Are you rethinking kids/teens tubing the Chattahoochee?

The recent drowning death of 9-year-old Anna Van Horn while tubing the Chattahoochee River has brought a lot of publicity to how quickly the river can rise and how fast it can move when water is released upstream. Tubing down the Chattahoochee is absolutely an Atlanta tradition, but I am wondering if parents are reconsidering letting their kids and teens on the river?

From the AJC:

“Anna’s drowning death was the first this year that occurred in rising waters during a dam discharge. Last year, two people drowned during the releases. Seventeen have drowned on the river since 2000, but federal officials didn’t know how many of those deaths came during dam discharges.”

“ ‘When those gates open, you don’t stand a chance if you’re out there,” said angler Bob Dejardin, fly-fishing just downstream from the dam one day last week. “It’s really dangerous.” Federal officials said the company that rented Anna and her friends tubes followed rules established by the National Park Service.”

“Among those rules: making sure tubers know about the dam discharges, ensuring customers are wearing proper flotation devices, and not allowing any tubing north of the Ga. 20 bridge two hours before a dam discharge. Anna’s group entered the river just below the bridge, where there’s no requirement to leave the water when the sirens sound.”

I went down the river with friends as a senior in high school. I think my brother went in high school and college. Looking back now I am wondering what my parents were thinking letting us go rafting down a river without them. I definitely didn’t know much about any dangers of the river. You rented a tube and you floated with your friends. I don’t remember anyone warning us about discharging water causing the river to rise and run fast. I can’t even remember if we wore life jackets. I hope we did.

I do remember a bunch a people of people jumping from a high ledge, and I just kept thinking this cannot be safe.

Irun, who is one of regulars, shared a very scary river story last week when were discussing what drowning really looks like. If you missed the story here it is:

“OK, so even if your kid CAN swim that doesn’t mean they’re not at risk of drowning.

So, here’s a recent story.

Last weekend I took my son, who is almost 10 and knows how to swim, tubing on the Hooch. The water was slow moving, deep in places, and 50F.

Within about 10 minutes of getting on our tubes he flips off.

He had a life vest on, one of those orange ones that just go around the neck with a strap around the waist. The belt, however, had a faulty loop where you tighten it and IMMEDIATELY the life vest floated up around his head and it and the strap impeded my son’s ability to move his arms.

He kept trying to get back on the tube but because the water was over his head all he did was flip it over and over. The water was 50F. Very, very quickly, in less than a minute he started to panic.

I was about 10 feet away so I hopped off my tube, swam over, grabbed him and his tube in a rear active assist (I was a trained lifeguard in college), and brought him to the shore. Once there I swapped out his faulty vest for my working one, put him back on his tube, and told him to be careful about falling off again. Then I swam to my tube, swam back to shore, and got back on.

Once I was back on I warned him and the other boys that if they fell off, to remain calm despite the cold, grab their tube by the handle and swim to shore so they could get back on. Because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get to any or all of them in time. Note that I wasn’t the only adult but we were at a ratio of 2 boys:1 adult.

Sure enough, each boy fell of a few times but they remembered my instructions, except for one, who panicked and I had to re-enact my assistance.

The very real scare we had with my son was mostly the result of the faulty vest hindering his movement and the VERY cold water. Even if he’d not had a vest at all I think the cold water would have made it difficult for him to rescue himself once he grew tired after not being able to get back on his tube. The moment he started to panic I could see him start to go into that automatic drowning response and FORGET his knowledge of swimming.

So it’s VERY important you don’t put too much faith in your kid’s ability to swim. I have to say that lifeguard training did a LOT for me with regards to staying calm. I believe I will have my son take a course when he’s old enough.

BTW, the very day after our trip was the day that little girl, close in age to my son, drowned. And she was wearing a vest at some point.

Be very vigilant.”

So I am wondering with all this publicity if parents are taking the risks of the Chattahoochee River more seriously? Would you feel as comfortable going down with your kids or teens after reading so much about the possible quick changes to flow and level? Would you let your teens go just with buddies?

– Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, Momania. Follow me on Twitter (ajcMomania) and read what I am reading each day. Great stories on family health, family fun, parenting,  fashion, stars, and more. )

23 comments Add your comment


June 13th, 2011
7:24 am

Does anyone remember the “Great Chattahoochee Raft Race”? It was AWESOME! Beer companies were sponsors, and I have seen VERY few events of any kind that featured so much debauchery. Literally thousands of beautiful Georgia girls partying hard, wearing very few clothes…if any. It was heaven for shaggy.

I had a friend that lived in Riverbend, which was a legendary apartment complex right on the hooch. When we did a weekender, we usually started at Morgan Falls and pulled out at RB. Then, the REAL partying started…most of which I can’t write about here. A LOT of nudity, free flowing booze, and other “stuff”.

In those days, the traditional way to “shoot the hooch”, was to have a spare tube floating behind the main float, to put the large cooler of beer that would be mostly empty by the end of the float. It was not rare to find a cooler of beer and stuff that had come unattached from its owner, and made the trip on its own. Don’t worry, nothing went to waste.

Funny, you never heard about drownings then, just the fun. Of course, all good things come to pass. There was a major bathroom problem on the hooch, (there weren’t any) which forced all manner of people to seek out “services” at any available mansion estate alongside the river. For some reason, these wealthy owners didn’t like finding masses of drunk, naked young people relieving themselves in their landscaping…or sometimes just walking in and using the bathroom proper.

I guess the hooch then, wasn’t much of a family entertainment area, but the families went to Six Flags then for that anyway.


June 13th, 2011
8:08 am

This situation definately made me think. I have never tubed down the river but had been considering it because the kids love tubing in Helen. I can honestly say that I have a false sense of security that as long as my kids have life vests on, they are safe. I didn’t know anything about the dam release and had no idea the waters got that rough. I will put more thought into taking my 10 and 7 yr old now. I’d probably still do it but will want to know more about it.


June 13th, 2011
9:01 am

The danger with the water release is only in the area where this incident occurred, which is close to where the water is released, which is just below the dam and the Hwy 20 bridge that spans Forsyth and Gwinnett counties – we still cannot figure out what happened this time since the child was wearing a life vest and had a tube – the newspaper and other reporting venues have not been very clear at all about what happened and why the floatation vest did not help. It is just a tragic event, every parent’s worst nightmare, especially since the child was with a baby sitter who thought all was safe.

If you put your raft in at Morgan Falls (a la the old “raft race”, as Shaggy has so eloquently remembered), or anywhere south of Jones Bridge Park in Gwinnett County, if you can still put a raft in the Hooch at those points, you are really not in any ADDITIONAL danger as the water release has dissipated by the time it reaches that area – so there is really no additional danger unless someone falls out, has no life vest, does not know how to swim, and panics.

I was wondering when “all things are bad T” was going to panic about this one!


June 13th, 2011
9:04 am

It’s water. It’s a river. There are risks. You do what you can to minimize those risks, and move forward. If anything, this sad incident taught everyone to at least be aware of releases, and perhaps avoid the river on those days with children or weak swimmers. With the recent drought, people may have forgotten that the ‘Hooch begins at a big-ass damn up in Buford, where there are releases when the dam gets to a certain level. :-) It’s not a bad field trip, btw, to go up to Buford Dam and see how it works, etc.

Honestly, though, my concern with the ‘Hooch was never the water flow, but what flowed into the water! It was always my understand that the ‘Hooch wasn’t particularly clean . . . that’s what would give me pause! There’s 150 wastewater treatment plans that are allowed to discharge into the ‘Hooch between Helen and West Point. I know the water is treated, blah, blah, blah — but still . . . ick!


June 13th, 2011
9:37 am


The hooch is clean enough, and cold enough, for trout to live, and grow pretty big, all the way to Vinings, and they (trout) don’t tolerate dirty water. Now, past Atlanta, where all of the real crap goes into the hooch, I would not swim or eat any fish coming out of the water. The water smells past that point.

West Point lake serves as a sewage sludge trap for Atlanta, so the water quality actually improves markedly past the lake. hat lake has some of the best fishing, but you would be insane to eat anything coming from it.


June 13th, 2011
10:26 am

We went tubing last year in the Great Smoky Mtns. in NC. It was a nice, calm river, with few fast areas. However, it was cold. My 7 year old’s tube got loose from mine and my husband’s, and was probably about 100 yards down the river ahead of us. He was screaming. He finally got ahold of a branch and clung on for dear life. My husband caught up to him and we continued on down the river.

On the same trip, my 4 year old’s tube flipped over. Thankfully, as it was flipping, I grabbed him and threw him on my lap.

Needless to say, we haven’t been tubing since. The kids are terrified.

usually lurking

June 13th, 2011
10:41 am

Those orange vests are pretty much useless. I’d bring my own PFDs, especially for younger kids.


June 13th, 2011
10:42 am

Back in the 80’s we would get a lot of friends together similar to the Great Raft Race. We would tie the rafts together with the cooler in a raft in the middle. Couples would wander off in their own rafts if they needed some private time. Us girls would wear our tinest bathing suits and if we lost our tops, someone down the way would find it. Such good memories.

Shaggy, we didn’t stop at Riverbend, but I spent many crazy nights parting there with friends.


June 13th, 2011
11:26 am

@shaggy I remember all you mentioned. I lived next to Riverbend!!! My fondest memories are at Divers Cliff. Half the people who jumped were nekkid.

One time we pulled a pony keg in the spare tube. Talk about a party!!!!

Tad Jackson

June 13th, 2011
11:32 am

Me, too. I remember it all. Atlanta is so different today. I also miss Willis the Guard, Yetta Levitt, and Gary McKee … and the old Underground. Gone, gone.


June 13th, 2011
12:41 pm

LM & of course, JJ

We might have come into “contact” there…you never know. I made many “contacts” there, back in the day.

JJ – I “did” the Diver’s Cliff plunge a few times. The most memorable one was under a full moon, in tandem with a sweetie. We parked the clothes at the bottom, but we ended up staying for a while after the jump anyway.


June 13th, 2011
2:02 pm

Come to North Georgia and tube! Great water, cold, cleaner, lovely scenery. Don’t do it naked, of course, ’cause someone’s daddy (a church deacon) will shoot your *** off. Spend money, talk softly, and don’t criticize your “betters” who live there always. We need your money!


June 13th, 2011
2:12 pm

Just like shaggy, LM & JJ, I’ve been down the “hooch” many times back in the day..Partied at Riverbend a lot, but never made “contact” with anyone..Those were the good old days..

I’m with catlady’s suggestion, I’ll go to Notrh GA to tube..The kids have been there and they love it..

@catlady..The magazine that we talked about the other day is called, Potpourri..You can get a booklet by calling 800-388-7798 or shirt is item #R16-017….


June 13th, 2011
2:52 pm

Becky, Thank you! for remembering that and checking on it for me!


June 13th, 2011
3:37 pm

@catlady..You are more than welcome…


June 13th, 2011
4:50 pm

Up in Helen, I found the river was not as deep as the Chattahoochee so, if you flipped out of your tube, you could usually stand. One year at the start of the long drought we had, we actually had to walk our tubes down the river in a few places because the water was so shallow.

I think awareness is the key. And just an acknowledgement that nothing you do is 100% safe.


June 13th, 2011
7:22 pm

ohhhh the “Great Chattahoochee Raft Race”….what fun memories!!


June 14th, 2011
7:39 am

Anna was pushed down the river on her tube. The tube was caught up in branches and the force of the water ejected her from her tube. She then was caught up in a second set of branches and the water rose over her head. Very very sad.


June 14th, 2011
11:29 pm

Tubes are not designed for the river, are unstable and people will fall off. Put kids in a raft w/ decent PFDs and all should be fine. A four yr old or a 7 yr old on a tube? Asking for trouble.

I have rafted (during the raft race and many other times), canoed and even sailed on the Chattahoochee for many decades. It is a beautiful resource and I hope kids will continue to enjoy it for a lifetime as I have.

Please don’t call it the Hooch! Thanks.


June 15th, 2011
7:21 am


“Please don’t call it the Hooch! Thanks.”

Why not affectionately call the “hooch”, the hooch?
Glad you love and respect the river, but you don’t own it.


June 16th, 2011
1:59 pm

Unfortunately, the issue isn’t only limited to children nor the area near the dam. A 60-something-year-old man died from drowning in the Chattahoochee in Roswell in the area near Martin’s Landing. When the water gets high after the releases, the current really picks up down here. The fact is that everyone should be wearing a properly functioning life jacket, regardless of swimming ability. I am a very strong swimmer, but flip me into a rock, hidden tree or other impediment and I may not be able to stay up on my own accord. I may be overly cautious, but I even have life jackets for my dogs. If they are playing in the river and get caught by a swift current, they’ll be able to safely ride it out. We live .3 miles from the river and are out on it several times a month. I would rather err on the side of caution than risk losing someone precious to me.

seragam, seragam sekolah

June 18th, 2011
9:35 am

This is definitely a topic thats close to me so Im happy that you wrote about it. Im also happy that you did the subject some justice. Not only do you know a great deal about it, you know how to present in a way that people will want to read more. Im so happy to know someone like you exists on the web