The Flint River, which stretches from the Piedmont to the Chattahoochee River in southwest Georgia, is one of only forty rivers in the nation's contiguous forty-eight states that flow unimpeded for more than 200 river miles.
The Flint River has an unusual source. It begins as groundwater seepage in west central Georgia at what is today the mouth of a concrete culvert on the south side of Virginia Avenue in Hapeville, an Atlanta suburb. The water that collects there quickly disappears under the runways of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as it flows southward through the culvert. It is joined by water from such tributaries as Sullivan, Mud, and Camp creeks. Fifty miles downstream, this water has transformed itself into one of Georgia's most scenic and diverse rivers. Near Culloden, the Flint crosses the fall line, dropping 400 feet over the next fifty miles as it journeys down the Coastal Plain.
Between the Flint's urban beginning and its reservoir ending, its watershed—which includes the cities of Jonesboro, Thomaston, Montezuma, Marshallville, Cordele, Americus, Albany, and Bainbridge—drains some 8,460 square miles. This watershed can be divided into three distinct regions, the Upper, Middle, and Lower Flint, based on landscape, channel characteristics, flora, and fauna.
Though the Flint begins in metropolitan Atlanta, self-purification occurs from the river's unimpeded flow and its abundant wetlands, which filter pollutants. The Flint's northernmost swamp occurs in the Jonesboro area. Downstream, Magnolia Swamp lies just north of the fall line, Beechwood Swamp just south of it. Together these two swamps make up what is locally called the Great Swamp. The Flint's largest wetland, the Chickasawhatchee Swamp, lies farthest south and is Georgia's second-largest deepwater swamp.
The river is thus home to an abundance of unusual animals and plants. Unique to the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system are the shoal bass, which is highly prized among fishermen, and the Halloween darter. The Halloween darter was discovered in the early 1990s by researchers at the University of Georgia's Institute of Ecology (later Odum School of Ecology), who in 2009 gave the small fish its scientific name of Percina crypta. The Flint is also home to more than twenty species of freshwater mussels. The shoals spider lily, discovered in the 1770s by naturalist William Bartram, can be found on the Flint, along with greenfly orchids, corkwood, needle palm, and the very rare relict trillium.
In the 1960’s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers investigated the feasibility of building a dam at Sprewell Bluff near Thomaston. At the time, dams were proliferating nationwide, so there was surprise and even anger when Governor Jimmy Carter, after conducting extensive interviews with some fifty interested parties, vetoed the dam in 1974. This decision proved wise for the health of the river; Sprewell Bluff remains today a unique botanical melting pot of Coastal Plains flora growing in proximity to plants and trees usually found in Georgia's mountainous areas.