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Though their parents and grandparents may have know the Conasauga and Oostanaula as a dumping ground for industrial and municipal waste, after a week on the river, this generation will remember the rivers a wet amusement ride.

Another Paddle Georgia is in the books, and as a resident of Rome where the trip ended, I can say that the event put an exclamation mark on my community’s renewed embrace of river recreation.

What Rome has experienced during the past two decades is a generational paradigm shift in how local residents perceive the three rivers flowing through the heart of their community.

Let me explain…

From the end of the Coosa’s steamboat era in the early 1900s through the 1950s, Rome’s rivers remained a focal point for local residents—a readily available recreational escape.

During the “Roaring 20s” there were motorboat races at the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah and Boy Scout excursions on paddlewheel houseboats up the Oostanaula. Into the 1950s, families camped regularly on the Oostanaula’s Whitmore Island, spending days fishing and living off the river.

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A line of paddlers makes their way down the narrow and winding Conasauga during Paddle Georgia 2016.

But, those activities went out of style in the 1960s as the river became fouled by effluent from Dalton’s burgeoning carpet mills. The Conasauga and Oostanaula became so polluted that Romans turned their backs to them. Those residents that came of age along these rivers between 1960 and 1990 learned that they were unfit for swimming and fishing.

In a column by Roger Aycock published in the Jan. 6, 1974 issue of the Rome News-Tribune, the local historian wrote: “Pollution from civic and industrial sources have largely destroyed the once idyllic pursuit of river fishing and camping…Still, the old potential for sport and pleasure remains. With the completion of sewage disposal projects…some portion of that pleasure in our outdoor life may be available again—if not to our generation, which has permitted its decline, then perhaps to our children, who may restore it.”

Aycock’s words were prophetic. The Clean Water Act forced change. Municipal and industrial facilities cleaned up their sewage and wastewater. Citizen advocates formed groups like the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

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Jessie Morris of Peachtree City has a close encounter with a southern pocketbook mussel on the Conasauga River.

As we have on so many of our recent Paddle Georgia adventures, we discovered a river revived.

Briana Smith, a participant from Rome and recipient of one of Georgia River Network’s educator scholarships, told us her parents warned her away from the Oostanaula as a child, but after several days on the river, she said she wouldn’t hesitate to bring her students on the river.

Russ Delozier, a Paddle Lite participant from Dalton, was similarly effected. Though he’s lived in area for years, it was his first excursion on the Conasauga. He wrote to us after the trip, saying, “Here in Dalton and Chatsworth,  we’ve been blessed with fabulous water resources.  But due to, in some cases, unawareness and in others ignorance or even indifference, the communities as a whole have taken those precious (and limited) resources for granted.  So I’m glad to say, your well organized efforts in the Paddle Georgia program have had a needed impact on me.”

For decades, the Conasauga in Dalton was known as the dumping ground for the city’s economic engine—not a place to visit for fun on the water. In fact, it wasn’t until the last five years that the first developed access to the river was established, and even today, there are only two public boat launches along the river’s entire 93-mile length.

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Taylor Harrison of Carrollton drifts down the Oostanaula. There was as much swimming and drifting as there was paddling during Paddle Georgia 2016.

What we discovered on our journey was that the Conasauga and Oostanaula are places worthy of our paddles, fishing poles and swimming trunks, and those who live in Chatsworth, Dalton, Calhoun and Rome took notice.

A day after our journey ended in Rome, a headline in the Rome News-Tribune announced, “Rome’s Rivers Growing in Popularity.”

This river revival has been decades in the making. The children of Roger Aycock’s generation have, in fact, restored our rivers, and Paddle Georgia’s journey through the upper Coosa River basin, has emphatically announced to Coosa River communities: “Welcome back to our rivers!”

Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia Coordinator

June 29, 2016

And, a few additional parting shots…

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Carol McNavish of Houston, Texas gives a peck to an Alabama hogsucker held by Upper Coosa Riverkeeper Amos Tuck. The hogsucker did not turn into Prince Charming; he was released back to the Oostanaula without further incident.

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Ben Owens of Rome gets a “back massage” during a break along the Conasauga River.

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The river that once carried carpet waste now cools paddlers. Chris Lewis, Ellen Cardin, Amos Tuck, Barbara Lamb and Chad Johnfroe luxuriate in a Conasauga River shoal.

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Refugees crossing the river to the promised land or Paddle Georgia participants reaching a take out location? Thanks to the dozens–nay hundreds–of volunteers who pitched in to aid fellow paddlers, move boats, load gear trucks, etc. You are what makes Paddle Georgia so special!

The last day of Paddle Georgia 2016 was upon us at the lovely and accommodating Calhoun High School.P1130627 A city of colorful tents and hammocks dotted the track and bleachers, and the gym floor was filled wall to wall with waking paddlers. It never ceases to amaze me how early paddlers start their day on Paddle Georgia – ¾ were up by 5:30 AM enjoying a freshly brewed cup-a-joe at Café Campesino. However, I’ve come to realize that folks are up -bright eyed and bushy tailed – P1130570before sunrise for good reason with afternoon temps rising into the mid 90’s, these early birds do catch the worm, being able to enjoy the cool morning breeze and wildlife that also ventures out to forage this time of day.

Although my daughter Aviva Zephyr (who turned 1 year old on June 22, 2016), my Uncle Duck, and I were up early, we caught the last bus at 8:00 AM after finishing up a few last minute Volunteer Management tasks.P1130610

We set out for the 14.5 mile journey ahead in our canoe outfitted with a mini Pack N Play and shade umbrella for Aviva.

I felt inspired by those folks who took photos of happy little Aviva in the canoe to share with their friends and family back home who were too scared to take their children paddling. Hopefully we are starting a trend to get more youngsters on our waterways!

Another amazing thing about Paddle Georgia is the sense of community support that abounds. P1130559People are always looking out for each other, lending a hand with hauling gear and boats, offering extra water or sunscreen to those who forgot theirs, and yes offering to hold Aviva when we were carrying our canoe, eating, or pretty much any time (although I think there might have been a little ‘Give me that BABY!’ syndrome going on <:0).

P1130706The floods from the winter had scoured the banks eroding the sediment underneath trees exposing their gnarly web of roots and leaving caves for animals to reside in. You could also see how high the water levels had reached by the logs that had become lodge high in the tree branches above! I was struck by the sedimentary layers of rock sandwiched at odd angles along the river bank- some with fossils.P1130724

Cicadas could be heard throughout the day,
emitting a constant hum that became a pleasant ambient background noise coming from every direction you turned. As the sun shared its warmth with paddlers, squirt guns were engaged, and kids and adults alike popped out of their boats drifting alongside cooling off in the river. I didn’t see many sandbars on the Oostanaula,
instead there were many bars made up of smooth multi colored pebbles – Carlton Goberperfect for landing your boat and getting out for lunch or a swim.
The clock tour welcomed us as we paddled into Rome standing tall above the tree line. We soon reached the confluence where the Oostanaula joins the Etowah to form the Coosa river and we, like many other paddlers, wanted to paddle 5 rivers during this trip, so paddled a few yards upstream on the Etowah to add that to our list.P1130796

As we glided to the takeout we gave a celebratory whoop and an extra yeehaw as Aviva hit her 100th river mile! The river celebration party had already begun with live music, games, and fish fry preparation underway…  Canoes filled with ice cold watermelon and refreshments helped keep people hydrated as they packed up their boats and gear.

The duck race was a hit with 555 tickets sold, raising approx. $2000 for Georgia River Network!  Congrats to winner Carlton Gober! It was a tight race…

Barb Grim Volunteer awardAfter a delicious dinner provided by Coosa River Basin Initiative we gave out prizes for best volunteer, foot tan, oldest and youngest participant, and told more Logperch jokes. Hugs and goodbyes were shared and Joe Cook revealed that our Paddle Georgia 2017 will be on the Etowah!

Thanks to everyone for supporting Georgia River Network and Coosa River Basin Initiative and making Paddle Georgia 2016 another successful and amazingly fun trip!

~Happy ‘Water Trails’~

Gwyneth Moody
Georgia River Network, Community Programs Coordinator

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GRN intern, Dillon Langston, relaxing on the river today.

After the 22 mile trek on Wednesday, there were lots of smiling faces as we paddled the more relaxing 13 mile stretch of the beautiful Oostanaula today. The weather was fully cooperative, being partly cloudy with a nice breeze, and the easier paddle made for lots of fun. I heard paddlers singing songs and laughing, saw them jumping off rocks, and spraying boatloads (literally) of people with their supersoakers.

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Came around the bend to see this snake with a catfish in its mouth!

The wildlife must have sensed the beautiful day too! There were lots of sunfish caught by our fisherman kayakers, plenty of mussels found, a couple of snakes, and a few paddlers even saw an otter or two! The beautiful day combined with the easy-going spirits of the boaters was a great way to prepare for the last day of Paddle Georgia.

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Comedian, Ed Aceves, and host, Victor Johnson, giving the rest of the paddlers a laugh.

Ending Thursday night was the “No Talent Talent Show” hosted by the witty Victor Johnson. Paddlers stepped up to the mic with everything from songs to jokes to stories. One of the acts that I enjoyed was Mary Ellen Self singing her rendition of “My Church” by Marren Morris, but instead of talking about her favorite radio station, Mary Ellen sang to us about how Georgia’s rivers are her preferred means of being spiritual. Two more hilarious acts were Beverly Benfield and Ed Aceves reciting their best jokes. Beverly had some great insight about the Conasauga Log Perch, while Ed had us laughing with his lactose-intolerant jokes.

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Mary Ellen Self singing about her Paddle Georgia church!

While this eventful week is winding down for paddlers, staff, and volunteers, I know everyone is looking forward to the River’s End Celebration in Downtown Rome. I am personally excited for the Duck Race, and can’t wait to see 500+ ducks float down the Oostanaula!

 

 

-Lily Robins, Georgia River Network Intern

 

1Respect, responsibility, and resilience: the Paddle Georgia Youth Program (PGYP) participants hold the ‘three Rs’ in high regard, and displayed all of these characteristics on today’s 21-mile trek. We kicked off right at the confluence of the Conasauga and Coosawattee Rivers, and the swift current welcomed us onto the Oostanaula. Pretty awesome to think we will travel the entire length of this river over the next few days…
This year, the PGYP partners with Camp Horizon (CH), a program that has been serving metro-Atlanta children who have been abused and neglected for over 30 years. Each student received a scholarship to attend Paddle GA thanks to grants and generous donations of caring individuals (THANK YOU!) who want to share the love of rivers with the kids.4 Learn more about this fantastic group at http://www.camphorizon.net The teens are part of CH’s Leadership Development Program (LDP), and the PGYP is the only week-long experience for the LDP students. Led by Taylor Hunt, the group will not only paddle all 103 miles of the trip, they also work on nightly self esteem and reflection activities, journaling, and games. 7
To say that today’s mileage was intimidating would be an understatement. There were a few tears and fears shared in our circle. But we did it, and we are so proud! After lots of laughs about reflecting on how much fun we had today, here are some tips our campers our cared to share in order to successfully paddle these long distances: 5
1. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. – Chandler, 18
2. Make sure you choose a cool spot to swim in the hot sun. – KK, 17
3. Be around people with infectious mojo, like our group! – Sam, counselor
4. Keep singing random songs, it makes everyone smile. And just being together with others helps. -Madison, 13
We have lots of fun. And we are building the next generation of respectful and responsible river-lovers. Exploring the watershed today, we came across a swimming water snake, an Alabama Orb, limestone bluffs, and even a few bovine. After pushing out 11 miles before noon, we took reprieve at our pit stop for a little fishing and a little napping. As we rounded each bend, campers called out compass headings so that others could help us track out mileage, a really fun way to practice our navigation skills. Resilience kicked in and we completed today’s paddle with smiles all around.6
Somehow, campers saved up just enough energy to dance the night away at tonight’s street party in downtown Calhoun…or maybe it was the snow cones? Either way, the highlight of the party was the canoe tug-of-war, where teams of three compete in an outdoor pool set up by James and Debby Lossick with Cedar Creek RV & Outdoor Center. Ps: they also provide canoes for the PGYP, so to say they’re generous folks is not even close to enough.
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Tonight’s tug of war teams competed in several rounds and it ultimately came down to the New Echota River Alliance vs Coosa River Basin Initiative. Partners in conservation, but fierce competitors in the pool. Who won? Well, Joe Cook said that if victory didn’t go to his team, he would do anything the winning team asked him to do. And, well, no one else had the opportunity to take him up on the offer, because it was his own CRBI team that pulled off the win.
Great job, everyone, both in the tug of war, and on the river today. I challenge you too to share our three Rs while you’re out there on the river. We are one strong group of respectful, responsible, and resilient folks!

Alicia Evans – Georgia River Network Board Member2

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Some of the volunteers helping load the truck to move this morning

Hump day on Paddle Georgia!!! We usually think of Hump Day as Wednesday, but on Paddle Georgia it is Tuesday. Now we are half way through our journey. I see happy faces and sad faces. Some time on the same person. Today we got to move. Always “fun” to move to a new “home”.P1130423

The sun was out a little more today and hotter, but there is always the river to cool us down. Now we are all off the river, camp sites set up, and have had some food. It’s time for fun, games and a lot of conversation. Many of us only see each other once a year on Paddle Georgia and have a lot of catching up to do.

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Great toss!

As the corn hole tournament is underway, the “Newly Wet” game begins. The answers reveal that some of the partners don’t know each other quiet as well as they think. After a battery of questions the sisters Casey Powers Harrison and Taylor Powers Harrison are victors…..  (Wonder what they will do with the water cannons they won?)

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The winners of the “Newlywet Game” with the wonderful MC Victor!

As we move outside the corn hole tournament is coming to an end. Eight teams tested the tossing skill. After 2 ½ grueling hours Mike Nadolski and Jerry Ellis emerge as champions.

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The winners of the coveted Paddle Georgia Corn Hole Tournament!

It is approaching “lights out” and I need to make my way to my tent.

Have a good night’s rest and happy paddling tomorrow.

Terry Pate ~ Georgia River Network Board Member

P1130121Day 3 of Paddle GA saw the Paddle Light paddlers gone, and the shortest day of our trip: 10 miles. If you could order a day to paddle today would have been the day. Blue skies, light breeze and warm temperatures, perfect… We all paddled slowly, enjoying the day, playing on sandbars,…. looking for trash. Yes, it was TRASH DAY!

Because of the location of the takeout we were able to get a dumpster for our trash but no service for removal of tires.RIMG0336 This did not seem like a big deal a month ago, but after paddling Saturday and Sunday and seeing tires everywhere I started to be concerned.  Other Paddle Georgia cleanup events turned into tire rodeos, over 300 on the Ocoee alone.

The no-tire-pickup was a disappointment to some, but after discussing it with CRBI Riverkeeper Amos Tuck we decided many tires were keeping the banks stabilized, P1130348many were fish habitat and a few were so buried in dirt removing them would hurt the river more then help it. I think things happen for a reason so no tire removal on this trip. We did find and remove a TV, dumpsters, toilets, toys filled with dirt, a microwave, rubber tubes, scary dolls and the usual bottles and can debris. We filled the dumpster (THANK YOU REPUBLIC SERVICES) and it felt good.P1130171
Picking up trash is one thing we can do to improve our waterways so joining your local watershed group and participating in events like paddle cleanups is an great way to get involved and paddle with a purpose.

Seeing all those tires is a good reminder of the work Georgia River Network does statewide to help improve all of our rivers.RIMG0333 Georgia has a fund to help with tire cleanups and other environmental concerns.

The problem is lots of the money from fees collected for that purpose ends up in the general fund for whatever the legislators feel like spending it on. Georgia Water Coalition has worked to make changes to the constitution so the money goes to cleaning up tire dumps and other dumping issues. RIMG0334Please help them continue this fight and contact your local representatives and let them know you want this fund to go the purpose it’s intended.

The evening program consisted of trash pickup awards and guest speaker Dr. Tom Deaton the author of “Bedspreads to Broadloom: The Story of the Tufted Carpet Industry,” which described the world famous carpet industry in Dalton, GA.

 ~ Bonny Putney – Georgia River Network Board MemberP1130379

Our second day on the coolest Paddle Georgia ever OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(temperature and people-wise); Thank you strainer busters and Georgia Canoe Association for easing us through the rock dam chute and tree jam strainers on the river.  Safety first makes fun better.  Bonny saw a Conasauga Log Perch!

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Bonny Putney with the “Conasauga Log Perch”

Camp Horizon campers squealing with delight in water fights, squirting Joey, Alicia, & Taylor.  Strangers helping strangers, friendships made and expanded, all to promote river protection and have fun on the river!  Farming operations pump water for crop irrigation.  How much? No one really knows because only high volume use (100,000 gallons per day, as in South Georgia) requires a water withdrawal permit.

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Camp Horizon paddlers having a water fight on the river!

After a long and rewarding day on the river, we take out at Dalton Utilities and tour their Loopers Bend Land Application facilities—one of the largest sewage land application systems (LAS) in the country, where nutritious treated sewage is sprayed on forests and fields at Dalton Utilities’ 9800 acre site.  Yum! (if you’re a tree or plant, that is).  They also have numerous solar arrays and experiment with other alternative energy sources such as algae.

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Paddlers cross under the Dalton Utilities bridge as they near the take out

Chelsea and Seira reviewed Adopt a Stream  sampling on the Conasauga so far—chemistry and  biology are good, conductivity a bit high but likely due to geology rather than pollution (Amos Tuck later explains the limestone’s ions are good ions for fish)  Later the AAS folks do their bacteriological analysis

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Bonny Putney with the “Conasauga Log Perch”

Becky Parker, one of the many former WET trainees introduced to Paddle Georgia, couldn’t paddle this year, so her fellow WWA’s (Women With Attitude) had the whole audience do a video Get Well Becky.

Program:  Amos Tuck of CRBI, Upper Coosa Riverkeeper and superhero, discussed the amazing biodiversity of the Conasauga River and the Coosa River Basin.  His blog of his  month long trip down the Conasauga several years ago, Amos’ Odyssey, revealed many of the fish, mussels, and wildlife of this river, that contains more species of fish than any other river in Georgia.  Why?  Because national forest land protects many headwaters of the Conasauga and its streams, which keep the waters clean and the aquatic ecosystem vibrant and diverse.

The mussels serve an important purpose, cleaning the water as they filter feed the sediment, removing organic materials and nutrients.

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Bonny Putney with the “Conasauga Log Perch”

Fish are necessary to the reproductive health of mussels, as an adult mussel may live 40 years and only move a few feet in that time.  To spread the baby mussels (called glochidia) farther afield (or astream), momma mussels shape their baby laden gills to imitate crayfish or other fish food, so when the fish strike the bait, the glochidia are spread downstream.  Some mussels grab fish by the nose and spit the glochidia on the fish’s gills, where the baby mussels hitch a ride to later dislodge and spread the species.  Some mussels are dependent on a specific fish species, so if the fish dies out in that river basin, so, too, may the mussels.

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These SE Appalachian streams are like the little Amazon in their biodiversity, with species from the ringbreasted darter to the holiday darter, Coosa bass to the Alabama shiner.  Mussels with names like pistolgrip, pocketbook, Appalachian monkeyface, fat three ridge (which has 8 ridges).  Mussels are an indicator species, as they filter a stream’s pollutants along with its nutrients.  Sadly, mussels are dying out at a rate faster than any other species.  Estrogen levels in the river are rising, due to chicken litter and runoff—the estrogen is a natural product of the hens, but is wreaking havoc on fish as male fish become hermaphroditic (grow female features) Which interferes with healthy fish populations.  Sediment from development and construction, if not properly regulated and controlled, clog our rivers, and high nitrogen levels from runoff of fertilized fields, all pose a threat to healthy river systems.

P1130082What can we do about this?  CRBI and Georgia River Network support programs to educate about our rivers, and to advocate for better laws and protections for our waterways.  Educational programs for kids and adults, programs like Paddle Georgia and GRN’s hidden gem paddles, water monitoring and river cleanups, get folks out on and in the rivers for hand-on experience.  Advocacy through legislative lobbying, to (when necessary), Clean Water Act lawsuits or settlements are often the best, and sometimes the only, defense against polluters and harmful practices.  How can you help?

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Amos Tuck conducts the nightly ptogram with help from his son

Join and donate to CRBI, your local watershed groups, and statewide non-profits like Georgia River Network.  You may be our last, and best chance, to help save our rivers and water sources.

~ Victor Johnson  – Georgia River Network Board Member

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