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Archive for December, 2010

'Conee the dog keeps watch from atop the gunwales.

Those of you who have experienced Paddle Georgia know the stories about wayward animals.

I believe over the years, at least four dogs have been “rescued” during the trip. The Paddle Georgia Navy has even saved a newborn calf, and on a Savannah River scouting trip last year, we even saved a goat.

These rescues are not something we condone–the logistics of moving 300 people is enough. Throw a dog into the mix and…well…you get the picture.

So, guess what shows up at the Oconee River Boat Ramp Sunday morning as Ben Emanuel, April Ingle, Thompson Brock and I got ready for our journey down river?

A spunky little stray–tentative at first, but providing full face licks once I spread out on the boat ramp playing dead. Our departure down river didn’t lessen her interest.  She followed along the bank whimpering and whining intent upon breaking my cold, cold heart. For 100 yards she followed, then 250, 500, a quarter-mile–still she persisted–and we caved.

Ben Emanuel birds with 'Conee in his lap.

We paddled up to her as she scrambled to the top of a strainer, struggling to find a foothold above the waterline. She jumped in the boat, and for the next 11 miles scampered from bow to stern, balancing on gunwales and some how endearing herself to us. For the last mile or so she settled in our laps as we paddled across Lake Oconee. It is difficult to paddle with a dog in your lap, but she did provide warmth on a cool winter day.

The Oconee rolls to the backwaters of the reservoir named in its honor.

And, so, tonight I sit in my comparatively warm office with the dog we call ‘Conee gently sleeping at my feet. I am a dog foster parent for the time being. If you or someone you know needs a companion, please contact me. The Cook home is not well suited for caring for canines.

The Oconee, like so many Georgia rivers, loses its life behind a dam. Wallace Dam, a Georgia Power Co. structure, creates Lake Oconee, backing up the river (along with the Apalachee) and creating a 19,000-acre reservoir and some 374 miles of shoreline. Of the state’s reservoirs that lie completely within Georgia, it is second in size only to Lake Lanier.

Our route took us from Ga. 15 between Oconee and Greene counties where the river shoots between low banks and an expansive floodplain of forests and fields;  into the backwaters of the lake–with its acres of swampy, inland marsh teaming with waterfowl and duck hunters; and finally into the wide, open expanses of the lake proper. This will be day three of Paddle Georgia 2011–six miles of river followed by a six-mile lake paddle.

Most of the route is flanked by the  Oconee National Forest. There is little evidence of human habitation–a sand dredge being one of the few exceptions–until private land holdings become more common at the upper end of the lake.

Cattails line one of the many swampy fingers leading off the mainstem of the Oconee.

What is most notable about this section is the floodplain. Along the river, it is visible–if you stand up in the canoe–over the low banks. Once on the backwaters of the lake, fingers of water and shallow waterfowl habitat spread out from the main channel. It is a paradise for paddlers and hunters.

On the lake, we paddled beneath trees heavy with cormorants and past a fisherman who proudly showed us a hefty stringer of catfish. The paddled ended with a almost-winter-solstice-moon hanging over the lake at Redlands Boat Ramp where, come June 20, we will stage a massive portage around the rest of Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair, its sister downstream.

April Ingle approaches a group of cormorants on Lake Oconee.

As Georgia’s reservoirs go, Oconee is just a baby. Construction on the dam began in 1971 and was completed in 1980. It operates as a pumped-storage facility. Turbines at the dam can be reversed, pumping water from below the dam so that it can be cycled back through the turbines, effectively doubling the electric generating capacity of the Georgia Power project.

April Ingle hauls in a load of mistletoe from the Oconee in preparation for the holidays.

But, Lake Oconee is perhaps best known for its world-class resort and golf courses at Reynolds Plantation. Ranked among the top golf courses in the state and country, the Plantation is a place for the rich and famous–Carrie Underwood wed there earlier this year.

Of course, we will not paddle that far down the lake. The backwaters will be our haunts–a place for the rich (in experience) and filthy.

After the new year, check back here for a report on the Oconee below the fall line. We’ll likely tackle Milledgeville to Dublin for New Years.

Right now, I have a dog to walk. Merry Christmas!

Joe Cook

Dec. 20, 2010

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