Friday – April 1st
130 paddlers, staff, and volunteers from all over Georgia and beyond came together last weekend for Georgia River Network and Satilla Riverkeeper’s inaugural Spring on the Satilla event!
We stayed in and around the majestic Satilla Lodge – a beautiful retreat situated on the banks of the Satilla river. Everyone trickled in on Friday – making their way down the long straight flat sandy road flanked by pine tree plantations, old farmsteads, and water filled ditches (inhabited by fish, alligator, turtle, and tadpole).
People were thrilled to see David and Jaimie Minich of Café Campesino on the grounds providing their delicious coffees, teas, and smoothies.
We can’t thank them enough for donating 10% of their proceeds to Georgia River Network.
Before dinner, Satilla Lodge owner Michael Gowen gave an informative tour of the Lodge and the Adopt A Stream and Environmental Protection Division crew set up their makeshift water quality laboratory for the training and monitoring workshops taking place throughout the weekend.
Despite the forecast predicting rain in the early/mid afternoon- the torrential downpour held off until after most people had arrived, set up camp, and eaten a scrumptious BBQ dinner provided by Creative Catering.The youth group from Camden County High School were super excited about the weekend ahead and enthusiastically sang their school’s chant!
After dinner Joe Cook, Ashby Nix Worley, and myself helped deliver the evening announcements highlighting Georgia River Network’s engage, advocacy, and empowerment programs, including assisting with the development of the Satilla River Water Trail, and reviewed the outlook for the evening tornado watch under effect and Saturday’s paddle.
It was encouraging to see how prepared campers were for the impending thunderstorms with secured waterproof tents and tarps … Nothing was going to stop them from enjoying this paddling event!
And boy did the deluge come full throttle throughout the night – but come daylight on Saturday the rain had petered out and the chance of rain had decreased substantially.
Spring on the Satilla here we come!
Saturday – April 2
The first sound we heard in the morning was the loud rhythmic chorus of the frogs, jubilant after the heavy rains. I was expecting to see unhappy soggy campers, but instead I saw people as elated as the frogs- enjoying a leisurely breakfast with hot coffee, while catching up with old paddling friends and making new ones.
With map bags, lunches, and hats on hand, paddlers hopped on the bus and were slowly transported to the put in location approx. 16 miles upstream from the Lodge. Thankfully, the roads were sloshy wet but still passable.
The pleasantly cool, overcast weather added a sense of mystery and enchantment to the river with the twisted gnarly trees that clung to the Satilla’s banks and roots covered in furry green and brown mosses.
The knobby Cypress knees often resembled sculptures of dragons, birds, and dancing figurines adding to the ethereal feeling that came over you as you paddled along.
I expected to see a fairy pop its head out at any moment.
The Satilla is truly a hidden gem and with hardly any development along its banks, it provides a sanctuary and habitat for a plethora of wildlife. We were amazed at how clean the river was – only seeing one or 2 pieces of trash during the entire trip!
Kingfisher, Swallow-Tailed Kite, Wood Stork, Terns, Egret, and a Bard owl were just a few of the birds seen, as well as a Coral snake, alligators, Red Eared Slider turtles, damselflies, and butterflies.
Local musician, Karl Davis serenaded paddlers with river blues as they sat and enjoyed their lunch or paddled by 3R Fish Camp.
Spring on the Satilla, like all of GRN’s paddling trips, is a family friendly event and it was fantastic to see all of the families that decided to join us!
Children ranged from 9 months old (guess who that could be?) to 17 years, some were on the river for their first time, others already considered themselves veteran paddlers – and everyone seemed to be having a blast!
It turned into a beautifully clear afternoon and evening.
Upon returning to the Lodge, folks lounged in rocking chairs overlooking the river, sunbathed on the dock, socialized with fellow paddlers, brainstormed Red Breast Sunfish Jokes, swung from the rope swing, took walks around the grounds, and took a nice afternoon snooze.
By the time 6:30pm rolled around, paddlers had worked up a healthy appetite and were queued up for a delicious dinner of Sliced Pit Ham with Pineapple relish, yummy sides and dessert.
It was an eventful evening packed with announcements, Red Breast jokes, and more in depth information about the Satilla Riverkeeper and their work protecting the Satilla.
We also held a live auction with all kinds of goodies ranging from artwork, jewelry, and clothing to beer tastings, and kayaking tours.
Eight teams fiercely competed in the Corn Hole Tourney for a $100 cash prize that lasted a good 2 hours. Congrats to Corn Hole Champions – Jim and Debbie Fountain!
We also want to send a big HIGH FIVE out to Ryan Connors, the lucky winner of the Santee 116 Sport recreational Kayak Raffle!
The money raised during the Spring on the Satilla event will go directly to Georgia River Network and Satilla Riverkeeper to help support our river protection and restoration efforts throughout the state.
After a lively evening of raising money for Georgia’s rivers, kids enjoyed a game of giant Jenga, and before calling it a night, some folks took a respite under the night sky full of magnificent stars and planets.
Sunday – April 3
We awoke to beautiful sunny weather on our last day of Spring on the Satilla and the crisp blue skies seemed to make the abundance of Wild Azaleas,
Trumpet vine, lush green ferns, iris, Cypress, Maple, Live Oak, Rice grass, Palmettos, and Lily Pads pop with color in bright contrast to the dark reddish tannin rich water and white sugary sand beaches.
Around every bend there was another scenic painting that could be framed – a memory you never wanted to leave behind.
As we paddled closer to the ocean, the tidal influence became more noticeable, as well as the wildlife adapted to the increase in saltwater. The river bottom became exposed to the surface in some areas as the tide retreated resembling chocolate mousse as you pushed off with your paddle. It was silky smooth, but so thick it could suck you or your paddle under if you weren’t careful.
Some paddlers enjoyed fishing from their kayaks while others such as the Camden County ‘Wildcat’ Youth Group, assisted ichthyologist Camm Swift seine fishes and other critters from the silty shallows.
A few species collected include: Killifish, Red Breast Sun fish, Dragonfly nymphs, Hogchoker, Mad Tom Catfish, shrimp and even a Fresh water eel!
Epiphytes such as Spanish moss, Ball moss, and Orchid could be seen draped over almost every tree branch adding that element of romantic elegance to the trip that South Georgia is so revered for.
Many paddlers were shocked at how quickly 8 miles went by and wanted to stay out on the river exploring oxbows and enjoying the gorgeous scenery and weather.
It was an amazing trip and we want to send a HUGE thanks to all of our volunteers! We could’t have pulled this paddling event off with such finesse without their help!
We were excited to discover that around 80% of paddlers on this trip were experiencing the Satilla river for the first time and we sure hope it’s not their last. Your support of Georgia River Network and Satilla Riverkeeper helps keep the Satilla river and all of Georgia’s rivers protected so that they can continue to provide crucial habitat for wildlife and be enjoyed by future generations.
We hope to see y’all on our other paddling trips this year! Stay tuned for EPD and Adopt A Stream’s water quality monitoring results and please let us know if you would like to get involved in Adopt-A Stream monitoring in your community back home.
~ Keep on rollin’ down the river…
Community Programs Coordinator, Georgia River Network
A few people asked how many river/ocean miles Aviva has logged. Thus far she is at 40 miles:
- St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, FL
- Fall Float on the Flint 2015, GA
- Ochlockonee River Hidden Gem, GA
- Duaba river, Cuba
- Spring on the Satilla, GA