College students Rochelle Dukes, left, and Deidre Hicks take a break from their studies and spend a little quiet time at Riverfront Park in this file photo from February.
ALBANY, Ga. -- The question has long lingered among downtown Albany economic developers: How do we actively involve the magestic Flint River in our plans?
That puzzle has now been solved, and a group that came up with -- and followed through on -- plans to put kayak/canoe/non-motorized vessel launches on the Flint adjacent to the city's popular Riverfront Park is eagerly working through the process that will bring the launches to the river by late summer or early fall.
"This is something I started looking at when I first got here (more than two years ago)," Downtown Manager/Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority President Aaron Blair said Friday. "But we kept running into roadblocks."
Finally Blair and downtown Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Rashelle Beasley brought together a team to help them get through those roadblocks.
"We got (city planner) Tracy Hester, folks from Lanier Engineering who have a great deal of interest in the river and Michael White from Darton (State College) together to help us come up with a plan," Beasley said. "The engineers at Lanier found the perfect places to put the launches, and everyone helped us work with DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers to see what we had to do to put in the launches."
The group was told it needed a buffer variance, a permit that requires a considerable amount of paperwork. But the group persisted. And now their efforts are bearing fruit: The design of the project has been approved, and permitting is expected to soon follow, paving the way for work on the project as soon as the river level allows, probably some time in August or September.
"What it eventually took," Beasley said, "is for a group to get involved that would not take no for an answer."
Blair said the original plan was to locate the launches off Third and Society avenues to "tie in to existing neighborhoods." But geography at those locations proved too big an obstacle. Lanier engineers came up with the approved locations: The Cypress Point Launch near the old railroad tressell just north of Riverfront Park and the Ray Charles Launch near the Oglethorpe Bridge adjacent to Ray Charles Plaza.
ADICA is expected to fund the project, estimated to cost around $50,000, which will also include improvements to accommodate non-motorized vessels at the existing Cox Landing launch near Chehaw Park.
City Manager James Taylor, who has long been a proponent of utilizing the Flint in downtown development plans, said Friday he was excited to hear of the progress made on the launch project.
"Very few cities have the luxury of a river running through them," Taylor said. "People who visit here are always telling me they're amazed by the river; rightfully so, because the Flint is an incredible body of water.
"I don't believe we utilize the river as much as we could, and this is definitely a good step. I think Aaron and his folks have come up with a good plan of making the river a vital part of downtown development."
The timing of the plan couldn't be better. In June, some 350 water enthusiasts will make their way through Albany along the Flint as part of the Paddle Georgia education program.
"This opens the possibility of marketing Albany to a totally different demographic," Beasley said. "With Chehaw's awesome campgrounds, our downtown attractions and a hotel (the downtown Hilton Garden Inn) along the river, it's an excellent tourism opportunity for us."
Blair said ADICA may look at other launches soon after the Cypress Point and Charles launches are completed.
"It makes sense to do these 'easy' ones first," he said. "But we're looking at other launches -- definitely one on the east side of town -- soon. We want to engage the river as much as possible."