Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview with Conasauga River Alliance Director Joshua Smith on a new canoe access ramp

 On February 14th I was able to join a good friend and colleague Josh Smith in helping to construct a new "green" canoe access ramp on the Conasauga River.  After spending the day working with Josh, a host of contractors, community members, and a Boy Scout troop, I asked Josh a few questions about his work with the Conasauga River Alliance (CRA) and about the new boat ramps being constructed to promote access to paddlers and fishermen on the Conasauga River.

Q:  What are your title, job, and responsibilities with the CRA?

Coconut fiber logs stabilizing the
stream bank
A:  My title is Watershed Director of the Conasauga River Alliance.  While fundraising and ensuring organizational sustainability are key parts of my job, a large portion of my time is spent managing projects for the organization.  This management includes obtaining and implementing grants from various sources.  Our main funding source for projects originates from the EPA’s non-point source pollution reduction grants.  These “Clean Water Act” grants typically fund projects that reduce pollutants in runoff in an attempt to bring the water quality of our streams into compliance with state standards.  Many of our clean water projects focus on improving the quality of agricultural runoff, but we also help low-income citizens afford septic system repair in residential areas.

Q:  Tell us a little bit about the canoe access ramp.  Where is it located?  Why did you choose this location?  Are there other canoe access ramps being built?

A:  The Conasauga Canoe Access project is a multi-faceted endeavor that required “grass roots” support to complete.  The canoe “put-in” is located in Beaverdale, GA.  This location was chosen due to the fact that it was used heavily by locals attempting to access the river.  This spot was essentially “loved to death”.  Severe bank and floodplain erosion was caused by heavy vehicle and foot traffic, despite the fact that it was initially difficult to launch a canoe or kayak from.  Our goals of the project at Beaverdale were to block vehicle access while providing a parking area, stabilize the river bank and floodplain to reduce erosion, install educational signage discussing the biodiversity of the river system, and provide an easy opportunity to access the river.

A canoe “take-out” was constructed downstream of Beaverdale next to Norton Bridge.  This effort was conducted by Dalton Utilities, which has been a partner on several of our other projects.  They have produced an access point, as well as a parking area.  Thanks to their generosity, the public can now enjoy a 3 – 5 hour float on the Conasauga River without the struggle of worrying how to get your boat in or out of the river.

Q:  Where is the funding for this project coming from?

A:  This project was funded by a Clean Water Act (Section 319) non-point source pollution reduction grant, as well as a grant from World Wildlife Fund and Coca-Cola.

Q:  Who else has been involved in the project?  Did you have any volunteers help?

A:  Our main project partner on this project (aside from the funding sources) is Dalton Utilities.  They have constructed their own canoe ramp downstream from ours.  This will serve as the “take out” spot for many enthusiasts that use the river.  Overall, this endeavor had many volunteers, and couldn’t have been completed without discounted services and materials from multiple sources.  This was truly a “grass-roots” community project.

One local Boy Scout used a portion of this construction as his Eagle Scout project, and rallied his fellow scouts to help on multiple volunteer Saturdays in order to complete a foot trail to the river.  The educational signage and bathroom was constructed “at-cost” by a local contractor who simply loves to support community projects (Rick Pippen; North Georgia Agricultural Fairgrounds).  Vulcan Materials gave us quite a discount on limestone rock that was needed to expand the parking area and prevent vehicle access to the river bank.  

Q:  What should canoeists expect to see when they canoe on the Conasauga?  Are there other recreational opportunities along the river?

A:  This is the first access point to be provided on the Conasauga River outside of the National Forest(s).  When canoeing down the river, you should expect to see a multitude of fish swimming under your boat.  The Conasauga River has over 70 species of fish, and you constantly see silhouettes darting as you paddle down.  Fishing is very popular in the area, and most local paddlers bring along a rod and reel.  If you visit, you may also see people fishing from the bank in several areas.

The waterfowl is seasonally abundant, and I have personally seen several species of duck, as well as blue heron and sandhill cranes.  Whitetail deer and raccoons are some of the more common encounters.  Some lucky paddlers have been fortunate enough to view river otters during their float.
The banks of the Conasauga are well vegetated, so during the summer there is abundant shade.  This vegetation also makes you feel like you are miles away, although you are only about 20 minutes from Dalton.  This section of the Conasauga is perfect for beginning paddlers, since most of the challenging rapids are further upstream in the mountains.  The flow of the river varies with the precipitation, but the spring and fall typically provide a relaxing pace perfect for enjoying the scenery.


Q:  What are the long term benefits of this project?  What do you hope to accomplish?

Cocnut fiber logs being used to create the canoe
A:  The main goal of this project is to promote conservation within the Conasauga Watershed.  Accomplishing this goal can be somewhat difficult if there is no access to the river.  In order for the residents and visitors to develop a relationship with the Conasauga, they need to be in it, or be able to spend time on its banks.  In addition, they need to be aware of the ecological significance of the river.  We hope that the recreation will draw people to the access sites, and that they will learn about the river from our educational signage.  In short, we hope to promote conservation in the Conasauga Watershed through education and recreation.

It is also our hope that our efforts will show the local counties and cities the benefits of river access points.  If this can be accomplished, adding additional points upstream or downstream would be extremely cost-effective (especially when compared to building a hiking trail or mountain bike path).  By expanding the options for paddlers, the river may attract a more diverse group of recreationists that would aid in spreading our message of conservation.

Fiber matting will provide erosion control and a
place for plants to take root and further stabilize
the stream bank.

-Lee Friedlander, TNACI Conservation Associate

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