Buford Dam Trail
About the Buford Dam Trail
This wide, level trail explores Lower Pool Park beneath Buford Dam that creates Lake Lanier. Views of the powerhouse, the saddleback dam that actually creates the lake and the original bed of the Chattahoochee River are all part of this trail. The park has been closed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the past during times of high terror alert.
From the trailhead at the Lower Pool Park at Buford Dam, hike across a level grass plain towards a steel and wood bridge that crosses the powerhouse channel. On the near end of the bridge (the west side if you are not directionally challenged), look to your left, up the powerhouse channel. A small portion of the cement powerhouse is visible. When construction on Lake Lanier began, the first step was to blast the powerhouse channel. The part visible from the bridge was blasted out of solid rock. Notice the long, straight drill holes that were used in blasting the channel. A plant was built near the site of the powerhouse that produced the concrete used to build the structure.
In addition to the powerhouse, three huge concrete tunnels were built to allow water to flow through the dam. Once the powerhouse and water tubes were complete, the Chattahoochee River was diverted from its original bed, through the tubes and out this channel. As the Chattahoochee flows through the tubes, the rough water between you and the powerhouse is created because the narrow channel is closed on three sides. Continue across the bridge, then climb a cement paved switchback to a brown kiosk near the top of a hill. At the kiosk turn right.
Arriving at the Dam
From the kiosk the path drops down to a gazebo, then ventures out onto another bridge over the original bed of the Chattahoochee River. Look carefully at either end of this wooden structure and see the original riverbanks of the mighty Hooch. As you cross the hikeway turn to the left and you can see the compacted clay on stone dam. Tallest of the seven saddlebacks built to empound Lake Lanier, this dam blocks the original bed of the Chattahoochee River. Look all the way to the right side of the dam. It was here on March 1, 1950 that a powerful group of Georgians including Senators Richard B. Russell and Walter George broke ground for building the dam. When work on the powerhouse was completed the river was diverted through the tubes and into the powerhouse channel and the riverbed was allowed to dry.
Dump trucks then brought stone to fill the riverbed, then began covering the stone with dirt. Once completed the dam was allowed to settle. The Buford Dam powerhouse gates were closed and on February 1, 1956, the 47-mile long Chattahoochee River valley began to fill with water, creating 27 mile-long Lake Lanier. It would take three years for the lake to reach full level.
Senator Russell saw the dam as being helpful to farmers, although the purpose of the dam was to aid in navigation further downstream. Today Lake Lanier fills many needs, including providing much of Atlanta’s drinking water and some of its electricity. One often overlooked aspect of the Corps of Engineers job is the role the dam plays with wildlife management. Since the Chattahoochee began its flow to the Gulf of Mexico wildlife, waterfowl and fish have relied on it for habitat, food and use as a breeding ground. So in addition to all the other demands people place on Lake Lanier, the Corps also thinks about needs of animals who require the river for their own life-cycle.
Follow the top of the dam to the left and notice that the saddleback runs across the top of the powerhouse channel, totally covering the tubes that continuously pass water through the dam at a minimun rate of 600 cubic feet per second (CFS). This powers a small, 7.5 megawatt generator. During times of peak demand, water from Lake Lanier passing through Buford Dam can generate an additional 130 megawatts of power from 2 additional generators. Gates in front of the tubes control the flow of water.
Turning for Home
At the end of the bridge, the trail climbs the riverbank to the Laurel Ridge Trail, also developed by the Army Corps of Engineers to explore the area east of the Chattahoochee River. There are good views of both Buford Dam Park and the saddleback dam across the bed of the Chattahoochee that can be accessed by walking down this trail to the left. Down to the right the trail explores a floodplain of the Chattahoochee River.
On the return to your car, after crossing the bridge over the powerhouse channel keep on the left, following the riverbank past some picnic tables down to a boat ramp. Past the boat ramp the trail enters a fully shaded forest of red maple, ash, and sycamore. This trail takes hikers down to a creek that forms the boundary between Lower Pool and Bowman’s Island, which is part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.