The Conasauga River near Beaverdale. The headwaters of the Conasauga were recently named “Outstanding National Resource Water” by Georgia’s Board of Natural Resources.

When we decided to hold Paddle Georgia 2016 on the Conasauga and Oostanaula rivers in northwest Georgia, I danced a little jig at my home in Rome. Aside from being very fond of both rivers, this meant that scouting trips would not entail long-distance car journeys.

So early Sunday morning my very accommodating wife, Leanne, got up before 6 a.m. to run me and scout dog, Oconee, an hour north to Dalton for a journey on the Conasauga from Beaverdale (our tentative Day 1 launch site) to Airport Road—a distance of 27 miles that takes in the projected first day, and portions of the second day, of Paddle Georgia 2016.


Oconee, the scout dog, takes in the early morning view on the Conasauga.

The river did not disappoint. Can a river disappoint on a 70-degree December day?

Like many of Georgia’s rivers, the Conasauga is a river of superlatives. It is astoundingly biologically rich—home to 76 native fish species and 18 mussel species, an incredible variety for a river that’s less than 100 miles long.

In just one tiny run of the river’s headwaters within the Chattahoochee National Forest, more than 70 fish species have been identified. “The Snorkel Hole,” as it is known, attracts people from across the country to snorkel this “freshwater reef.” I’ve had the pleasure of doing this a couple of times, and the experience is otherworldy.

In August, this and other portions of the river’s headwaters became the first river segment in Georgia to be named an “Outstanding National Resource Water” by Georgia’s Board of Natural Resources.

But, my destination Sunday was some 20 miles downstream from the Snorkel Hole where the river winds through northwest Georgia’s Ridge and Valley region—a distinct geographic area characterized by long, straight ridges separated by wide valleys.

This translates into a river that winds through bucolic farmland and occasionally collides with a ridge where the interface results in impressive bluffs and rock outcroppings. There are no rapids and only occasional shoals—those obstacles are left to north Georgia rivers that traverse the state’s Blue Ridge and Piedmont. In fact, the only serious rapid on this section of river is the rock dam at Dalton Utilities raw water intake. It’s a rapid that will likely require a portage in lower water, but on this day it provided a thrilling ride. CLICK HERE TO VIEW YOU TUBE VIDEO OF OCONEE RIDING THE DALTON UTILITIES RAPID.


The rock outcroppings at Fincher Bluff are typical of the Conasauga’s journey through northwest Georgia’s Ridge and Valley region.

Of course, since the river is just a short distance from its headwaters in the Cohutta Wilderness, it is small and intimate which means…you guessed it!…It is also home to an occasional strainer. The sequel to “Strainbusters 2015 on the Ogeechee,” “StrainerBusters II” will premiere in June 2016.

Oconee and I had a delightful day exploring the river, though ‘Conee took more than one spill as a result of the strainers. Words of advice from the four-legged scout: do not stand atop your canoe seat when entering a log-choked section of river. CLICK HERE TO VIEW A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF OCONEE TAKING A SWIM. 

Recent high water left the river littered with the remains of this season’s Conasauga valley corn crop. In places the stalks and shucks completely cloaked riverside trees and shrubs. The high water also released all manner of less organic flotsam to the river.

Chatsworth and Dalton are both drained by this section of river and its tributaries, and the refuse from careless litterers was as clearly evident as the corn crop.


The Conasauga River near Beaverdale. The headwaters of the Conasauga were recently named “Outstanding National Resource Water” by Georgia’s Board of Natural Resources.

In a day of smart phones, smart TVs and even “Smart Water,” we are sadly plagued by stupid people that discard their trash without regard for its ultimate destination. This year, more than 24,000 volunteers helped remove over 530,000 pounds of trash from our rivers through the state’s Rivers Alive program.

Perhaps someday, when enough people have traveled our state’s life-giving rivers and become aware of the link between litter and our rivers, such cleanups will be unnecessary.

Hint: Paddle Georgia 2016, June 18-24 would be a good place to start. Georgia River Network staff are currently fine tuning the details of the event. Registration will begin in February. Join us for another memorable north Georgia adventure.

Cynthia Cox slides through shoals in downtown Albany during Day 1 of Fall Float on the Flint.

Cynthia Cox slides through shoals in downtown Albany during Day 1 of Fall Float on the Flint.

If Georgia rivers get any better than the Flint River between Albany and Bainbridge, you can pummel me with water cannons in the middle of a sub-freezing winter paddle. I just don’t think it gets much better than this 70-mile run…especially when you’re in the company of 140 other paddling enthusiasts as each of us was during the four days of Fall Float on the Flint.

Where else in the deep south of Georgia can you run whitewater shoals (O.K., O.K. it’s not the Chattooga, but it’s still fun)? Where else can you find a gopher tortoise swimming across a river while a bald eagle soars over head? Where else can you leap into water so crystal clear and blue that it appears almost cartoonish? Where else can you uncover 50 million year-old fossils of sea shells in one hand and native freshwater mussel shells in the other hand…all on the same sandbar?

A foggy view from atop limestone bluffs on Day 4 of Fall Float on the Flint.

A foggy view from atop limestone bluffs on Day 4 of Fall Float on the Flint.

If I were naming bucket list paddles in Georgia, the Fall Float run on the Flint would have to be near the top of the list.

And, this year’s Fall Floaters would agree.

Melissa Ballard of Fairmount who brought along five members of her Boy Scout Adventure Crew shared with us some of the comments she heard from her teenagers on the way home:

“The best part was…all of it.”

“The springs were beautiful.  I loved the places we camped.”

“The best part of the trip?…definitely the springs, jumping from the tree, the cliff jump…well, OK, all of it.”

Upon arriving home after four days on the Flint, Cynthia Cox posted to Facebook: “I loved this paddle so much…I’m already missing it.”

I for one am still telling shoal bass jokes, and I’m especially fond of Barry O’Neill’s offering: A shoal bass walks into the sandbar and the bartender says, “Hey that’s an nice pair of Bass Wejun penny loafers you have on there.” To which the shoal bass replies, “Thanks, and they’ve got great shoals.”

Bad jokes and all kidding aside, this year’s Fall Float did what all of Georgia River Network’s paddle trips do. It connected people with rivers, starting intimate relationships that lead to paddlers taking action to protect rivers.

Taking the plunge into Wilson Blue Hole Spring on Day 1 of Fall Float on the Flint.

Taking the plunge into Wilson Blue Hole Spring on Day 1 of Fall Float on the Flint.

During the course of the four day event, the group heard from Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers and American Rivers’ Jeremy Diner, learning about how state water policies are draining the Flint dry and what solutions are out there to reverse the trend.

More than a dozen paddlers participated in Georgia Adopt-A-Stream water testing workshops; 32 individuals donated money to Georgia River Network for the chance to win a $250 pot of cash in our first ever Poker Run (David Garr was the winner with a flush!) and countless participants purchased raffle tickets to win a new canoe (Polly Sattler of Atlanta was the winner).

Together, we generated about $10,000 to help Georgia River Network and Flint Riverkeeper protect our rivers…and we had a great time doing it.

If you haven’t run the Flint from Albany to Bainbridge, put it on your bucket list, and hopefully, you can join us for another Fall Float on the Flint.

Gwyneth Moody explores one of the many blue hole springs that we ecperienced during four days on the Flint River from Albany to Bainbridge.

Gwyneth Moody explores one of the many blue hole springs that we ecperienced during four days on the Flint River from Albany to Bainbridge.

P1120267Our last day was a day to remember and 12112350_10153630662688468_1544022097346998408_nnot because we paddled 18.5 miles… but for all of the amazing experiences we had along the journey…

The morning mist which lasted from before dawn til lunchtime, shrouded paddlers into a magical world where only a faded glimpse of the river corridor ahead and behind could be seen. We were convinced that Puff the Magic Dragon would stick his head out of one of the P1120457deep caves on shore.

Different colored layers ofDSCF0902 pocked Karst lined the river bank – blue, green, brown, grey – jagged but soft with a blanket cover of ferns and flowers.

As the sun burned through high overhead, hundreds of webs glistened amongst the weeping 
branches of the willows. Beautifully patterned spiders quickly retreated from their vantage point as you – a potential predator – stealthily glided by. Dragonfly danced across the river dipping and diving into the water aP1120388s they grabbed tasty insect morsels.

The call of Pileated woodpecker could
be heard echoing through the forest as P1120380they notified their mate of their whereabouts and cautioned others to staP1120433y away from their dwellings chipped out of dead trees that jutted from the water like power line poles. P1120311These vertical nursery logs are like apartment complexes providing a home for countless other critters – such as squirrels, insects, and other birds. Some of these dead trees resembled chia pets or river gardens with vegetation sprouting from nooks and crannies filled with mulch and decomposing leaf litter.IMG_2618

Although the day started in the mid 60’s the afternoon IMG_2602sun gave some paddlers enough motivation to delve into the cool but refreshing blue springs bubbling forth that we encountered along the way.

Westrick Spring, was by far the most enchanting blue hole on Fall Float on the Flint this year. A hidden paradise of refreshing crystal blue water surrounded by luscious vegetation. Who knew Georgia had such beauty that resembled the tropics?IMG_2577

The Boy Scouts Venturing Crew from Northwest GeorgiaIMG_2623 were a joy to paddle with and highly entertaining to watch! Always asking to help those that may be in need, singing, cracking jokes, devising riddles, and of course… the first to jump off rope swings and cliffs!

This stretch offered large soft golden sandbars – perfect for picnicking and warming up after a revitalizzzzzing dip.

The Adopt-A-Stream team could be seen along the way sampling the
main stem of the river and tributaries flowing into Flint and answering endless questions from curious paddlers passing by. IMG_2653They mean serious business when it comes to testing water P1120220quality to ensure the health of our rivers!

I’ve always been touched by the camaraderie, cheerfulness, and helpful nature expressed by the participants of Paddle Georgia and Fall Float. Everyone is excited to meet new people and be reunited again with their paddling friends and family. 
P1120248By journey’s end, whether it’s someone’s 1st or 11th Paddle Georgia – we are all more enlightened and empowered to return home and take part in river restoration efforts and share our experiences to motivate others to join us next year, and get involved in the protection of the lifeblood of our communities!

Hope to see y’all on our next paddling event on the Ochlockonee River– Nov 14th!

Keep on rollin’ down the river ~

Gwyneth Moody, Georgia River Network


Lead boat Mike Worley launches at first light from Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat.

Shoal bass, albino crayfish, blind cave salamanders, shiny-rayed pocketbook mussels, Halloween darters and Wyatt Kopp—just a few of the “endemic species” found on the Flint River.

The later celebrated his fourth birthday on the river today from the center seat of a 17-foot canoe with his mother, Emily Kopp, and grandmother, Melissa Spencer. Before leaving the boat ramp for camp after the day’s paddle, Wyatt stuck his head out the window of a Baker County Schools bus and proudly announced: “I saw reptile eggs today!”


Wyatt Kopp waits for the ride back to camp after a 17-mile paddle on the Flint River.

A cache of the brittle remains of turtle shells on a river sandbar provided the exciting discovery. As 4-year-old river rat birthdays go, it’s hard to beat the discovery of reptile eggs in river sand.

The impressionable Wyatt verbalized what even the adults were feeling on Day 3 of the 70-mile journey from Albany to Bainbridge. The Flint River is alive and the experiences are limitless.

John Pope, an extension agent from Monroe County spent the day casting his fly at shoal bass and other Flint River fish. He learned that on this day, at least, they were cagy—striking but never taking the bait.

Bob Bourne of the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream team ran into a local angler that had better luck. As he drifted by, the angler landed a hefty shoal bass and reported with pride: “That’s why they call me the shoal brother!”


John Pope of Monroe County casts in search of shoal bass and other Flint River fish.

The Flint River shoal bass, one of the most sought-after sport fish in Georgia, has, indeed caught our imagination and become our unofficial mascot. On Saturday, Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers caught one of the largest he’s ever landed, and each night paddlers have taken turns telling “shoal bass jokes…” during after-dinner announcements.

“What’s the most popular name for baby boy shoal bass?” Rocky…and thus the groans begin, though the throwing of rotten tomatoes has been kept in check (largely because they are out of season).

“What’s the most popular name for baby girl shoal bass?” Pebbles…

“And, when Rocky and Pebbles had twin babies, what did they name them?” Catch and Release

More groans.

Despite a plethora of bad bass jokes, there is a seriousness to the comedy. The shoal bass is a living symbol of the Flint and a reminder of the need to protect and restore this river.

Experienced on the river today…

Cold—with overcast skies and falling temperatures it finally felt like fall.


Jones Ecological Research Center Director Lindsay Boring talks with Fall Float on the Flint participants about long-leaf pines.

Long-leaf Pines—A stop at the Jones Ecological Center and a stand of long-leaf pines gave us insight into this fire-loving native that was once the dominant tree of the region.

Wiregrass—this native grass that gave Southwest Georgia and Southeast Alabama its nickname, Wiregrass Country, sits under the long leaf pines, collecting its needles and building the tinder for the next fire that will make the long leafs grow.

Mussels—the Flint is a hotbed of mussel diversity. They aren’t very charismatic with their feet buried deep in the sand and muck, but as filter feeders they do help keep the river clean.

Dissolved Oxygen—more than a dozen paddlers learned how to test water for dissolved oxygen and other measures of stream health during a Georgia Adopt-A-Stream citizen water monitoring workshop. This group included youth from a Boy Scouts Venturing Crew from Northwest Georgia led by Melissa Ballard of Fairmount.

End of Full Day…


Cathy Hodges takes in the riverside forest canopy while her husband, Phillip, takes in a cat nap. The Hodges are serving as Fall Float’s sweep boat.

The final night of Fall Float ended with a celebration at Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat, highlighted by a live auction, awarding of prizes in the Poker Float and Kayak Raffle, and, of course, Wyatt’s birthday cake.

Polly Sattler of Atlanta, though not a participant in Fall Float, won the Old Town Next canoe valued at $1000. She purchased her tickets from the Flint Riverkeeper website!

David Garr, a visiting Florida paddler, turned in the best of more than 30 poker hands: a flush that earned him the $250 pot.

And, several paddlers won items in our auction—ranging from hand-crafted Greenland paddles by Georgia River Network supporter Tom Beaman to shoal bass fishing trips with Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers.

The river won too! Together the raffle, poker float and auctions generated more than $4000 for Georgia River Network and Flint Riverkeeper river protection projects.

Even those of us who didn’t take home a prize won…we had the pleasure of spending another day on a beautiful Georgia river.

Joe Cook, Paddle GA Coordinator

What is it that makes fall feel complete to you? unnamed (2)Today, paddlers were able tounnamed (5) experience some of the best Fall Georgia has to offer. The sun crested the horizon around 7:30, but clouded skies made for a cool and calm morning.

Freshly fallen sycamore leaves danced along the water’s surface, in hues of gold and brown, while a rainbow of boats launched from Mitchell Landing. The higher waters brought swift currents,unnamed (6) a welcomed start to our 22-mile day. Maidenhair Ferns disguised the limestone banks with their whimsical green fronds. Fall flowers in full blunnamed (4)oom lined our journey- purple mist flowers and yellow goldenrods abound.  As mid-day approached, the clouds parted and the forest warmed with the songs of migrating warblers, and a
Bald Eagle even made an appearance. The afternoon warmed enough to entice some paddlers into the water for a swim.
Blissed out on the beautiful fall views and lively conversations, the miles slipped by easily. At the take-out Rocky Bend, unnamed (3)we passed minutes waiting for returning paddlers with time-honored traditions among paddlers and southerners: hanging out rope swinging and checking in on the day’s football games. unnamed
It wasn’t hard to linger among the limestone today, or ever. Fall on the Flint is something you’ll want experience again and again.
Alicia Evans
Georgia River Network Board Member
Chattahoochee Nature Center

Our first day on theP1110759 Flint river was more than we could have asked for… Gorgeous weather, with highs in the low 80’s , a mix of sun, shade and a lovely zephyr keeping the gnats at bay. The majestic cypress and ogeechee lime graced the banks towering high above and kneeling before us like ancient majestic bearded giants. P1110798

Radium Springs was a pleasant lunch stop with the welcoming arching bridge and pool, but unfortunately the nutrient load was higher than encountered in past years, the likely culprit agricultural runoff..P1110804. soon to be determined by the water quality testing results from Adopt A Stream.P1110808

Kingfisher chattered and danced along the river guarding their boroughs- some carved 8 feet or more into the bank. A venue of black vultures cavorted over a swollen deer carcass…helping recycle death back into life.P1110901

P1110844P1110990The karst topography etched the river bank and floor into a moonscape, with overhangs draped in luscious ferns. Truly a gorgeous landscape you would never think to see in Georgia!

P1110943Map turtle with their high back ridge and intricate pattern sun bathed themselves on logs along the way and many were so content absorbing the sun, they didn’t move even within reach of paddlers passing by.

P1120007Blue skies prevailed and P1120031the hot sun dared paddlers to jump into the chilly spring fed water and whip out squirt guns for refreshment and revenge.

With 14 miles of paddling under our belts, the bus ride home held sleepers and energizer bunnies…all satisfied with the day’s adventures.

Settling back into camp at Chehaw Park with delicious dinner from Satterfields – warmed our hearts and bellies, followed by an educational presentation from Flint Riverkeeper- Gordon Rogers.P1120150

Georgia River Network staff and volunteers worked hard to ensure everyone’s needs were accommodated and ready for a GREAT journey tomorrow!

Keep on rollin’ on the river!

Gwyneth Moody

Community Programs Coordinator, Georgia River Network

Willow tunnels and moss-draped hardwoods greeted us each day of the trip. The schizophrenic Ogeechee can be wide and open in one bend and then provide just a narrow, single-file path in the next.

Willow tunnels and moss-draped hardwoods greeted us each day of the trip. The schizophrenic Ogeechee can be wide and open in one bend and then provide just a narrow, single-file path in the next.

On June 17, three days prior the beginning of Paddle Georgia 2015, a short 100 miles from the starting point of the 7-day journey in coastal Georgia, a 21-year-old man shot and killed nine people at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The shocking murders were racially motivated. The killer was white; all the victims were black.

On June 27, the day we finished our 95-mile journey, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage.

Immersed in the Ogeechee River and disconnected from most media outlets for a full week, we returned Saturday and Sunday to TV, newspaper and online media filled with stories from a divided nation.

The Confederate battle flag came under fire (photos surfaced of the Charleston killer wrapped in the flag), arsonists set fire to black churches across the south; some religious leaders decried the Supreme Court ruling; gay rights advocates counterattacked.

From the peace and quiet of the Ogeechee we emerged into a nationwide shouting match. The change was shocking.

Taylor Morris and Chris Thompson lend a fellow paddler a lift over a cross-river strainer  during a grueling 17-mile paddle on day 2 of our journey.

Taylor Morris and Chris Thompson lend a fellow paddler a lift over a cross-river strainer during a grueling 17-mile paddle on day 2 of our journey.

For the past week, 300 people from diverse walks of life—liberals and conservatives, black and white, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight—had endured common trials and celebrated common joys. We ate together, slept together (in school gymnasiums natural disaster refugee-style) and showered together (men and women separately, of course).

We also endured every Ogeechee strainer, often helping one another over, under and around these obstacles; we paddled against the same tidal current in the trip’s final miles as we neared the coast. We slathered on sunscreen to shield ourselves from the same sun and jumped in the same river to cool ourselves.

We shared a common experience. The result: empathy and understanding for fellow sojourners and the willingness to lend a hand to a stranger.

The river itself facilitated the interaction. Bob Bourne, a Georgia Adopt-A-Stream volunteer and veteran of many Paddle Georgia events, made the keen observation that the narrow and winding Ogeechee made people interact. “On a big river, you might paddle past someone on the opposite side, but that’s not possible here. It almost forces you to interact with one another.”

GRN Development Director Davin Welter attacks Georgia Adopt-A-Stream's Harold Harbert. The small, winding Ogeechee lent itself to stealth water cannon attacks.

GRN Development Director Davin Welter attacks Georgia Adopt-A-Stream’s Harold Harbert. The small, winding Ogeechee lent itself to stealth water cannon attacks.

And, so it was. There were more water battles, more rope swing congregations, more group lounges on sandbars. This intimate, willow and cypress-shaded river delivered a new level of intimacy.

I was personally “baptized” by “Hopper the Baptist,” the nickname given to Audrey Grice, one of ten students from Atlanta’s Camp Creek Middle School, who participated in the trip (she took to baptizing her fellow paddlers in the Ogeechee’s tea-colored water). In camp, I tented next to traditional families and lesbian couples.

On this journey, it mattered not a wit your sexual orientation, your religious beliefs or the color of your skin. We all traveled the same path.

Perhaps that is what is missing in our society—the recognition that ultimately, we all travel the same path. Each of us wants to live life freely and enjoy it to its fullest.

To be sure, a large group paddle trip down a wild river is not the cure for all that ails society, but there are lessons to be learned in multi-day, group adventures. There is power in common-shared experiences.

A riverside fish camp along the Ogeechee.

A riverside fish camp along the Ogeechee.

The Ogeechee, flowing through the heart of the Deep South, is like most southern rivers. At fish camps and riverside dwellings, it is not uncommon to see the Confederate battle flag waving in the breeze. Those that come to these fish camps couldn’t be more different than the average paddler that ventures on these waters in a kayak or canoe. It is a clash of cultures we’ve recognized since James Dickey penned his novel Deliverance and the bluegrass standard “Dueling Banjos” became synonymous with cultural conflict.

What we too often fail to realize is that the riverfront rebel and Hopper the Baptist dip their toes in the same river. If we wish to heal our national discord, we’d be wise to acknowledge these common experiences and seek ways to share more of them.

A wild river is as good a place to start as any.

Next year’s trip is tentatively set for the Conasauga-Oostanaula-Coosa Rivers in Northwest Georgia June 18-24. We hope to see you there!

And finally a few parting shots…


DSC_9420This young chain pickerel, caught by fisheries biologist Camm Swift in a kick seine net, was one of the many species of fish that turned up in Swift’s net during the week of Paddle Georgia. The abundance of young fish indicated that fish were reproducing successfully and Swift gave a thumbs up to the river’s health. Likewise, testing conducted by Georgia Adopt-A-Stream staff and volunteers pointed to a healthy river. Four years after a disastrous fish kill caused by releases from a Screven County textile plant, the river is on the road to recovery.



The “Nude Beach Photo Contest” provided some of the biggest laughs of the week. Contestants posed “nude,” creatively concealing critical body parts. Some were more revealing than others, and thus, the Georgia RIver Network staff decided it best not to publish these images for the world to see. This tastefully done pose is courtesy of Patty Leighton, Jake Sandlin and Nicole De Lisle. It should be noted that no clothes were removed in the making of “Nude Beach” photos.


DSC_1112The hero of Paddle Georgia 2015 is Georgia Canoe Association volunteer and GRN board member Vincent Payne and his crew of safety boaters and strainer busters. Vincent, along with Rob Garber, Keith & Lisa Haskell, Bonny Putney, Mike McCarthy and a host of other volunteers from the Paddle Georgia navy scouted the river in advance of the main body of paddlers strategically trimming strainers and sweepers to make a safe passage. Meanwhile, dozens of paddlers volunteered on the spot to safely move their comrades through the most difficult obstacles. This level of volunteerism gave us a glimpse of heaven in the face of what could have evolved into hellish situations.


DSC_8866In their young lives, Evan and Marco (pictured above) Newman, the sons of Donald Newman and Daniela Di lorio may have launched themselves off more rope swings on more different Georgia rivers than anyone in the state of Georgia. On the Ogeechee, they continued their quest.


DSC_0527Camp Creek Middle School’s team of 12 teachers and youth led by Joey Guinta and Alicia Evans. This group, most of whom had never paddled a canoe on a river, endured a Day 2 paddle that was the most challenging day of Paddle Georgia since 2008 when paddlers were forced to walk much of the Flint River after two years of drought. Other novices would have thrown in the towel, but this group stayed the course and before the trip’s end had mastered paddling strokes and were enjoying the rewards of the river. It was a truly inspirational group of youth.


DSC_1466No one wrestled alligators or fished a water moccasin from their vessel during the river journey, but back at camp Anne Ledbetter agreed to hold a roll of paper in her hand to help Richard Aunspaugh demonstrate his talents with his bull whip. We are considering recruiting Richard as assistant sweep boat for Paddle Georgia 2016.


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