The Flint River Tells Stories

“I think it has been worth all the confrontations and the debates and sometimes disharmonies that have resulted from what is still an ongoing process in America of preserving things instead of trying to modify them in an unnecessary fashion.”

— former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, on saving the upper Flint from being dammed in the 1970s


Crew & Credits

Produced by Modoc Stories

Directors of Photography - David Hanson & Michael Hanson

Edited by Dan McComb & Michael Hanson

Creative Contribution by Mark Bashore

Additional Underwater Footage by Guy Bryant

Run Time: 5:03 min.


Here's the way things used to work, back in the days when every Southern politician's high ambition was to have his name on a hydroelectric dam: You got yourself elected to Congress, and your name went on the bottom of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' list of dams to be built. If you got yourself reelected enough times, eventually you got that dam.

But when it came time in the mid-1970s to dam up Georgia's 344-mile Flint River at Sprewell Bluff near Thomaston, a fellow named Jimmy Carter, who was governor of Georgia at the time, got in the way. President Carter told the story best in the preface he wrote for Fred Brown and Sherri Smith Brown's 2001 "The Flint River: A Recreational Guidebook to the Flint River and Environs," and we recommend you read it in full.

We also recommend you watch this five-minute film about the Flint, made by Modoc Stories, a group of filmmakers who have made it their mission to document the great American rivers. (If you were following us a few weeks ago, you saw Modoc's film on the Atchafalaya River.)

What you'll see in this movie is the astonishing beauty of one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the United States. The upper Flint is decorated by some of the most striking scenery in the South, including the proposed dam site, Sprewell Bluff, which the Georgia Conservancy's Bryan Schroeder calls "one of my top places to show people in the whole state of Georgia." The lower Flint is one of the nation's most biodiverse regions, with the highest species density of amphibians and reptiles north of Mexico.

But as the filmmakers write, the Flint remains "extremely threatened, identified by American Rivers as one of the top 10 most endangered rivers in the U.S. Overused in the headwaters by the southern exurbs of Atlanta and by agriculture in the lower valley, the Flint shrinks into itself during increasingly severe droughts. Georgia legislators have been pushing for costly and unproven engineering projects to retain water in the basin, but many folks believe that more simple, affordable and sustainable solutions exist, such as new agricultural tools that increase efficiency and better allocation and return of water in the upper municipalities."

Which, of course, brings us around to the work of farmers like Will Harris and his White Oak Pastures Farms in the river basin, about 50 miles west of the Flint, whose work The Bitter Southerner documented earlier this year. 

It's funny how time changes the stories of our region. Once, it seemed, "progress" trumped everything, and we saw our rivers primarily as sources of electrical power. Then, someone like Jimmy Carter comes along and upsets the apple cart, raising legitimate questions about the true long-term benefits of such projects, and a river, such as the Flint, remains undammed. Then, a few decades later, farmers like the Harris Family come along and try to resurrect the natural ways of farming that can lessen or even eliminate the need for irrigation, which in turn contribute to the river's ongoing health.

The older you get, the more connections you see. Time also heals the wounds that were opened among people who fought each other 40 years ago over the damming of the river. As President Carter writes in the aforementioned preface:

"I have had many people come up to me and confess that they cursed me profoundly when I vetoed the dam. But now they are thankful for my having done it. They are glad that the river was saved.... Lakes and dams are everywhere. But to experience something that is undisturbed and has its natural beauty? You hope and pray that it will be there a thousand years in the future, still just as beautiful and undisturbed."

Time marches on, and the river flows on, telling time's stories.

— Chuck Reece