Lake Lanier, or more correctly Lake Sidney Lanier, is a large reservoir fed by the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers in Northern Georgia. The lake lies upstream of the Buford Dam, which was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers and completed in 1956. The lake was originally built to provide flood control on the two rivers and to provide hydroelectric power. Over the years, the lake has become a major recreational destination, with opportunities for boating, fishing, camping and hiking.
Buford Dam, at the southern end of the lake, is 34 miles from downtown Atlanta. Lake Lanier has a little less than 700 miles of shoreline and comprises 39,000 acres of water. A total of 76 recreation areas have been developed at Lake Lanier, as of February 2011. These include 46 parks that are operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers, as well as state, county and city parks. There are camping facilities at 10 of the Corps’ camps and on some of the lake's more than 100 islands. The lake has 10 marinas and eight sailing clubs. According to the Great Lakes of Georgia website, the lake receives more than 8 million visitors every year. The lake generates 5.5 billion dollars for the local economy annually.
The concept of the lake was first brought up in 1941, shortly after construction started on the Allatoona Dam, 30 miles away to the west. In 1946, the Army Corps of Engineers was given the job of developing the project. Land was bought two years later, and construction of the dam commenced in 1950. The dam was completed in 1955 and on February 1, 1956, the gates were closed and the dam began to fill. The lake reached 100 percent for the first time in 1959.
Lake Lanier is named after Sidney Lanier, a 19th-century American poet, musician and academic. Lanier was born in Macon, Georgia in 1842 and died at the age of 39. Among the many poems written by Lanier is “The Song of the Chattahoochee,” upon which river Buford Dam was built, forming the lake that was to be named after him. Lanier was an accomplished flautist and played first flute with the Peabody Orchestra in Baltimore. He was a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University in that city.
Lake Lanier is bounded by four North Georgia counties: Dawson, Forsyth, Hall and Gwinnett. Towns and cities that are in close proximity to the lake include Gainesville, Buford, Flowery Branch, Cumming, Murrayville, Dawsonville and Sugar Hill. The lake is located in the foothills of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and is just a half hour’s drive from Atlanta.