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The Urban Wilds of Atlanta, GA

Shooting the
Chattahoochee National Recreation Area

<c> David Murphy 2004

 
 
 
 

Nature photographers travel extensively looking for places to photograph that are truly wild. Many of us remember a day in the not too distant past when we could travel by car a short 20 minutes and escape our urban or suburban surroundings. Sadly, in most of our major cities, population growth has consumed much of these “close-in” wilderness areas. So, it comes as a great treat that those of us who live in the Atlanta, GA area are fortunate to be able to visit a string of National Parks only about 15 miles outside of downtown. Even better, if you are in the area on business or pleasure, you too can now share our little secret --- “The ‘hooch.”

The Chattahoochee National Recreation Area (http://www.nps.gov/chat/pphtml/maps.html) is a true “string of pearls” running up the banks the Chattahoochee River from about the Northern Perimeter (I-285) to well beyond the towns of Roswell and Alpharetta, GA. Large sections of land along the riverbank have been preserved as either National Park or some form of city/state park or preserve. While not a completely contiguous park (the occasional sub-division or golf course intrudes), the string-of-pearls is none-the-less a marvelous resource for hikers, joggers, fishermen, bird watchers, and yes, even nature photographers. The entire park is divided into about a dozen different areas and I have traipsed over many of them in search of good photos.

I. Favorite Areas

Gold Branch: This is perhaps my most favorite pearl in the string. Within minutes of leaving this sparsely attended park, you can easily believe that you are 100 miles from the nearest town. As you follow the trail up and down a series of hills, make your way towards the River or, more appropriately, “the lake” since, at this point, the River has been dammed and the resulting lake --- Bull Sluice Lake – makes for excellent habitat for migratory birds. I have seen many Great Blue Heron, Egrets, Geese, Ducks, and Osprey along with a raft of smaller birds. The slow moving water and the numerous inlets make for some marvelous scenery.

Sope Creek: Located on Paper Mill Road, Sope Creek affords excellent opportunities to photograph a wonderfully pristine creek (especially in the fall) as well as a pre-Civil War paper mill complex which now stands in beautiful ruins along both banks of the creek. Avian wildlife abounds and patient waiting will likely provide you with a great photographic opportunities.

East/West Palisades: This is the “closest-in” of the pearls and should not be missed. This park is aptly named as the rock cliffs that overhang the river provide for some exceptional views – especially on the East Palisades side. Be prepared for some strenuous hikes along very narrow trails carved into the rock face (note: I would not try this one after a rain storm or if the rocks are wet). However, should you take the challenge, your walk will be rewarded with some great shots.

Vickery Creek: The story of Vickery Creek is the story of the beginnings of the town of Roswell, GA. Follow the trails to the old mill dam for some fantastic shots. The pre-Civil War dam provided the power to the local cloth mills right up into the early part of the 20th century. Unfortunately, certain areas along the creek itself are crisscrossed with various runs of above-ground sewer pipe which distract from some of the vistas. But, most of the park and the creek is pristine and is well worth the short trip.


Johnson Ferry: Located at the intersection of Johnson Ferry Road and the Chattahoochee River, this park straddles the river on either side of the road. I enjoy the “North” park more as it provides some excellent opportunities to shoot both open meadows and swampy bottom land. Geese, ducks, and hawks are common. Also, if you enjoy shooting in the fog, the natural temperature inversion caused by the river and the surrounding hills creates lots of opportunities for fog shots, especially in the winter months.

II. Getting There

From downtown Atlanta, head north up I-75 about 15 miles. The first in the series of parks (East and West Palisades) start in the area where the Chattahoochee River and I-75 intersect just inside the I-285 perimeter. Parking is $2/day or an annual pass can be purchased. Call ahead to the visitor information desk or refer to the website like above for more specific information.


III. Bottom Line

If you are looking for close-in, unspoiled beauty and have a few hours to kill before your next business meeting, family function, or just ‘cause you are passin’ through, you owe it to yourself to head over to the ‘Hooch --- just be sure to bring your favorite camera, sturdy shoes, $2.00 for parking, and your practiced eye. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

 

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