They're reclaiming the Hooch along the southern border of Georgia and Alabama. In Columbus, the strategic demolition of old dams along the Chattahoochee River will soon unleash what the city is calling the River City Rush, the "longest urban whitewater course in the world," according to the event's website. The old industrial city has already rejuvenated itself over the past couple of decades with the development of the 20-mile Riverwalk, a "linear park" that has attracted dedicated bicyclists from across the country.

But if the water is a prime attraction, Columbus is best known for its men and women on the ground. Well over 100,000 military, family, and civilian employees live and work on the vast U.S. Army post of Fort Benning just south of the city, and the Columbus Airport is a busy way station for travelers in fatigues and work boots. Each week the parade grounds behind the National Infantry Museum host the graduation of hundreds of basic trainees, attended by friends and family. Visitors can brush up on military history and try their hands at combat simulation at the museum's impressive new facility, which opened in 2009.

Fort Benning is named for a Civil War general who was fiercely committed to the Confederate cause, and the Columbus downtown features a historic district that's graced with cobblestone streets and postbellum southern charm. The downtown blocks nearby feature a few superb restaurants, including The Loft, a burnished wine-and-whiskey joint that features live jazz on Fridays, and the Cannon Brew Pub, a homey, high-ceilinged place that has won awards for its excellent ales and stouts, brewed on-site in the copper tanks that loom over the back bar. And the floorboards of the Springer Opera House, a historic landmark that was saved from demolition in the 1960s, have been trod by Oscar Wilde, Ma Rainey, and a certain theatrical "General," Tom Thumb.