I
had read about the Towaliga in Sehlinger and Otey’s Southern Georgia
Canoeing, and in Reese Turrentine’s account in Brown’s Guide to
Georgia. But there was never an Eddy Line account during my editorial
tenure, from ’79 through ’91, and I don’t recall seeing one since. I
pictured the Towaliga as a lot of flat water, some deadfalls, and a
few small ledges.


Most
of the gradient on the Towaliga occurs in High Falls. We visited High
Falls State Park on a Saturday too windy for paddling. We hiked the
left bank trail down to the last big ledge, and looked SE downstream.
Flat water, but nicely forested, and too wide to be blocked by
deadfalls. So the next day, when the wind had dropped and my wife was
back from church, instead of doing my usual exercise run on the Metro
Chattahoochee, I said, “Let’s go back down to High Falls. I want
to run eight miles on the Towaliga.


It
takes scarcely more than an hour to drive from Atlanta to High Falls
State Park, just east of I-75 on a high step in the Piedmont. We
drove down to the lower campground area, below the falls and the last
rapid on river right, to put in. The rangers did not want us there;
they were cutting dead wood and wished the area closed, but I pointed
out to them that I would be much more at risk if I had to portage the
boat down the “Red” trail on river left.


I
got away at 2:15. Weather was fair, current was good, and the water
was clear enough to show large rocks a few feet below. The first mile
and some were just as I had pictured the Towaliga: red clay banks,
smooth brown water, mixed hardwood forest, and occasional homes, some
in the “redneck renaissance” style. One imposing house was
set back away from the river, while at bank side was a collage of
concrete blocks, plastic chairs, and recycled containers. Oh, well,
by evening I would have done eight plus miles of river I had never
seen before.


The
Towaliga meandered southward, and then widened and pooled as it
turned briefly north. Some rock outcrops showed on the right bank.
The pooling suggested ledges coming up, and as the river curved east
again, sure enough, there were broken ledges around a little pine
topped island. Three teens were wading across toward the island,
having tied their electric motor powered fishing boat to a tree in
the slack water above the rapid. I found just enough water over the
ledges to snake from chute to chute.


After
this, seldom did I paddle as much as a half mile without coming to
another class one or two rapid. Most were formed by broken ledges,
where the water spread thin, and I had to work back and forth to hit
chutes deep enough to avoid sticking. Strongly focused chutes were
rare, and it would take a lot more water to create wave trains, but
these were not dinky rapids, and some had a total drop of several
feet. The bottom of the river was littered with large rocks, and
there were occasional shelves along the banks which would allow a
small group to stop for lunch.


The
first five miles took me to a new concrete “Flat Bridge” on
Box Anvil Road. There was river access just below the bridge on the
left bank. More shallow rapids were under and below the bridge, and
around the next bend was a string of small islands where the river,
at flood stage, had been forced over by a ledge to cut through the
woods. Soon came a muskrat carrying a large silvery mollusk, and then
on the right bank, one of the biggest loblolly pines I have seen
outside of the Congaree swamp in SC.


The
last class 2 ledge system came at about mile 7, and just below on the
right, the Little Towaliga River entered. The Little T has much more
gradient, many more ledges, but also many more tree problems, and far
fewer runnable days per year, than the big Towaliga.


The
Little Towaliga had cut so much rock, and had washed down so much
sand and gravel, that the character of the main river changed from a
now-and-then ledge river to one with gravel shoals. Less than a mile
remained to the Hwy 42 bridge. Painted on one of the bridge pillars
was a 10 foot scale, topped by the words, “very high!” I
found a place to land the boat and pull it up the steep bank, just
downstream of the bridge on the left side. On the left upstream side
is a drive-down loading area where my wife brought the Outback after
she had tired of waiting for me at the wrong bridge. We were both
concerned by the time she arrived, but, not to worry, nothing was
really wrong.


Let’s
take a short inventory of similar rivers, fairly easy stretches
runnable about half the year with occasional rapids scattered fairly
evenly along their length. These include the Hudson, the Upper
Chattahoochee from Duncan to Belton Bridge, the Ocmulgee from Dames
Ferry to Arkwright. These are really Piedmont rather than mountain
runs. It’s hard to say why the Towaliga has received little GCA
mention. Not that it is a stupendous find; it’s just an easy,
pleasant river, close to Atlanta, with a quick shuttle, which more
people might enjoy.


Some
details. There is no USGS gauge for the Towaliga. For a good, smooth
run with enough water to make the ledges easy, wait for at least 180
cfs on the Little River (near Eatonton) or the Murder Creek gauges. I
suggest open boats, or “old school” kayaks which cover the
flats easily.


To
get to the put-in, each car will have to fork over $2 for the High
Falls State Park fee. This will get you down to river right parking,
and you can put in there if you want to boof the class 3 ledge which
is the last of the High Falls white water. If the gate to the lower
campground is open, go ahead and drive in a little ways to where you
can find a sandy trail down to the bank below the ledge. If you have
a large party, you may want to call the head ranger in advance and
explain what you will be doing.

by
Gary DeBacher
March
13, 2005.

From
The Eddy Line, Sept. 2006.