rossville, Chickamauga or Fort Oglethorpe, most of Northwest Georgia’s water drains into the Tennessee River.

Tributaries like West Chickamauga Creek, which snakes through Walker and Catoosa counties, once powered mills and served as watery highways when roads were few or nonexistent in the Tennessee Valley.

Though no longer used for commerce or transportation, both counties’ most recent 30-year comprehensive plans recognize the creek’s historical significance and its potential.

Following the plan, local government have expressed commitment to making West Chickamauga Creek part of a watery trail network that focuses on the Tennessee River between Chickamauga and Nickajack dams. Sometimes called blueways — like greenways but for paddling rather than walking — water trails are corridors that cross city, county and state lines.

“Water has no boundaries,” said Jane Polansky, scenic rivers administrator with Tennessee State Parks.

Speaking to the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance last week, Polansky said she was pleased to hear about efforts to develop a blueway connecting North Georgia’s historic sites, including the National Park at the Chickamauga Battlefield, with the Tennessee.

Such efforts can provide rewards now and for generations to come, she said.

“Water trails support environmental, educational, economic, cultural and recreational interests,” Polansky said.

Walker County Attorney Don Oliver, himself an avid paddler, told Alliance members about recent developments along the tributary’s path through Georgia.

“I’m finally able to tout progress,” he said.

Oliver went on to describe how a launch point at Lee and Gordon’s Mill in Chickamauga has been marked and a combination restroom/changing station is open for use. He also noted that concrete launch areas that provide safe access regardless of the water level are in place at Fort Oglethorpe and just across the state line in East Ridge.

“The concrete is in place behind Logan’s Roadhouse, O’Charley’s and Panera Bread in Fort Oglethorpe and at Camp Jordan,” he said.

Both sites are ready for site completion, which includes adding parking, plantings and signage, and connection to walking trails in Fort Oglethorpe, East Ridge and Chattanooga.

“The National Park Service is working to incorporate the creek as part of their marked trail network,” Oliver said. “Much of this area’s Civil War history is related to the creek.”

While improvements to make West Chickamauga Creek more paddler-friendly, Oliver said, “Upstream, Ringgold is interested in similar greenway development on South Chickamauga Creek.”

South Chickamauga Creek flows through Ringgold, past the Elsie Holmes Nature Park, through Graysville and Audubon Acres before merging with West Chickamauga Creek at Camp Jordan.

The two forks of Chickamauga Creek that weave their way through woods, pastures and commercial districts are not so different from when they flowed past American Indian encampments rather than subdivisions, and when water wheels rather then electricity powered industry.

“Our rivers and streams are one of our most precious resources and everything should be done to protect them,” Polansky said.

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