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It’s Day 6 of Paddle GA which is practically forever for my 7 teenagers. This is Camp Horizon’s third consecutive year of partnering to participate on this marvelous journey. Camp Horizon has served Atlanta’s children and youth who have been abused and neglected for over 35 years. These are kids who have been in and out of the foster care system. These are kids who have rarely been in a canoe and who have never camped before this week.

However, now that we are on Day 6, each of these kids look like experts. Today’s trail started near GA Highway 83. We stopped in the little town of Juliette after we portaged around the dam. Naturally, we stopped at the Whistle Stop Café and had some fried green tomatoes. They were the perfect mid-morning snack for us to continue on our 14.5 journey. Afterwards, we hit a few small shoals, ambushed other boaters with our water cannons, and swam at some small beaches.

The other highlight on the river was the Dame’s Ferry Rapid. Since we’re beginners, we have had to miss many of the rapids that the more experienced paddlers have been able to go through the week. The safety boaters warned us of the rebar and showed us the best path to take. But between you and me, these kids needed no help. They are able to accurately read the river and choose the best path. Each stroke has purpose and direction. It is consistently amazing to watch a group of teenagers who are awkward and clumsy in a pack of canoes turn into skilled, strong paddlers.

Once we were off the river, we came back to camp and had an amazing cookout. We ventured to the sunflower fields at the farm, watched the No-Talent Show and WON the Cornhole Tournament! Every night, we have what we call “campfire” which is really just a lantern. (Note: We would love an actual campfire because we want s’mores!) Tonight, we will have our braid ceremony. We give a small, yarn braid to everyone which recognizes our individual strengths as well as our journey we have been on as a family.  It is one of our most sacred traditions that each of the campers will remember for years to come.

I’m often asked if I really believe this trip makes a difference for them. My answer is always a resounding yes. Not only does to provide an opportunity for teens to be unplugged from technology and connected to nature which is a serious deficit in today’s youth, it is week where these kids get to simply be kids. They don’t have to go to a closure visit when their mother’s rights are terminated. They don’t have to worry about getting along with foster siblings. They don’t have to move to a new house for the 5th time in year. They get to have an adventure. They get to play and swim and explore and laugh. They get to be with their family. It is a beautiful week.

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These kids are just like our rivers. When they are forgotten and abused, the future is bleak. When they are safe and loved, they make our world a better place. I am so privileged to be a part of Paddle GA that gets to take care of both.

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– Taylor Hunt, Camp Horizon

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6 am came early today but was welcomed by the song of the Bobwhite Quail and Eastern Bluebird. The Northern Mockingbird piped in singing its repertoire of songs. It almost fooled me with its impressive imitation of the Yellow-breasted Chat but when it switched to imitating the Carolina Wren, I realized its identity. Waking up in a field of sunflowers also added to the beauty of the morning. Now that most of the day has passed, I can only say this was overall just a delightful day.

 

I needed to be on the 1st bus out because I was part of the Adopt-A-Stream (AAS) workshop training so I traveled to the river with the early birds. Looking out the window, the Ocmulgee River sign caught my eye. We were almost there! I reached the river before the first boat entered and was graced by the sight of a circling Osprey. Soon the water filled with boats and I watched as the first water fight of the day started 50 foot from the put in.

 

Breakfast is a worthy mention for the day. For the most part I have been skipping breakfast but I overheard everyone raving about the food so I had to go for it, especially the grits. And yes, the raves were true! Hats off to our caterers!

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Every year on Paddle Georgia, AAS offers a chemical training for anyone interested in getting involved in their local watershed by becoming an AAS volunteer. This year we had 4 participants in our chemical training workshop including the 3 teacher scholarship recipients. AAS coordinators spent about an hour with these folks yesterday evening discussing watersheds, threats to our waterways, goals of AAS and how to get involved. This morning at the put in, the newly certified volunteers practiced monitoring by measuring temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity and also made basic water and weather observations. I assisted in the training as an AAS trainer but I also enjoyed the morning watching almost every paddler slip their boat into the inviting Ocmulgee River.

Let me take a minute to introduce the teacher scholarship participants. Thanks to Paddle Georgia’s many sponsors, Georgia River Network is able to offer scholarships to teachers to participate in the paddle and go through curriculum training during the week. Their trip starts early, meeting Friday at 10am before the paddle begins to get training in Project WET (Water Education for Teachers). The curriculum is full of exciting hands-on activities to get students engaged in exploring water, from properties of water to watersheds, and how water inspires our lives. This year, the teachers also received training in Healthy Water Healthy People, another engaging curriculum geared for middle school. Both curriculums include fun activities like exploring pH by creating your on pH scale with cabbage juice or analyzing different liquids to determine which one is water. The teachers this year include Kari Riley, Erin Smoaks, and Tyler Carpenter. Join them tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon as they present some of the activities for the whole camp to participate in.

So, to get back to today’s paddle, I kept my eye on the paddlers as they started their paddle. The talk of the morning was whether or not you were continuing on for the Class II rapids. Those planning to continue were asking for prays and giving instructions on what to do if they didn’t return. All talk was lighthearted and all paddlers were just enjoying the morning.

9:30 and the paddler’s were on the water with me being close to the last boat. Seira Baker, my canoe partner and AAS State Coordinator, and I paddled steadily and soon found ourselves in the mist with the other paddlers. Near the 2 mile mark, a large Sycamore leaned out over a deep pool in the river inviting paddlers to climb its main trunk and jump off into the cool waters below. Those that took the challenge were encouraged by others cheering below.

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Just before the 4 mile take out at Marjorie Kahn Popper Boat Launch, all paddlers were treated to a series of shoals that prepared the paddles continuing on for the Lamar Mill Rapids and gave those ending at 4 miles, a little thrill and relieve they were close to the end. The safety boats placed throughout the shoals were seen as angles guiding us through the rapids and offering encouraging instructions. Thanks to our angles for making the shoals a fun run.

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Marjorie Kahn Popper Boat Launch provided a shading rest stop or a welcome take out. For those taking out, the site provided a shoot for the boats to get them to the top of the ramp.  I followed the shoot up and watched as kayaks were loaded on and easily pulled to the top. Wouldn’t it be great if every launch site made loading boats so easy?

 

For those of us continuing through Lamar Mill Rapids, it was time to put on the helmets and get serious. Safety boaters gave us a description of what to expect ahead and the best position to be in the water. We were told to expect 3 ledges each on river right and that’s what we found. As in the previous rapids, we found angles (our safely boats) strategically placed in the rapids to guide us through and be there should we get in trouble. These shoals provided an exciting run and I was happy to report, they weren’t as difficult as the hype, yet very technical.

Once through the rapids, all paddlers were nothing but smiles. Some of us weren’t good listeners and continued on river left and found the shoals before Wise Creek, one last exciting run before the calmer waters below. From Wise Creek on, paddlers found calming sandbars to get out for a swim, lunch, stretch our legs or skip rocks or if you are Harold Harbert and Chris Thompson, soap up for a refreshing bath in the river.

– Ruth Mead, PG Teacher

A Beautiful day with water like Dave’s mocha latte.  Rains earlier in the week raised our water levels a foot or two on the Yellow River, resulting in high turbidity   levels and a good current to push us downstream into Lake Jackson.

Today was trash day, and we gathered lots of modern day flotsam and jetsom, mostly plastic bottles and balls and Styrofoam, from the strainers along the river banks (but only if there was an eddy or slow enough flow to make the trash retrieval safe).   We’re big on that at Paddle Georgia – safety first, fun second and fundraising for cleaner healthier rivers.  Our put in at Bert Adams Scout Camp was a wood-chipped trail with portable wooden steps and platform, just big enough to get in your canoe or kayak with help from our ubiquitous Georgia Canoeing Association volunteers.

“Trash Queen” Bonnie Putney organized today’s river cleanup and made prizes from fused glass (melted) bottles from other river cleanups.  Yay Bonnie!  No surprise, Duane “Bubba Duck” and his Kentucky crew took most trash (10 bags on Duane’s 15.5 foot Kraaken) and a special prize for the most balls—113 balls pulled from the river; runner up Cheryl Smith had around 80.  We saw our kingfisher and snowy egret, as we do on almost every Paddle Georgia.

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Lake Jackson took up 4 of our 6.5 mile paddle today, but with sparse motorized lake traffic the lake side shuffle up the left hand lake shore went swimmingly (we only saw one jet ski).

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Danridge Farm is our new campsite today.  Camp move days are always a hustle, packing up and loading our gear before boarding buses for the river in the morning, and setting up camp after getting off the river that afternoon.  But this old farmsite is an icon, with plenty of shade trees to camp under and an awesome rope swing in the middle of the site underneath a massive black walnut tree that had to be at least 150 years old.  Dozens of our tents fit underneath this old grandmother tree.  Others pitched camp near an old homesite chimney next to sunflower fields, with the event station in several old repurposed barns and our big white dining tent and the old farmhouse in between.

From the corn hole tournament to the Newleywet Game to a viewing of “My Cousin Vinnie” (filmed in nearby Monticello), we all had a most excellent evening, well fed on Satterfield’s famous cole slaw, barbeque and Brunswick stew (or beans and rice for those with a more plant based diet), and peach cobbler.  And so another day of little adventures and challenges ends, with more fun and excitement is store tomorrow for our happy paddlers.

Sidenote: On any journey, unexpected pathways open, well laid plans change from no fault of mice and men, and always the Georgia River Network crew, led by the ever innovative Joe Cook and aided by interns, volunteers, and fellow campers find a way to improvise and overcome those little setbacks that always tend to happen, often with very little (or no) notice.  And often, usually, with persistence and perseverance, they reach a different outcome than originally intended, along a better path, that leaves us with valuable lessons and experience we would not have gained if we were not on Paddle Georgia, working together to improve our rivers and our waters, and our knowledge and understanding of them.  Tomorrow, the adventure continues.

  • Victor Johnson, GRN Boardmember

A second cup of coffee was in order this morning although changes in events soon began to fall into place. Increased water flow from Sunday evening rain made it necessary to change the put-in location farther downstream to avoid rapids which became unpassable below the original starting point.  The higher water flow provided a new perspective of a river swollen nearing the bank heights, covering many of the prior days obstacles.

The new morning brought blue skies and higher water and the wildlife was active.  The ripples in the water glistened, birds sang and fish were jumping in the new morning light. The Yellow was moving swiftly, paddling to merely navigate the winding river allowed a restful day for all.

– Tim Voss, Georgia River Network Board member

When it rains it pours, literally & figuratively! After a slightly chaotic start Saturday morning & Saturday night’s downpour, things were bound to get better. After all no rain was forecast for Sunday… and then we arrived at the launch site to discover kayaks and canoes stacked on in and around other boats down a long narrow path. While this delayed the actual launch somewhat, the Paddle Georgia “ready for anything” attitude among our paddlers prevailed.

The safety boaters were out at their pre-assigned locations to ensure a safe passage through difficult spots. We got to paddle a few whitewater sections, although nothing like Day 1. After that, it was flat water, and time for renewing old friendships while establishing new ones. Porterdale got to share its charm with Paddle Georgia aficionados and local townspeople.

The town party was highlighted by the annual canoe tug-of-war, which was held at the Porterdale gymnasium. With an open ceiling, a temporary 50’ x 25’ pool, and an awesome live band, the party rocked! People (and the lead singer of the band!) even jumped into the pool for a swim after the tug-of-war!

The canoe tug-of-war ended with a victorious battle-cry from the GRN team defeating the River Rats, who had a local resident join their team after hearing the nearby party. We ended the evening at a reasonable hour as we headed to our sleeping tent. Overall, a pretty grand day.

– Kit Carson, Georgia River Network Board member

Day One on the river was not a normal Paddle GA day. Late buses, slow start on the river, traffic jam of boats at portage, and a dip on two through the rapids, made true paddlers of us all.

 

 

As Joe put it at 8:30 pm when the last bus arrived back to camp, we all had some dips, tips, and wipe outs at some point during the day. The safety volunteers from Georgia Canoe Association were the heroes of the day and our paddlers were truly grateful for their dedication and assistance with patience. What a crew!

 

Paddle Georgia would not be the same without a few bumps and bruises or chasing down unoccupied boats, gear and ejected paddlers. No one was spared today from the water. Even if you survived the river, many who returned to camp early were not spared the rain or the thunderstorm. As Joe confusiously stated: “We all had shared experience today, and the fact that we all survived today’s paddle, means we can survive ANYTHING!”

 

– Tammy Griffin, GRN Boardmember

Perspiration and sweat.  The first from the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer day, the later from the hard work of Joe, Dana, Gwyneth and the host of volunteers and interns who have so diligently brought together the grand production:  Paddle Georgia 2018.

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Shirl and I found our way to Porterdale noonish from Ormewood Park in SE Atlanta and met up with our friend Betsy Richter.  The Village of Porterdale has provided an emerald field aside the Yellow River and sheltered by a pastoral bottomland forest along the periphery – home base for the first four days of adventure.

Schlepping…Had to get our boats up to the launch pad about an hour away with traffic and all.  Nestled deeply in the miasma of suburbia, the launch site itself seemed a bucolic anachronism…a pleasant wooded stream.  What adventures will it provide those of us who will sally forth on it for the next seven days?

Returning to Porterdale we navigated backroads, much more pleasant travel indeed.  The wooded periphery of the field had been populated into a tent city by the time we got back around 4:00 and I set out to meet and greet… the assigned task for the day.  It was great…lots of folks I hadn’t seen since last year and certainly some new ones as well.  And as always on the day before a great adventure there is a pervasive underlying energy…an optimism, a chomping at the bit.  To cite Dr. Frankenfurter (Rocky Horror Picture Show) I would say the group psyche was one of ANTICI…….

………..PATION.

Keith d’Sweep Parsons, GRN Board member

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