At the end of May 2021, the Georgia River Network (GRN) designated the Tugaloo River Water Trail as an established part of the organization’s Georgia Water Trails Network during a ribbon cutting ceremony at Broken Bridges, the water trail’s end point within Stephens County Park.
The ceremony was attended by local dignitaries, leaders and stakeholders and capped off close to three years of work by the Tugaloo River Water Trail Stakeholder Committee to meet Georgia River Network’s criteria for established water trails within the statewide network.
The riverside ribbon cutting followed a celebratory paddle where more than 55 participants explored the length of the water trail, a pristine and historic 10-mile stretch of the Tugaloo River from Yonah Dam to Broken Bridges. After the ribbon cutting, attendees gathered for a gourmet low-country boil dinner catered by the Currahee Club and live music by the Solstice Sisters at Tugaloo Bend Heritage Park.
The designation of the Tugaloo River Water Trail is the first on the river, which will be joining a statewide network of water trails including the nearby Upper Chattahoochee River Water Trail, Chattooga Wild & Scenic Water Trail and Toccoa River Canoe Trail. There are now 21 established water trails in Georgia (comprising 1,700 miles) with the addition of the Tugaloo River Water Trail and 15 water trails under development.
Defined as the water equivalent to a hiking trail, a water trail has clear access points, similar to a trailhead, where swimmers, paddlers and anglers can legally and safely access the trail. To become established, a water trail must be sponsored by a local entity or partnership, feature safe public access points and offer proper signage or kiosks at all river access points including an illustrative map of the water trail and more.
“GRN’s Water Trail Technical Assistance Program helps communities form comprehensive water trail stakeholder partnerships and provides them with guidance and resources to begin developing a sustainable water trail,” said Georgia River Network’s director of water trails and outreach, Gwyneth Moody. “Established water trails provide the local community with recreational and economic opportunities from tourism. It also is an effective way to introduce people to river issues and engage them in the protection of their local waterways.”
Noteworthy for more than its unparalleled natural beauty, the Tugaloo River Water Trail, also known as the Tugaloo River Corridor, is rich with Native American History.
In the 18th century, the Tugaloo River Corridor and its tributaries were home to a variety of Cherokee towns and villages including Estatoe, Noyowee, and Tugaloo Town, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. Following the Revolutionary War, the Tugaloo Corridor became the “gateway to the west” as tens of thousands of settlers began their trek westward on Georgia’s first interstate highway—the Unicoi Turnpike.
Since 2010, Georgia River Network has assisted the development of Water Trails on the: Etowah, Yellow, Broad, North and Middle Oconee, Oconee, Ochlockonee, Alapaha, Satilla, South, South/West Chickamauga, Flint, Little (Clarks Hill Lake), and Tugaloo rivers and is currently providing intensive technical assistance for the development of the Coosawattee Watershed Water Trail and the Upper Oconee Water Trail.
The Tugaloo River Water Trail is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3). The mission of the Water Trail stakeholders is to preserve the natural environment of the Tugaloo River through partnering with residents, key members of Stephens County and other stakeholders in our area.
The Tugaloo River Water Trail offers educational and recreational experiences for all to enjoy. This includes those who come to paddle, study, bird watch, and get up close to the natural environment along the Tugaloo River. As a Water Trail, a main goal is to protect the fragile river environment, so generations to come can enjoy it.
(GRN is a statewide 501(c)(3) organization with the mission of helping everyone enjoy, connect with and advocate for economically vital and clean flowing rivers.)