ecoBenefete: River Return

On Friday, September 26, more than 300 friends and sustainability and business leaders gathered at ecoBenefête, the Georgia Conservancy's annual gala, to recognize the civic leadership of Columbus, Georgia as the Conservancy’s 2014 Distinguished Conservationists. ecoBenefete celebrated all those who played a role in recapturing the natural beauty and splendor of the Chattahoochee River as it runs through downtown Columbus. John Turner, chairman of the Chattahoochee River Restoration Committee, accepted the award on behalf of Columbus.

The Distinguished Conservationist award honors the remarkable achievements of great Georgians who improve our lives through the protection of the environment. The Columbus whitewater project and its supporters embody the spirit of that award.

In 2013, after a decades-long effort that touched the terms of five mayors and included the removal of two historic but outdated dams, city leaders in Columbus unveiled the largest urban whitewater course in the world. The opening of the river corridor created one of the South’s great urban outdoor amenities. It is spurring economic development with the river and other natural areas as focal points.

Importantly, the dam removals also restored habitat critical for rare and endangered species such as shoal spider lilies, shoal bass, and a variety of freshwater mussels. The dam removals and whitewater development have benefited both the environment and the local economy, representing precisely the type of balance the Conservancy has supported during its nearly 50 year history. At the intersection of outdoor recreation and sustainable development, people and the environment thrive.

Past recipients of the Distinguished Conservationist Award include Ben Slade, Will Harris III, Arthur Blank, Cody Laird Jr., Jim Kennedy, Emory University, Ray Weeks, Atlantic Station, Clay Long, Charles Brewer, Laura and Rutherford Seydel, Garden Club of Georgia, James Mackay, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, AJC Horizon Section, Governor Zell Miller, Senator Sam Nunn, Ted Turner, Ray C. Anderson, Chuck Leavell and Eugene Odum.

The evening was filled with wonderful food and drink, as well as music from our friends, Sailing To Denver and City Mouse.