When Stephen Summers talks about the Chattahoochee River, he's talking about a friend. And when he introduces his friend to a newcomer, he shares admiration and respect and wonderment about where that powerful stream has been and where it is going.
Summers took me to meet his friend this week. He told me about its past and how he wants to protect its history. He told me what he has learned from the months they've spent together. He climbed over rocks and mud and into buildings that, if they could talk, could share a lot of stories. He described the charm of a mountain river that flows into Florida oyster beds.
He doesn't sound like an engineer because he isn't.
He studied marketing at Auburn University, so even though he's the senior project manager for Scott Bridge Co. -- an Opelika, Ala., firm that has been putting up bridges since 1933 -- he doesn't talk like a builder as he describes the months his company has spent blowing up old dams and restoring a bridge that the state of Georgia didn't want.
We went over and under the resurrected 14th Street bridge Wednesday, joined by the man who helped save that historic bridge from demolition. In the coming months, it reopens as a pedestrian bridge linking Columbus and Phenix City, and Sam Wellborn believes it will be the most important piece of new construction on either bank of the river.
As the dean of the Georgia Department of Transportation board, Wellborn has seen this project become a valuable component of the city's urban whitewater project.
But Summers educated us on more than rafts and kayaks.
Behind the riverfront lofts at Eagle & Phenix Mills, we went in an old power station that generated electricity for the cotton mills. Turbines sit idle and tables are cluttered with old ledgers that record the rise and fall of the river more than 60 years ago.
Cleaned up, what an interesting bar or restaurant it could be.
We saw the missing span in the 14th Street bridge, which will soon house a tunnel that will be one of the last links in the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, connecting Fort Benning and Bibb City.
We saw an area filled with debris and mud that will be a habitat pool, filled with river water and hundreds of species of fish and flora that make their home in the Chattahoochee.
We walked a new bridge that is decorated with a meandering array of bricks that depict the flow of a river.
As we walked Summers talked, with conviction, about the sanctity of a project that to some workers became more than a construction site.
"We didn't take that much out of the river and we surely didn't put much into it," he said.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com.