It has become something of a tradition…in 2007, I spent New Year’s Day on the Ocmulgee; in 2008 Doc Stephens and I camped on the Flint to the sounds of New Year’s fireworks; on the eve of 2009, Doc, April Ingle and I made a cold journey down the Coosawattee and this year, Doc, Kelly Frazer and I ventured on the Broad and Savannah.
Much to my chagrin, taking unintentional swims on cold rivers in 40-degree weather is also becoming something of a tradition…but these are the risks we take to bring in the New Year right and organize a fun (and safe) trip in the warm, sunny days of late June!
The two-day trip showed us the last miles of the Broad as it empties into the Savannah and Lake Strom Thurmond and the vast expanses of water between Russell Dam (just upstream from the Broad and Savannah’s confluence) and Clark’s Hill Dam(some 32 miles downstream). The Savannah is a big river and Lake Strom Thurmond, at 71,000 acres, is the second-largest artificial lake east of the Mississippi.
Our New Year’s Eve paddle began in a cold drizzle at Ga. Hwy 17 southeast of Elberton. A week earlier, the Broad was out of its banks, and on this day,
it was still running swift and strong (5.5 feet at the gauge in Carlton with a discharge of close to 2000 cubic feet per second). We sped down the river with help from the current, ventured up Wahatch Creek, ran into some beavers, slipped over shoals washed out by high water and before we knew it we were upon Anthony Shoals. The Shoals boast of beautiful spider lilies in the spring, but on this day, the shoals were buried under churning water and waves.
We navigated the upper shoals just fine, but when it came to the channel blasted out of the shoals years ago to make way for river barges, we were confronted with a quarter mile of standing waves, complete with some healthy canoe swampy holes…which we deftly found.
Doc navigated the shoals without incident, but Kelly and I hit a big hole early, filling our boat with just enough water to make the rest of the ride very squirrelly. Just when we thought we might get through relatively dry, another wave and rock washed us over.
Lesson learned…$600 drysuits might be a good investment if New Year’s Day paddles continue as tradition (April and I swamped on the Coosawattee too!) and a 5.5-foot flow in June is going to make for some interesting adventures at Anthony Shoals during Paddle Georgia. For the record, average flows for the last week of June are about 3.75 feet.
After a quick recovery and even quicker paddle to our vehicle at Ga. 79, we warmed up in the car, dried our clothes at a laundromat in Elberton and found refuge for New Year’s night at Richard Russell State Park.
New Year’s Day found us back on the Broad in beautiful, sunny weather.
Though some loath lake paddles, Paddle Georgia 2010 will include a seven and a half mile jaunt on Lake Strom Thurmond.
It’s a chance to meditate on a river “dying” behind a dam; it’s also a paddle that includes some impressive scenery.
Where the Broad’s current slacks into the lake, a large flat wetland area is home to at least one very active family of beavers. One member paddled next to Doc for several seconds before slapping its tail and sending a spray of water across his bow. A massive den marked the creature’s home just downstream.
Further downstream near the confluence of the Broad and Savnnah the lake laps at the base of what must have been an impressive bluff on the banks of the old Savannah. The rock wall and adjacent knoll stretches some 130 feet above the lake, offering beautiful panromic views across the lake into South Carolina. We scampered to the top and took it in, contemplating the prospects of a mid-summer leap into inviting waters below (provided favorable depths!)
With the exception of the home and dock-lined south bank of the Broad River arm of the lake, the section we paddled was wild and undeveloped. Bobby Brown State Park flanks the north bank of the Broad and once on the mainstem of the Savannah, Mt. Carmel Campground and the Sumter National Forest cover the South Carolina bank, while on the Georgia side, as-yet-undeveloped real estate and the Corps of Engineer’s Hesters Ferry Campground keep the banks green.
Sure, I’d rather paddle a river. Lakes–especially 71,000-acre lakes just don’t belong in Georgia where there is only one natural lake (Banks in South Georgia). But these massive man-made reservoirs have become part of the landscape of our rivers. For any Georgian born after 1960 and the heyday of dam building in our state, these reservoirs are as much a part of our state map as the Okefeenokee Swamp or Brasstown Bald.
Perhaps by venturing upon our state’s altered river landscape, we can understand what’s been lost and what we’ve gained in the “development” of our rivers so that in the future as we face “to dam or not to dam” decisions in the name of water supply we can draw upon the perspective we gained afloat on a 71,000-acre inland “sea.”
Hester’s Ferry Campground and boat ramp will be our destination for the lake paddle. With the benefit of a tailwind from the north, we covered the seven miles on the lake in about three hours with ample time for exploring the sites. That’s good news, for at the end of this day during Paddle Georgia we will load up our boats and truck them some forty miles around the rest of Strom Thurmond to begin our journey anew below Clark’s Hill Dam. Augusta awaits on the other side.
Happy New Year, and look for Paddle Georgia registration to begin in late Janaury or early February. It’s going to be another great trip.
Jan. 3, 2010