Mayors, businessman and environmentalists took bows Saturday morning as the Chattahoochee River whitewater course opened for rafters with a grand ceremony.
But it was John Turner, a W.C. Bradley Co., executive and the driving force behind the nearly 13-year project to blow up two dams and reverse a 150 years of industrial history, who put it best.
"There is one star of this great, big story -- and that is this river," Turner said as rafts dove into a man-man rapid just behind him. "It was amazing when we got here 150 years ago, and it will be amazing a thousand years from now."
It has taken $24.4 million and years of sorting through governmental red tape to knock down the Eagle & Phenix and City Mills dams. The only work left to do on the 2.5-mile course is the launch pad just below the North Highlands Dam. It should be completed before the end of the summer. A temporary launch site as been set on on the Alabama side.
Whitewater Express, an Atlanta-based outfitter that operates in three rivers in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, expected more than 400 customers paying between $32.50 and $48.50 to run the river between 11 a.m. and dark.
In a day made for rafting, but first there had to be a ceremony that drew more than 1,600 spectators on both river banks, according to a Columbus Police crowd estimate.
While many saw rafts, Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe and Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson saw the start of an two-city economic development project.
"We're going to ride this tide together," said Lowe, a former Alabama football player.
The region's history was built in this river," Tomlinson said. She then referred to Columbus' 25-year search for an "it" that will drive tourism and civic pride.
"We have our IT," Tomlinson said. "We did not contrive it. Our wow factor is genuinely and authentically Columbus, Phenix City and the Chattahoochee Valley."
Turner was given credit for his role by Uptown Columbus Inc. President Richard Bishop.
"John Turner owned this project," Bishop said. "He was our general manager, our coach and our quarterback. He kept this project on track for 12-plus year."
Turner deflected much of the credit, thanking everyone from his wife, Amandah, to Georgia Power Co., which owns and operates the dams that control the free-flowing water into downtown Columbus.
"There is nothing singular or individual about it," he said.