Archive for March, 2009

Spring Sprung & Other News

April Ingle, Jennifer Wysocki and Ramsey Cook take a lunch break near Calhoun along the Oostanaula.

April Ingle, Jennifer Wysocki and Ramsey Cook take a lunch break near Calhoun along the Oostanaula River.

Spring arrived March 21 and with it warmer weather for paddling. Today, we scouted another stretch of Paddle Georgia 2009, Day 5–a paddle soon-to-be known as the Mussel Minuet. Alas, the river was running full and fast and the sand and gravel bars where mussels are to be found were under several feet of water. But, the more cuddly mammals were out in full force. Among the sightings were…one otter, one muskrat, one loner beaver, a family of four beavers emerging from their river bank den and one groundhog.

As a mussel advocate (that would be someone who extols the virtues of the 27 mussel species in the Upper Coosa River Basin) and using the mussel as the Coosa River Basin Initiative’s “mascot” (we call ourselves “Musselheads”), I’m often asked why CRBI does not choose a more appealing “mascot”–a fish, at least…perhaps an otter, even a heron or kingfisher would do. But a slimy, shelled invertebrate that’s rarely seen alive by anyone but the biologists that study these creatures? Surely, there’s a better face for this basin?

My answer is this: if I could be another animal, I would be a mussel. Keep your soaring hawks, your lighting fast cheetahs, your swift swimming dolphins; if I could come back to this world as another creature it would be the mussel.

A mussel is in no particular hurry to get anything done. It sits all day long with its feet buried in the sand, soaking in the cool water, sipping its favorite cocktail. For a mussel, life is a beach…and if they are lucky they can outlive many humans.

Yes, the life of a mussel would be a welcome change from the harried life that us bipedals lead.

On this trip, we floated above the mussels, taking note of all the

Dasher the Dog gets a drink of the Oostanaula off Jennifer's face.

Dasher the Dog gets a drink of the Oostanaula off Jennifer's face.

Oostanaula has to offer. The river alternately winds between stretches of low-lying floodplain occupied by cows, crops and sod farms to steep rock bluffs bristling with spring wildflowers (and occasionally topped by a riverfront home). We covered the 17-miles in a little more than five hours with enough time for a relaxing lunch, water fetch with Ramsey’s dog Dasher and a chilly swim for Jennifer and Ramsey (April and I had the good sense to keep our fannies dry!).

In other news…

The Deserving Design with Vern Yip show will air Saturday April 4 at 4:30 p.m. We’re throwing a little party at Old Havana Cigar Co. in Rome, Georgia to celebrate the debute. In addition to showing my house get “redesigned” the 30-minute HGTV program will also feature Paddle Georgia sailors April Ingle, Tim & James Watson and John Branch. You can join us for the event by RSVPing to jcook@coosa.org.

And, if you can’t make it to Rome for that event, join us April 17-18 for CRBI’S WATERFEST IX, our paddlesports and environmental education extravaganza. The event includes a 13-mile paddle on the Oostanaula, Georgia’s only canoe & kayak tug-o-wars, a live snake show, a concert by Andy “Offutt” Irwin and much more. You can learn more and register to participate at www.coosa.org.

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The Oostanaula spills into its floodplain in Rome during record rains in January.

The Oostanaula spills into its floodplain in Rome during record rains in January.

In January, the Oostanaula River here in Rome spilled over its banks, flooding the city’s recreational path along the river where I like to jog. We Romans stood dumbfounded. It had been so long since rains like this hit North Georgia, we’d forgotten what a good flood looked like.

The flood washed away docks at city parks (some of the ones we hoped to use for Paddle Georgia), and, it seems, washed away memories of the ongoing drought that still grips the state. Despite these floods and more regular rainas of late, drought still has a hold on North Georgia.

Last week State Climatologist David Stooksbury predicted that the drought would continue this year, especially in Northeast Georgia where we’d originally planned to stage Paddle Georgia 2009 on the Broad and Savannah rivers.

A paddle trip down the bone dry Broad in August made us think twice about attempting Paddle Georgia on it. As on the Flint during Paddle Georgia 2008, we found ourselves dragging our boats over sandbars as much as paddling. That’s when we turned our attention to the Coosawattee and Oostanaula rivers of Northwest Georgia–where Carters Dam helps regulates flows, insuring to a certain degree adequate water levels.

With the exception of Day 1 where flow on the Upper Coosawattee is contigent solely upon rainfall, we should be assured of adeqaute water levels. In other words, Paddle Georgia shouldn’t become “Puddle Georgia” this year. That’s good news.

The bad news, we still haven’t had the drought breaker–steady, regular rains that raise groundwater and river levels to historic levels.

In fact, despite some record rains in January, Rome is almost six inches behind what is considered normal rainfall for this time of year.

What’s that mean for Paddle Georgia in June? Who knows! We may get a gullywasher on June 19, and the rivers could be at floodstage on June 20 when we begin our trip. However, a few things are pretty certain: Day 2 (on Carters Lake) will be free of aggravating encounters with sandbars, and Days 3-7 will  take place on rivers with a regulated flow. For better or worse, we are assured of at least 240 cubic feet per second flowing down the Coosawattee below the Carters Lake Re-regulation Dam.

In other news…our campsites are set thanks to some great hospitality from the folks in Ellijay, Calhoun and Rome. We’ll spend three nights at Gilmer County High School, three nights at Calhoun High School, one night at Armuchee High School and we’ll celebrate the River’s End at Heritage Park in Downtown Rome.

I also met recently with the good folks at the Corps of Engineers at Carters Lake who’ll be hosting us on Day 2. With their help we are arranging for a take out at the dam rather than a nearby boat ramp busy with powerboats. This should make for a more pleasant take out, and we get a great view of the highest earthen dam east of the Mississippi. It’s an impressive sight…and I think, some will find it a somewhat saddening sight. Paddling across a lake to discover the massive obstacle blocking the water’s path reminds us of the wild river that is lost beneath the lake. It puts us in the mood of James Dickey and Deliverance and teaches us a bit about how we use and abuse our rivers.

Joe Cook

March 4, 2009

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