When last I set paddle in the Flint River, the river gauge at Newton was sitting at below five feet. This week when April Ingle and I set out on that same river (with companionship and shuttle assistance from Paul DeLoach of Flint Riverkeeper), the Newton gauge was sitting a 10 feet. As the old saying goes, you never set foot in the same river twice.
The limestone bluffs that made the Paddle Georgia 2013 course so inthralling in November of last year were all but covered by high water. Hidden too beneath the high water were the springs and blue holes that issued forth cool, clear water. The clear water that left the river bottom visible was replaced with a churning, turbid flow.
Needless to say, we are hoping for lower water come June 15! Chances are that’s what we’ll get. The highest average monthly flow at Newton for June during the past several years is six feet–and its been lower than three feet.
With high flows–thanks to several inches of rain in North Georgia during the preceeding week–we covered 97 miles in three days, sometimes averaging up to five miles per hour. And, though we were speeding down the river, we found plenty of the Flint’s beauty and wildlife. A list of the sightings: ospreys, bald eagles, Mississippi kites, pileated woodpeckers, river cooters, musk turtles, snapping turtles, snakes, alligators, fox squirrels, foxes, armadillos, deer.
High or low, the Flint has plenty of charms.
A few random observations:
Motorboats…On certain sections, motorboat traffic will be significant. This is especially true of Lake Chehaw above Albany. During Paddle Georgia, we will be traversing the lake on a Sunday and are likely to encounter skiers, jet skiers, and all manner of fishing boats. To a lesser extent, our final day into Bainbridge and the backwaters of Lake Seminole we will share our path with powerboats. Be prepared for a little rocking of the water. We even ran into a pirate’s ship when we arrived in Bainbridge!
Whitewater…There’s no lack of swift-moving water on the Flint. Though there is no real “whitewater” the river’s natural topography, coupled with “river improvements” conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1800s, results in numerous areas where the river flows over shoals or is constricted to create fast-moving water. The Flint is not a typical lazy South Georgia river.
Alligators…saw one of the largest alligators we have ever seen on the river between Lake Blackshear and Lake Chehaw. Spotted others below Albany. It is a humbling experience traveling in a territory where there are animals that are larger than you…and can eat you. And, I think, a healthy reminder of our place in the pantheon of the Earth’s creatures. That said, alligator-on-human feeding is extremely rare in Georgia. Much less common than, say, gator-on-a-stick vendors at county fairs. They are larger, but we are smarter (and have weapons) and the gators are wise enough to run when they see us. When we drifted by their resting places on sun-baked sandbars, they slowly, reluctantly, slid into the cold water and retreated to safe hiding.
Beauty…the river’s most beautiful sections are those with many twists, turns, changes of directions and obstacles. These sections offer up the most challenging paddling but also the greatest rewards. April joked that this Paddle Georgia scouting would also be something of a bachelor paddle and party for me. In less than three weeks, I will be married–a major change in life direction and one that is every bit as challenging as navigating one of the Flint’s hairpin turns in high water. Keep the boat upright, though, and the beauty is there for the taking–limestone bluffs dripping with ferns, wildflowers blanketing the shore, the lacy bright green leaves of cypress, the diminuitive young, pale-white leaves of sycamores that from a distance look like exquisite blossoms.
It’s easier to stay in the middle of the river than to live along the edge where the currents are strong and the strainers wait to upend you, but from the middle of the river the beauty remains distant.
Which ever route you choose, come June 15, we’re in for some fun on the Flint. It is truely a river like no other in Georgia.
May 13, 2013