We
stood on the front porch with PFDs and paddles that morning. We were
hitting a wall after going through the usual motions to go paddling.
An unrelenting blast of wind from the west had taken the proverbial
wind out of sails. 30 mph headwind on the Ocoee? No, thanks. Lake
Tugaloo? Fuggetaboutit.


What
a waste; substantial rain had fallen the day before. It wasn’t
until after we conceded the day to household chores that the light
bulb went on: this was begging to be “Get to know your watershed
day.” There were precious few places to paddle with the wind at our
backs and one stood out. We decided to paddle in Atlanta,
downstream from our very own plumbing. We scouted our two options.
Intrenchment Creek looked utterly inviting. It was tranquil, pretty
and, I suppose by the dubious virtue of being immediately downstream
of the sewage treatment plant, free of trash. Best of all, access was
easy along some quiet, unpopulated (dare I say “country”) roads.


A
sign from the city of Atlanta boasted of $20 million in recent
upgrades to the treatment facility. We nodded in approval. To our
noses, it was a credible boast. Next we scouted the South, which was
in an altogether different mood that day. It had spiked eight hours
prior and was still carrying a load of storm water along at a strong
clip. The Forest Park gauge reported 100 cfs. Also in contrast to
Intrenchment, the put-ins and take-outs were on major honkin’
thoroughfares.We weighed the pros and cons of each. After more
consternation and deliberation, Suzanne dowsed the answer. Gentle
Intrenchment Creek was the friendlier of the two options but the
paddling pendulum swung elsewhere…toward where the water was.


Putting
into the South River at Moreland Avenue had many elements of a
commando attack. I hit the emergency flashers and stopped along the
curb just long enough drop off Suzanne and toss boats off the car. An
ill-advised hasty crossing of six traffic lanes brought me to a
driveway at the trucking company across the street. Fire ants bit my
toes while I parked, chased my dry top in the wind, and sprinted back
across the street toward the boats. It was good to be out of sight
and away from the traffic when we carried the boats down and into the
cool dank darkness beneath the bridge. We launched and peeled into
the zippy river as quickly as we could. Sunshine flashed momentarily
as we emerged from beneath Moreland Avenue. And just as quickly, the
swift current ushered us into a thick tree canopy that cradled us in
a nicer kind of shade. The 15 or 20 foot-wide stream ran straight
ahead as far as the eye could see between high vertical banks and a
ceiling of leaves. It resembled a canal, a bright green hallway
decorated with the occasional plastic grocery sack. It was good. It
was alive and beautiful…a triumph of nature over human
interference. Our pursuit of deviant behavior was paying dividends
once again.


The
swift current combined with few eddies made the paddling interesting.
One of the attractions along this stretch is the fabled Constitution
Lakes complex. I was expecting a chain of lakes. Would you believe
it’s actually nothing like the Boundary Waters?? No lakes were
visible. Only the GPS could tell we passed that spot on the map.


A
deer hopped into the stream just ahead of us, and crossed with more
alarm and difficulty than it had anticipated. Fumbling, I managed to
get a photo of its unrecognizable bum; there’s another one of those
for the scrapbook. Passing the confluence of Intrenchment Creek
brought us into our neighborhood’s watershed. I let the triumphant
feeling of being reunited with our very own DNA linger for a moment
or two. Some men’s voices above and beyond the tall banks called to
one another, hurried and insistent. Whoever it was, they were up to
something at least as mischievous as we were, so we shushed each
other and laid low until their car engines gunned and sped away.


There
are three or four shoals between Intrenchment Creek and I-285, and a
nice little boof spot on the downstream side of the interstate. The
stream had no objectionable odor except where these drops aerated the
water; at those places the smell of effluent and chlorine was similar
to the metro Chattahoochee. It was all fun and games until I got
splashed in the mouth while carving a wave in the chute below the
Bouldercrest bridge. Then I was ready to call it a day. Our take-out
was a wooded stretch along River Road, just downstream of
Bouldercrest. A road sign at this makeshift access point promotes a
sediment removal project executed jointly by the Corps of Engineers
and Dekalb County. What remains of that abandoned enterprise is a
rusting rig—a small barge of some sort that used to float but is
now scuttled in the river, leaking enough petroleum to leave a sheen
spanning the river from bank to bank. Hopefully, it will get dealt
with soon.

By Tom Welander
From The Eddy Line, July 2008