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Riverkeeper group takes public on Lanier outing
Residents learn about water quality
Ava Thomas, 6, and Olivia Jolley, 9, listen to a presentation by Jason Ulseth, technical programs director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. - photo by Crystal Ledford

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For more information about the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and its outreach programs, visit

It was back to nature for the Stevens family of Cumming on Saturday.

Parents Shelley and Brent, got children Parker, 8, and Paityn Elizabeth, 4, up early to join about 35 others for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s first Watershed Outing on Lake Lanier.

“We wanted to come out just to try to give the kids some knowledge of what we have around us and what we’ve got going on that we can do instead of just sitting at home playing video games,” Brent Stevens said. “This is the first time [for the kids] to actually be on a boat on the water.”

Passengers came from all over metro Atlanta to take part in the educational tour, held on the Riverkeeper’s 40-foot catamaran that is used as a “floating classroom.”

Riverkeeper is a nonprofit, watchdog group that works to ensure the environmental health of the Chattahoochee and all its associated bodies of water.

“We wanted to be able to reach out to people around the region who had not had a chance to out on the lake or who might want to go out and learn more about the lake, its health, its challenges, that sort of thing,” said Sally Bethea, founding executive director of the organization.

Lanier was formed in the 1950s when the Chattahoochee was dammed. Today, Riverkeeper members work to ensure the lake stays environmentally fit through frequent water quality testing.

Tour-goers got to learn more about those efforts with demonstrations by Jason Ulseth, technical programs director.

Ulseth showed the participants several of the devices used to test lake water for factors such as clarity and oxygen levels.

He said the Riverkeeper organization tests the lake at least once a month at about 10 different locations.

In addition to environmental testing, Bethea said the group conducts educational programs, such as the boat tour, and lobbies for environmentally-friendly legislation.

Bethea was delighted with the turnout Saturday.

“We’re very thrilled that we got such an interest,” she said. “In fact, we had to turn people away from the trip. I think with the success of this one, we’ll probably do two of these [outings] next year.”

Besides the educational aspect of the outing, many onboard relished a chance to enjoy the natural beauty of Lanier. 

“I just wanted to get out on the water and learn something about the lake,” said Jennifer Eggers of Smyrna.

“I’m fairly new to Atlanta and I just haven’t been out here and I miss being out on the water, and I thought I could learn something in the process.”

Her friend, Ginny Johansmeier of Sandy Springs, said bodies of water have a special place in her heart.

“I’ve been a member of the Riverkeeper for maybe 10 years and I really support them because I row with the Rowing Club of Atlanta, so the water is really important to me,” she said.

“Having somebody watching over the water is a very good thing.”