The Chattooga River descends rapidly from the Blue Ridge geologic province and forms the majority of Georgia's northeast boundary between Rabun County and South Carolina's Oconee County. Today, the National Forest Service manages the Chattooga, also known as James Dickey's "Deliverance River," as a National Wild and Scenic River. The Chattooga remains one of the only major free-flowing southern Appalachian rivers.
The region's mountainous topography and prevailing weather patterns, including moisture-rich air from the Gulf of Mexico, act together to drop more than eighty inches of rain and snow annually in the Chattooga's headwaters. These wet conditions help make this region one of the most biologically diverse in the nation. The Chattooga River's adjacent forests contain softwood and hardwood species, including Virginia and white pines, as well as yellow poplar and oak varieties. The understory of this forest canopy comprises dogwoods, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and ferns. Many native plant and animal species, including eastern hemlock, trillium, lady slipper, and salamanders, are particularly sensitive to air and water pollution, as well as to exotic and invasive plants, animals, and insects.
After the American Revolution, veterans received land grants that spurred more settlement in Rabun County, which became a formal county in 1819. One important 1820s establishment in the watershed was the Russell homestead. Located on the South Carolina side of the river and just downriver from the former Chattooga Town site, this property served as a working farm and tavern. Travelers, mostly from South Carolina's Lowcounty, crossed the Chattooga River near the Russell house en route to Highlands, North Carolina.
In 1852 boosters from Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Cincinnati, Ohio, hatched a plan to connect their cities via the Blue Ridge Railroad. The proposed 195-mile line would have crossed the Chattooga where Dick's Creek enters the river, thereby connecting Clayton, Georgia, by rail with Walhalla, South Carolina. However, rising costs associated with extensive tunnel engineering and the economic collapse brought on by the Civil War (1861-65) halted completion of the road by a new group of investors organized under the Black Diamond Railroad Company.
Logging the Chattooga
Wild and Scenic Chattooga
James Dickey's novel Deliverance (1970) and the film version of it, which was filmed on the river in 1972, introduced the nation to the Chattooga. River visitation skyrocketed from fewer than 1,000 to more than 20,000 between 1971 and 1974. A dozen drowning fatalities, general concerns for visitors' safety, and the need to regulate commercial guide services hastened the river's full Wild and Scenic River designation in 1974.
In 2001 approximately 41,000 visitors rafted, canoed, or kayaked the Chattooga, and in high-water years the Chattooga River has carried more than 80,000 visitors. Sumter National Forest maintains numerous hiking trials for day and overnight use, including several miles of the William Bartram Trail. Other recreational activities in the Chattooga River watershed include fishing (rainbow, brook, and native brown trout), chance wildlife observation and hunting (black bear, white tail deer, and ruffed grouse), and waterfall viewing.
Fred Brown and Nell Jones, eds., The Georgia Conservancy's Guide to the North Georgia Mountains, 3d ed. (Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1996).
Butch Clay, A Chattooga River Sourcebook: A Comprehensive Guide to the River and Its Natural and Human History ([Birmingham, Ala.]: Chattooga River Publishing, 1995).
Andrew Gennett, Sound Wormy: Memoir of Andrew Gennett, Lumberman, ed. Nicole Hayler (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002).
John Lane, Chattooga: Descending into the Myth of Deliverance River (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004).
Gerald F. Schroedl, "The Complementary Roles of Research, Cultural Resource Management, and Public Outreach in the Chattooga Archaeological Project," in Culture, Environment, and Conservation in the Appalachian South, ed. Benita J. Howell (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 153-69.
Christopher John Manganiello, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.