2023 November Report – Sally Bethea

Nov. 18, 2023, Walk ‘n Talk with Sally Bethea, Founding Director of the Chattahoochee RiverKeeper.

Meeting on the top of Council Bluff on a perfect, blue sky morning overlooking the clear, fast flowing Chattahoochee, Sally Bethea’s delight with the River and with being back at McIntosh was intoxicating. She was here to share her history with the River and to celebrate the fact that the Chattahoochee is now considered to be 80 percent cleaner than it was in 1994, when the RiverKeepers took up the battle to hold accountable the powerful corporate and government polluters that had made the Chattahoochee the cesspool for Atlanta.

For two decades, Sally was engaged in working full time as a leader in this battle while at the same time taking seriously the responsibilities of being the mother of two young sons. She describes herself as running at top speed, body and mind. She helped make the River beautiful, but had little time to glory in it or to be soothed and sustained by it. After retirement and with the prolongation of the pandemic, Sally set out to slow down and examine in detail the watershed that she had helped to revive.

Sally’s memoir, “Keeping the Chattahoochee” chronicles her part in the amazing RiverKeeper story as well as her daily excursions for more than year along a single path along a forested creek within the Chattahoochee watershed. While a time-line is provided for the significant RiverKeeper highlights between 1994 and 2016, the stories are not told in chronological order, but instead are triggered by her reflections along her daily walks.
During her talk on Council Bluff, Sally recounted battle stories of particular interest to those of us living in Carroll County. For example, we heard some details about the early days of the establishment of the RiverKeepers, including Sally’s success in bringing Newt Gingrich and Cynthia McKinney together to put bi-partisan pressure on the EPD to take a more proactive role in its oversight of Atlanta’s progress in dealing with its sewage problem.

Throughout her presentation, Sally celebrated the improvements in the both government interest in clean water and improvements in corporate compliance with regulations to control pollution. But with this satisfaction came persistent warnings for continued watchfulness on the part of environmental advocates, including CRK and local citizens who care. Hundreds of volunteers participate is sampling water from different parts of the river and from streams within the watershed – always monitoring water conditions and watching out for new sources of pollution.

As the part of the River shared by Moore’s Bridge Park, McIntosh Reserve Park and Chattahoochee Bend State Park increasingly becomes accessible and used for recreation, it becomes imperative for more volunteers to become active in monitoring the water quality of our local feeder streams. Questions from those attending Sally’s talk did reflect local concerns for the continued improvement in our part of the Chattahoochee as well as in Carroll County’s part of the Tallapoosa watershed. For information on the CRK water watch program: https://chattahoochee.org/our-work/water-quality-monitoring/

Sally continues her reflections on nature and her environmental advocacy through her monthly column, “Above the Waterline” in the on-line publication, “Rough Draft.” At her talk, Sally mentioned her admiration for the work of Rachel Carson, and noted that in 2021, she had an opportunity to vacation in the summer cabin in Maine built by Carson. In one of her archived “Rough Draft” articles, she reported on her experiences at the cabin, with personally significant references to Carson’s major works: https://roughdraftatlanta.com/2021/08/25/above-the-waterline-the-sea-poet-who-changed-the-world/

To see some pictures taken at Sally’s talk see the Photos / Walk and Talk Albums page.

For information about Keeping the Chattahoochee: Reviving and Defending a Great Southern River: