those of you who haven’t already found out from their web site, our
own Joan Hutton was named American Whitewater April Volunteer of the
Month for her work coordinating volunteers for Tallulah release
weekends. If you’ve ever been one of “Joan’s people” at the
Tallulah, you know how much that honor is deserved. Saturday,

1, was my first and so far only experience volunteering at a Tallulah
release. I didn’t work the Top of the Stairs (formerly known as
Boater Registration) and I didn’t even visit the launch platform, so
I can’t say anything about those assignments. I spent the morning
working Boater Parking (where the job description is to deal with the
Rangers and the boaters) and the afternoon working the foot bridge
(where the job consists of dealing with the non-boaters who are
curious about the kayakers, ticked that they can’t use the south
stairs to either go up to the rim or down to the river, or both).

first thing Joan doesn’t tell you is that if Joan wants you at the
release, you will be at the release. Five minutes of listening to the
Rangers (no, they’re not all Rangers — they actually come from
several different divisions of DNR — but Rangers seems like a good
general term) makes it clear that they LOVE Joan. That makes sense,
since she co-ordinates the volunteers for all the release days from
all the participating organizations, not just GCA, and makes release
days “run like a well-oiled machine.” Be warned: if you
don’t respond to her
notice and
Joan decides she really wants you there, I have no doubt she could
make one call and have a band of men in green/tan/brown uniforms at
your door about 5:00 a.m.

doesn’t tell you that Boater Parking requires more diplomacy than
serving as ambassador to the UN. The Rangers tend to be an orderly
lot, and are understandably concerned that the parking lot may not be
big enough for the number of boaters, so they want to save space.
That means they’d like to see the earliest boater vehicles parked
nose-up to the fence and the rest in nose-to-nose double lines.

may be surprised to read this, but white water paddlers are really
not park-in-straight-lines kind of folks. Fortunately, when they ask
why its necessary, there’s a ready-made answer: because the Rangers
want them to. The result, haphazard lines with large open areas of
boats, equipment, dogs and mingling boaters worked fine for the
fairly small crowd of about 150 boaters.

the Rangers were all very pleasant. When they’re not telling you how
much they love Joan, they’re talking about how much they like the
release days. When you hear their chatter on the radio (the old,
large, heavy, hard-to-comprehend-anything government-issue radio, not
to be confused with Joan’s newer, smaller, lighter and
even-harder-to-comprehend-anything units), they certainly sound like
they’re enjoying the day. They also obviously think white water
boaters are a little crazy, but they’re hardly alone in that. What I
didn’t know about white water boaters — at

those experienced and dedicated enough to run the gorge — is how
prone they are to talking about paddling as opposed to actually
paddling. A few boaters arrived before the parking lot officially
opened at 9:00, and several shortly after 9:00.

most common question was “When can we paddle?” (to which
the response was “Not until Georgia Power and the Rangers
determine the river level is stabilized”). The river was ready
to go about 9:25, but a lot of the earliest arrivals — including
some who asked when they could start — hadn’t made a move towards
the stairs by 11:00.

surprise was the questions from boaters walking from parked vehicles
to the port-a-potties. “Are they clean?”” “Do
they smell okay?” “Are some ‘men’s’ and some ‘women’s.”
“Is there paper in them?” “Is there enough paper to
last the day/weekend?” “Do the locks work?” All from
people who routinely relieve themselves in the woods and change
clothes in the open.

does tell you that Hurricane Falls, right below the foot bridge, is
LOUD. Unlike the Boater Parking area, the “conversations”
at the bridge — which actually consist of yelling back and forth
from a distance of three feet or less — are mostly with non-boater
park visitors. The boaters mostly just pass the bridge on the way
down the stairs to the river, though a few stop to look from the
bridge at the huge foam, crazy criss-cross hole, 90 degree right turn
to avoid the massive rock wall Hurricane Falls and feel compelled to
mention “I could run that.”

doesn’t tell you that answering the questions from the non-paddlers
at the foot bridge would require a complete understanding of dams,
the gorge itself, both rims, Northeast Georgia geography and
Deliverance. Most want to know why they can’t use the south stairs,
and some of those say they can avoid the boaters coming down, but
they usually understand when they see boaters with kayaks blocking
half their field of vision or spanning the rails from side to side.

question is how the release level compares with the usual level. One
to two minutes of yelling to them about the nearly non-existent
normal “flow,” the 500-on- Saturday vs. 700-on-Sunday
release level and the effect of such a difference on the rapids and
the boaters was usually enough to cause their eyes to glaze over and
make them decide they have to leave before my limited supply of
knowledge was exhausted.

doesn’t tell you the “miscellaneous” questions would be a
challenge for a reference librarian. “How do I get to the end of
the Panther Creek Trail?” (I can drive it, but I can’t describe
it: drive to Toccoa and find a cop to ask.) “Would the bridge be
under water if the dam were blown up?” (I dunno, but you might
want to ask the men from Homeland Security who will meet you at the
top of the stairs.) “How do you pronounce ‘ L’ Eau d’ Or Falls’
and what does it mean?” (Ich weiss nicht; ich spreche nur
Deutsch.) “Are the north stairs or the south stairs longer?”
(I dunno that one either: the south stairs have 327 risers
(lowerers?) between the rim and where they pass the bridge. You climb
the north stairs and then come back down and let me know how many on
that side.)

also doesn’t tell you that ALL the non-boater tourists, including the
older couple who looked and sounded Japanese, know Deliverance was
partly filmed in the gorge. Folks want to know where Jon Voight hung
from the cliff, where the canoe got broken, where the “piggy”
scene was filmed and where the boy with the banjo sat. (The best I
could tell them was that I thought most of the filming was done on
the Chattooga rather than in the gorge.) Joan won’t tell you, but if
you volunteer for the foot bridge, you should make sure to at least
read “Filming Deliverance” in Welander, Sehlinger and
Otey’s “A Canoeing and Kayaking and Guide to Georgia”.

other thing Joan will tell you — correctly — is that volunteering
for a Tallulah release is a great way to spend a pleasant day while
serving the sport and the community. Remember that when she
advertises for volunteers for the November release days. And get
there a little early: its worth it to see the river come alive when
they open the dam.

last thing: congratulations to Ashley Bowen of Chattanooga or
thereabouts, who made her maiden Tallulah Gorge run after working
Boater Parking all day. Way to go, girl. (Joan promised to make her
maiden gorge run on a release Saturday in November.)

By Rick Bellows
The Eddy Line, May 2006