Tracing the history of whitewater in Columbus

   COLUMBUS, Ga.  John Turner has been immersed in the whitewater project over fifteen years.  Turner is an executive with the W.C. Bradley Company in Columbus and is the chairman of the River Restoration Committee.

   Turner is quick to deflect credit for the whitewater concept.  He says the original idea was brought up in the 70's by local outdoorsman Neal Wickham and his sidekick Joe Smith.  Turner says, “They were the first to really recognize that hidden behind these dams had to be some pretty powerful rapids.”

   In the late 1990's Rick McLaughlin visited Columbus.  He was one of the designers of the Olympic whitewater course on the Ocoee River in Tennessee.  He and fellow designer John Anderson were impressed with what they saw here.

   Turner recalls they were standing on the Columbus Riverwalk overlooking the Chattahoochee River and turned to each other and said, “The Olympics should have been here.”

   Turner says the duo recognized the whitewater potential locked behind the Eagle and Phenix and City Mills dams.  They also loved the fact that the river flows between two cities with all the amenities needed to host a world class event.  Adds Turner, “They were also the first to help us understand that these dams had really served their purpose.”

   In light of what McLaughlin and Anderson had to say, Turner says, “As a community I'm not sure we ever really had a choice but to do this project.”

   It's been just over a year since the Eagle and Phenix dam was breached, giving folks in our area their first glimpse of the whitewater to come.  The results have not been disappointing for Turner.  “Some of the experts have come and experienced these rapids since the dam was blown and have used words like…you can't go anywhere south of West Virginia and experience this kind of whitewater.”

   The wave shaper that was embedded in the river to create a continuous wave has not been a disappointment either.  Turner says, “We felt like we wouldn't live up to the promise of the project if we didn't have one truly reliable and spectacular feature…the kind of place where you could host a world championship of kayaking.”

   Folks with the whitewater project have wondered whether a surfer would be able to navigate the continuous wave.  Several weeks ago someone did just that! 

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