Jim Lynn

independent journalist

Lazy Chattahoochee now a whitewater rush (Wiregrass Living magazine, April 2013)

Lazy Chattahoochee now a whitewater rush

By Jim Lynn

If you can imagine riding a roller coaster with no lap bar and being faced with fire hose at the same time, you begin to get a feel for what the Chattahoochee River has suddenly become.

For generations, the river has been a lazy journey from Atlanta through Columbus to Apalachicola.  Mostly tranquil, lethargic, its path slowed by hydro-electric dams and the large, recreational lakes behind them, plus smaller dams that once generated power for textile plants.

No more, at least along the 2.5 miles through Columbus and Phenix City.  Suddenly, for the first time in more than a century, it’s a very different, more vibrant river.  The textile mills are now high-end condominiums, and the stretch of river just north of the Wiregrass is joining the ranks of the most intense whitewater rapids anywhere in the United States.  What was just a few months ago glassy green is now foamy white.  Traveling a small part of the course open one afternoon last fall was like flying blind through a waterfall.  For brief moments that seem heart-stopping, there’s no up or down, just an exhilarating, blinding spray.  GoPro meets Alabama.

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Phenix City’s turning point (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, September 2010)

Phenix City at a Turning Point
by Jim Lynn

Phenix City’s moment is now.
It may seem an odd notion. No bulldozers roar. No cranes scrape the sky. Not much earth is moving anywhere. But the city now faces a moment of choices and opportunities and risks, like few others in its history. Phenix City has the unprecedented challenge of promoting and managing growth on two fronts, the riverfront district downtown and the environmentally delicate Riverchase corridor on the north side. Both are essentially blank slates, frozen tundra, waiting for an economic thaw and political will.

Development experts agree that the choices are stark. The city can enhance north Phenix City as a livable community of choice in the Valley region. Or we can create yet another commercial hodgepodge that lays waste to the river corridor’s ecology and aesthetic. Downtown, Bill Turner’s dream of “One Uptown” can be a reality with planned growth — quality retail and restaurants and college classrooms and homes along the river. Or we can leave downtown to dollar stores and used car lots.

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Who Is This Woman? Teresa Tomlinson and her drive to serve (Columbus and the Valley magazine, January 2011)

Who Is This Woman?

Columbus’ first woman mayor and her drive to serve

by Jim Lynn
Teresa Tomlinson is all about connections.

Columbus’ first Facebook mayor took office January 3, after a landslide pre-Christmas victory. She pledges to think. To innovate. To connect.

If she has her way, the city could break new ground in connecting Columbus neighborhoods
with city hall. As in the campaign, so, too, in office.

“We redrew the map of the way Columbus politics has always been done,” she said in one of several recent discussions, echoing her election night victory remarks. “It was a matter of waking up those different constituencies that don’t just fall down to predictable racial and demographic lines. This has been a process of waking up a lot of different voices and bringing them to the table, and you’ll see that moving forward.”

Multiple dynamics are at play in local campaigns, and drawing sweeping conclusions is risky. But Tomlinson did have broad support across ethnic lines in a town so divided that even the streets crossing Macon Road change names from north to south. She carried five predominantly black precincts against an African-American candidate. Drawing on the campaign, the election results, her vision for the next four years and even her life experiences, she claims a new day for Columbus politics.

The biggest component of the change she envisions, which she actually considers more common sense than vision, is a network of neighborhood associations to give Columbus residents unprecedented opportunities to voice opinion and to shape public decisions—to connect to city hall. The culture shift would be for the city bureaucracy to encourage neighborhood political action, rather than oppose it.

Take road building, for example.

In the historically predictable scenario, here and in most American communities, the city (or state) wants to build a road and the residents spend years trying to fight it. In Tomlinson’s context–sensitive world, the city and the neighborhoods work together to find workable solutions that facilitate traffic flow and pedestrian access, rather than encouraging more traffic at the expense of walkers and bicyclists. The residents gain by preserving their neighborhoods. The city gains by “taking its lumps on the front end,” avoiding controversial, costly and time-consuming debate.

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Phenix City … The next chapter (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, October 30, 2011)

Published: October 30, 2011

By JIM LYNN — Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

Phenix City voters face a tremendous opportunity. The question is what will be done with it.

The opportunity is the chance to clear the political logjam that’s held the town hostage. End the stagnation of the last four years and actually move the city forward. A chance to elect leadership that’s serious about developing the riverfront and about creating a more livable community. New leadership that will explore new ideas, like smart-growth approaches to sidewalks and bike paths and stricter development controls, making the protection of our neighborhoods a higher priority.

It’s an opportunity to make good government the rule, ending cronyism and old-school ways. And rather than being the subject of jokes, to finally play a more vital role in the public life of the Columbus region.

The 2012 election can’t come soon enough for Phenix City. The talk of the town — after high school and college football, of course — is who might run against the incumbents, and who might have the political muscle needed to wrest control of city government from Councilman Jimmy Wetzel, the City Hall bad boy.

In supermarket aisles, at lunchtime gatherings, during halftimes, nearly everywhere and anywhere, it’s just next to impossible to find anyone who has good things to say about Phenix City incumbents. The constant question is “who’s gonna run?” And the answer is always the same: “Anyone but the crew down there now.”

Tax increases, an unpopular proposed $11.5 million municipal complex, questionable land deals, lack of coordinated efforts on riverfront development, vindictive politics and trivial pursuits have offended residents to the point that an unprecedented move is developing to clean house at the ballot box next year.

But as it is with so many opportunities, the questions are simple. Do enough people really care? Is there a critical mass of discontent? Will this moment be used to move the city forward?

Or will the opportunities be left on the table, leaving the town with another four years of old-school leadership that accomplishes little, if anything at all?

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The Kayaks are Coming! (Columbus and the Valley magazine, September 2011)

The Kayaks Are Coming
by Jim Lynn


Have you noticed? Already, kayaks are here. A few at least. Driving around town, you see a kayak or two atop a car maybe once a week or so.

Didn’t used to be that way. True to our culture, there are kayaks in the beds of pickup
trucks, not just strapped to the roofs of hybrids with bumper stickers about living greener.

And whitewater isn’t even here yet.

No rocks have been moved, no dams breached. There are no trucks pouring concrete for boat-launching areas along the riverbank. Work to remove the dams is expected to be underway this fall and will take a year to complete.

But if you want a preview of the likely impact on downtown Columbus and Phenix City, a weekend trip to the Nantahala River in North Carolina will do.

About an hour west of Asheville, the Nantahala Outdoor Center sandwiches a two-lane highway through the mountains. The remote, narrow, mountainous roadway suddenly opens into what feels like a theme park in the middle of the wilderness.

Employees on a busy summer Saturday direct long lines of cars to parking spaces. Families, teenagers and even older adults, head to foot in pricey whitewater gear, crowd the sidewalks and U.S. 19 itself. They’re packed into riverside restaurants and an upscale outfitter store. The river is thick with kayaks, rafts and canoes. Children and parents wade along the chilly river’s edge, waiting for rafting times.

It’s a sleek, Land Rover crowd. This is not a cheap sport. At the outfitter store, boats run into the thousands, water shoes for kids into the hundreds.

“It’s young, it’s healthy, it’s green, and it’s the right image for our community,” Columbus whitewater promoter and benefactor John Turner says. Read the rest of this entry »

Unbroken (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, September 12, 2012)

Sept. 12, 2012

Unbroken

A personal essay after a decade of Friday night lights

By JIM LYNN — Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

Finally, I can breathe.

Another high school football season has started. Nearly 1.1 million boys are strapping on shoulder pads and helmets, taping ankles and listening to pregame pep talks in dank locker rooms in high school stadiums in nearly every county in every state. The parents of 1.1 million boys are holding their breaths, about to turn blue with every crack, every thud, each loud enough to be heard dozens of feet away in the stands, above the noise of the crowds and the pep bands.

For the first time in a decade, I’m not one of those parents. I can breathe.

This is the first fall in a long while that Carol and I haven’t had a son playing grade school, junior varsity or varsity football. Nine seasons, to be exact. One-hundred and five games, give or take. Thousands of miles travelled to all sorts of small, mostly hard-scrabble private schools in out-of-the way small towns for a blur of Friday night lights.

We were young parents when this pigskin odyssey began, not really thinking but just following the culture. All boys play football. Duh! Holding our breaths each season, knots in our stomachs over heat risk during two-a-days. Cringing at each play in this blunt-force trauma that Theodore Roosevelt once threatened to outlaw. I’m in my early 50s now, saddened more than a little by the memories. The laughter, the camaraderie, the near-win of the state championship, both boys playing on the same team for a while, and all those after-game omelets at Waffle Houses all over the South.

But I don’t miss the worry.

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