Jul 14, 2023 - Things to Do

Sally Bethea book recounts battles to clean up the Chattahoochee

Side by side photos of a book with the title "Keeping the Chattahoochee" and Sally Bethea leaning against a shade tree next to a river

Photo: Courtesy of the University of Georgia Press/Bard Wrisley

One of the biggest advocates in the battle to transform the Chattahoochee River from metro Atlanta's drainage ditch to a hiking and paddling paradise is telling her story.

Driving the news: "Keeping the Chattahoochee," by Sally Bethea, the founding executive director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, lands in your favorite bookstore Saturday.

Flashback: In 1995, the advocacy organization, at the time just one year old, sued the city of Atlanta over its persistent sewage spills in the waterway.

  • The environmental activist group emerged victorious, forcing the city to invest billions of dollars in repairing its antiquated sewer system.

Under Bethea, the group launched water monitoring programs (one of which spotted the most recent E. coli outbreak), investigated spills and polluters and fought and championed environmental policy at the state Capitol.

  • She retired in 2014 and afterward taught at Georgia Tech, and still advocates for the river.

Details: In 2019, Bethea started taking regular hikes in East Palisades to the river. The long walks along the waterway she defended for decades triggered memories of battles fought and lessons learned.

  • In the book, she weaves journal entries about those walks with tales of tussling with government officials and polluters to protect water quality and explore the river.

Bethea's favorite spot: Just off the Cabin Creek Trail — the path Bethea hiked most — you'll find a family of American beech trees. The tallest and mightiest of those might date back to the 1800s, she said.

What's next: Bethea will sign copies of the book at the Hewlett Lodge in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area's Island Ford Park on Aug. 15 at 7pm. Reservations required.

  • She'll also discuss "Keeping the Chattahoochee" with former Mayor Shirley Franklin, who ran for office promising to overhaul the sewers, at the Carter Center on Sept. 12 at 7pm.

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