Andrea Gibby, mayor of Young Harris, hadn't been to Columbus in 20 years, so her assessment of the city's downtown renaissance carries a meaningful perspective.
"I'm so impressed with the fact that you take what you've got and you use it," Gibby said Friday after she finished rafting the 2.5-mile Chattahoochee Whitewater Park, the world's longest urban whitewater course, which opened this year after two dams were breached. "I mean, it's so incredible. You're thinking outside the box."
Gibby was among the 50 folks representing 25 cities in the state at the Georgia Municipal Association's fall gathering, which started Wednesday night. Besides meetings of the board of directors, legislative policy council and strategic planning, the group also toured area attractions such as the National Infantry Museum and Historic District of Columbus.
Gerald Lord, a Dahlonega city councilman, recalled visiting Columbus in the 1960s.
"The area where we're staying near the Marriott was a slum when I was here in the 1960s," he said. "I don't say that derogatorily, but it's amazing how much it has changed. We rode down the street yesterday, and those houses have been remodeled. You see a big change."
The whitewater experience capped the association's session.
"I wanted to take this opportunity to show them about an urban renewal, revitalization effort," said Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. "The pedestrian bridge, how we took a weight-restricted bridge and turned it into an amenity, where environmentalism meets economic development, so we had a really great conversation coming down the river in the midst of the screams and hollers and encouraging words to continue paddling."
USA Today has picked the Chattahoochee Whitewater Park as one of the top 12 man-made adventures in the world.
Bucky Johnson, mayor of Norcross, has been rafting on the Chattooga and Nantahala rivers, and he compares the Chattahoochee course favorably.
"It's first class," he said. "It's not roughing it like you do at some of the other places. They have brand-new equipment, the guides are funny, and it's a trip just about anybody can take."
Asked whether anyone fell out of his raft, Johnson laughed and said, "What happens on the boat stays on the boat."