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Archive for June, 2010

A Whirlwind Down the Savannah

Like I say, the past two days have been a whirlwind. Forgive your dear blogger, but let’s play a little catch-up!

Thursday morning found our paddlers putting their boats into the main stem of the Savannah River just below Clarks Hill Dam. At somewhere near 200 feet tall, the dam is a marvel of river engineering. Not only that, but the water coming out of it (from the bottom of the reservoir) is frigid.

The Savannah is a big river, and it was a big change from the Broad. We didn’t head far downstream from our put-in before we reached the slack water backed up behind the low-head electric power dam where Stevens Creek enters the river from the South Carolina side.

Our paddlers sweated through the portage of the Stevens Creek Dam, and then paddled just a mile more downriver to reach another low-head dam at the head of the Augusta Canal (which was built in the mid-19th century).

Then the real fun began. At the Savannah Rapids Pavilion, a new Columbia County facility overlooking the dam and the river, Paddle Georgia and the Georgia Water Coalition, with other environmental and conservation groups, hosted a gubernatorial candidate forum on water issues and the environment. Instead of having supper back at camp, our paddlers dined at the pavilion and then stayed for the candidate forum. The best part? All the PG folks were wearing buttons that say “I Float & I Vote.” It was rad.

Today, Friday, has been a hot one, but the water is still really, really cold. The mist over the river this morning was beautiful. Unfortunately we had to put in on the Augusta Canal itself, paddle a short way (or carry), and then go up and over a footbridge and levee, and down some steps into the river.

The Savannah River here is stunning. It widens out into huge, wide shoals as it spills across the Fall Line. We had a lively day for most of the paddle, and finished up on flat water in downtown Augusta, where the river is backed up a bit by the New Savannah Bluffs Lock and Dam that’s several miles downstream.

And after all that time in the woods and hills of the Broad River country, we found ourselves smack in the middle of a big city. (Hearing ambulance sirens from the river was the first clue!) We reached our destination at the Savannah Riverkeeper’s office along the riverfront just downstream from downtown, and as I type we’re getting ready for the River’s End Celebration and supper.

Photos to come: I promise! But know for now that we’ve reached the end of our journey. Go paddlers!

-Ben Emanuel

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Day Five: On the Lake*

Today, our paddlers logged seven miles of flatwater paddling on the massive reservoir known as Clarks Hill Lake. “And it wasn’t that bad,” Allison Hughes told me — but she was up early before it got too hot out.

Anyway, even if they did get warm, our PGers had a niiiice place for cooling off: a big rocky bluff with a bigtime jumpin’ rock.

Here’s a picture!

Photo courtesy Joe Cook (as are all the pics so far on this blog, except for some by David Dallmeyer on the first couple days — many thanks, David!).

Oh, and be sure to notice the person in midair in that one!

And here are some more views from the bluff. Like I said, it’s a big lake…

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…and we now interrupt our regular programming to bring you a very special “Paddle Georgia Takes Over Elberton With a Dance Party” photo essay by Georgia River Network’s own Laura Parkhouse. A better blogger would have gotten these pictures to you earlier in the week, but hey: my days have been pretty full.

Anyway, enjoy!

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Day Four: Back in the Shoals!

You know, a day with a little whitewater always deserves an exclamation point. That’s just the way it is.

Don’t get me wrong; today we paddled a lot of flat water. At 18 miles, it was our longest day on the river, after all, and the vast majority of that was flat. (See photo.) And to answer an obvious question, yes: it was very hot. Again. Folks, we’ve got some tough cookies out here on Paddle Georgia.

But the day ended with a run through the spectacularly beautiful Anthony Shoals, at the very bottom of the free-flowing Broad. The river at Anthony Shoals is wide and multi-channeled, with shoal ledges and rock islands that you could explore all day if you wanted to. The site is also home to a healthy population of shoal lilies, and we were lucky to see many of them still blooming. Through the middle of the upper part of the shoals runs a narrow, straight channel cut decades ago for barge traffic, and it was through this channel that we paddled in order to avoid grounding in the shallows on the rocks.

The whitewater was not out of this world or anything, especially compared to Saturday’s, but I really can’t get over what a remarkable place Anthony Shoals is. As you come down the final run of whitewater and dump into the flat water at the top of the reservoir in which the Broad River effectively ends, rising above you on the right bank is a great, tall slope covered with gorgeous hardwood forest. Looking back up at the shoals from there, you see countless channels of water streaming down through small islands and, on the left against the bluff, patches of lilies. The place is incredible.

Here are some of Joe’s pictures!

Notice the lilies!

And even leaving aside the fun in the shoals, you won’t catch me saying the day wasn’t a nice one. Highlights included passing underneath a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron nest in a tree way out over the water. An adult sat stock-still on the nest, and some paddlers spotted a couple of nestlings. Again I heard many birds, and even caught site of an Indigo Bunting, a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo and a Prothonotary Warbler, brilliant in its yellow-on-gray plumage, flying upstream between my boat and the riverbank. C. B. Genrich and Shirley Banks found a water snake chilling out on a stump near the right bank of the river. The Tree of the Day, in case you’re wondering (and I know you are), was a tall, stout Loblolly Pine on river right. The forest through here in general is really lovely and quite diverse.

And I must add that Anthony Shoals wasn’t the only rocky, shoaly place of the day. Just when I was beginning to tell myself that I really should stop for lunch, I came around a bend to find several PG boats parked in the middle of the river at a place Joe Cook had called the Rock Garden. It was a low, small shoal, but it stretched all the way across the river, providing an excellent interruption to the morning’s flatwater paddling over sandy, silty river bottom.

Trip naturalist Mary Freeman and her fellow aquatic ecologist Rachel Katz were there picking up rocks to find the stream bugs living in the riverweed attached to the stones, and let me tell you those two scientists were loving life. (When I got there they claimed jokingly that they’d found the world’s smallest Channel Catfish. Hatched today, maybe? Could be!) Tami Morris pulled up in her kayak, hopped out and found a Coors Light can covered in riverweed; Mary pointed out that it was, in fact, habitat. Mary, you see, gets excited to see such places in the river — they show us what a lot more of the river was probably like before Piedmont cotton farming washed all of Georgia’s topsoil into creeks and rivers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, covering rocky bottoms and changing the stream ecology completely.

Gazing upstream from the Rock Garden while I finished my lunch and boats began to depart, Mary said wistfully, “What we need are some more rocks in this river.” A bit later, she added, “I love shoals. There’s just so much going on.” And this is from someone who knows. Me, I just like the places.

-Ben Emanuel

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Day Three: Party Time

As I write, the sun is setting over Elberton, Georgia, and in the middle of a closed-off street downtown half the Paddle Georgia crew is doing the hokey-pokey to a very high-volume soundtrack. They just got done doing the electric slide, in fact, and I thought I heard “YMCA” when I got here an hour ago for dinner.

In other words, it is an awesome scene to behold.

This will be our second of three nights camping at Elbert County High School, and tonight the city of Elberton is treating us to a groove-heavy street party in the heart of downtown. We had dinner at various local restaurants, and all I can say about my excellent supper is that there is so  much of it in my belly that neither the hokey-pokey nor the electric slide is really an option right now. (Okay… “YMCA,” maybe. If pressed.)

Believe it or not, this is the second party I’ve found myself at today (unless you count all of Paddle Georgia as one big, giant, ongoing, roving party… which it kind of is). Just before noon I came around a bend in the Broad and found a couple dozen boats beached along the shore of a big sandbar, their paddlers playing in the water or hanging in the shade or seining for fish in the shallows. My paddling partner and I decided to hang out for a while, and while we were there even more PGers showed up. Before long it was a wonderfully raucous scene, with activity everywhere you looked and lots of horseplay in the water (I’m looking at you, Joe Cook).

I should point out that my paddling partner for today happened to be the mayor of Athens, Georgia, where I live and where Georgia River Network is based. Mayor Heidi Davison was one of four local elected officials who joined us for today’s paddle; the others were Madison County Commissioners who live in the Broad River watershed. We invited them all in conjunction with the Broad River Watershed Association to get a taste of their river, and of Paddle Georgia. I have this to report: (A) I think they were impressed, and (B) they all had a really good time.

Madison County Commissioner Mike Youngblood had never been in a canoe before, he told me, but he took to it like a five-year PG veteran. His colleague Pete Bond had been down the Broad decades ago with his then-young sons, and definitely enjoyed getting back out and catching some fish with BRWA member Paul Webb. (“I had a ball,” Bond told me when he got to the take-out.) Bruce Scogin found a quiet stretch of river to himself and felt like he was out in the wilderness (largely true). As for me and Mayor Davison, we narrowly avoided several water-cannon attacks from various floating children and pirates, and were thus happy campers. We did, however, repeatedly dunk our bandannas, hats and shirts in the river and then put them back on in order to keep cool. Today was even hotter than yesterday, and as I’ve stated yesterday was hotter than the day before.

But if you could cope with the heat — which you can, if you’re a water-logged PGer — today was splendid. The river corridor is still mostly wooded, and in addition to a handful of sandbars there were beautiful rocky slopes and bouldery banks in tight bends of the river. I’m still amazed at how much birdsong we’re hearing, given that it’s now late in the breeding season and the weather is so hot. I heard many Wood Thrushes, a lot of Common Yellowthroats, vireos of all kinds, Acadian Flycatchers and Indigo Buntings in abundance. We saw a handful of kingfishers, a couple of hawks, a few Great Blue Herons and even a juvenile Wood Duck. The Tree of the Day in my book was a huge, towering basswood — a relatively rare species at this latitude and elevation — its flowers just fading (or were they only just coming out?) for the season.

And as much fun as our crew is having right now at the street party, I must repeat how pleased I am that the Mayor and the county commissioners had such a good time. A lot of the point was to get them out to see the wonderful resource in their backyards, and I think they got the picture. Paddlers everywhere take note: if you can find a day to treat your elected leaders to a day on the water, you’ll be glad you did.

Okay, enough blogging: I’ve got a party to catch up to. ‘Night!

-Ben Emanuel

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Day Two: Straight Chillin’

Forgive the sarcastic headline: today was even hotter than yesterday. On the other hand, we were definitely chilling in the sense that it was a relaxing, easy day on the water. Plus, that meant plenty of opportunity for swimming — swimming of the intentional variety, this time. In the words of paddler Andrea Camp of Eatonton, “It was good. We could just jump out of the boat and play in the water today.”

And play we did, although only one of the many (ten?) rope swings we passed was really any good for swinging on. Fortunately it was near some big rocks that were pretty good for jumping off of, too. “It was awesome!” exclaimed 8-year-old Sebastian LaTorre of Knoxville, Tennessee when I asked him about the jumpin’ rock. “I did a cannonball,” he hastened to add.

Except for some smallish shoals right near the start, today was just about all flat water. The insides of the river’s bends had gravelly sandbars in them, and towards the end of the day we got into sandy territory, which sometimes involved scraping and grounding in the shallows. But, it was a short day in terms of mileage, so no one was delayed by that. And although the river looked a lot more like the lower Piedmont as compared to yesterday’s definite upper-Piedmont feel, there were several big, rocky bluffs rising up away from the river in some its tight bends. We are in granite country, after all.

Speaking of which, our camp is now at Elbert County High School in Elberton, Georgia — the Granite Capital of the World. Some of our team went on a tour of the Georgia Guidestones today, and tomorrow we get to look forward to evening festivities in downtown Elberton itself, plus small tours of the local granite industry. Tonight at camp a bunch of paddlers received awards from Trash Queen Bonny Putney for their role in today’s river clean-up while paddling, although the litter on-river was somewhat light, due probably to recent rains that have flushed most available material further downstream.

Trip naturalist Mary Freeman told me that the water today was superb for her, which means it was good for paddling but great for netting fish with a seine in the shallows. Mary is an ichthyologist extraordinaire, and in addition to several types of small minnows and suckers, today she found a specimen of Bartram’s Bass, an endemic fish in this area which our paddlers have been hearing a lot about. (They’ve heard a lot of bad puns about Bartram’s Bass too…)

I’ll leave you tonight with more words from my buddy Sebastian, who inadvertently reminded me that it was Father’s Day in the course of telling me how much fun he’d had on the river. The water was so calm that he alternately hopped out of the canoe to swim, or else laid out on the bow of the boat to work on his tan. “And,” Sebastian said, “my dad would, like, always paddle.”

-Ben Emanuel

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Paddle Georgia 2010 – Day One!

Day One deserves an exclamation point, not just because it was our first day on the river, but because it was also a really good one!

Today’s paddle started off slow and easy, but the afternoon saw our intrepid paddlers shoot the shoals of the Broad River. It was a lively ride! More on that in a moment.

Our launch site for today – and, therefore, for the whole week’s journey – was at U.S. Highway 29 where that road crosses the main fork of the Broad River. In fact, the river was small and narrow there, reminding us that we’re really not far here from the Broad’s headwaters. But not far downstream, the Hudson River came in (Georgia’s Hudson River, that is), and the stream widened noticeably there.

For the next several miles the river was nice and flat, giving us an easygoing warm-up to our week of paddling… and to an afternoon of excitement!

After seven river miles or so, we passed Georgia Highway 281 and the Broad River Outpost, and soon after that we headed into the series of shoals, drops and rapids (including “The Waterfall”)  that make the Broad River a popular outdoor destination for adventure-seekers from Athens, the college town a half-hour away.

Not to brag or anything, but this is what it looks like when a PG pro smokes a daytripper through the shoals.

Plenty of Athenians were out for a Saturday day-trip in sit-on-top kayaks, and on the whole our Paddle Georgia crew made it through the shoals upright more often than the other folks did. However, that’s not to say we didn’t get wet! Here’s a selection of recollections gathered this afternoon and evening as we looked back on the day:

When asked “Did ya have fun?” Dorinda Dallmeyer responded with a question: “Do I get twice as much credit for going backward?”

Asked if they made it through the shoals alright, teenage paddler Sam Milam of Marietta and his cousin Diana responded, “Oh, yeah – we totally

Arr! Pirates in the shoals!

flipped. It was nice.” (In fact it was nice, because did I mention it was HOT today? Yeah. It was.) Diana felt compelled to add, “Well, we only flipped when he was steering. We didn’t flip or anything when I was steering.” Ah, families.

Paddler Celeste Tibbets of Decatur called today “one of the most fun days I’ve had on a river.” And, she had a great story about one of the day’s biggest, wildest rapids – a tall standing wave that gets you wet no matter what:

“I didn’t know that was roostertail when I came up on roostertail,” she told me tonight, “and I’m so glad I didn’t – ‘cause I woulda chickened out!” But she shot it, and had fun too.

Trip naturalist Mary Freeman and birdwatching paddler Bryan Nuse reported many Hooded Warblers singing all up and down the river today, plus Acadian Flycatchers, a possible Kentucky Warbler and other migratory birds associated with wooded river bottoms. (Almost the whole route today was through heavily wooded territory.) I saw four wood ducks flying upstream around midday. And Mary reported that the river itself was running a little muddier than usual, due probably to recent rains. But it wasn’t too bad, and the Broad is a pretty clean stream when it comes to good water quality.

Tonight we cool off and rest up, for tomorrow is clean-up day. “Trash Queen” Bonny Putney will lead our troops in pulling litter out of the river as we paddle on down.

Oh, and one final note from back here at camp. Emmanuel College, our home for the weekend, is also host to the Ty Cobb team in the pre-professional Great South summer baseball league. I’m a fan of our Athens Pirates, personally, but ironically the local team played Augusta (i.e. our destination) this evening on the Emmanuel College campus! I caught the end of the first game in a double-header – Augusta won, 6-2; I don’t know about game two – and while watching I had a really nice conversation with some baseball fans about Paddle Georgia. (Up until then, I think they’d just wondered silently about all those tents on the practice ballfields!)

These folks were really nice, and they were thrilled to hear about Paddle Georgia. When I told them I work at Georgia River Network, a conservation group whose mission is to protect the state’s rivers, they were all very complimentary. An older gentleman who’d been mostly quiet during our conversation, busy watching the game, spoke up then and said to me, “That’s admirable.” It was a brief but gratifying reminder of why we’re out here.

That’s all for tonight — I’ll try to holler at ya tomorrow night from Elberton! For now, wish us a smooth-paddling Sunday.

-Ben Emanuel

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