REGISTER FOR PADDLE GEORGIA 2013 HERE
Read Joe Cook’s blog about the Flint River below!
I paddled 12 in 2012! And, I have the schizophrenic and drought-addled Ogeechee to thank for it.
When last we left this blog page, we were celebrating the close of Paddle Georgia 2012 on the Altamaha and planning for the Ogeechee in 2013…then we paddled the Ogeechee in the throes of a drought. 50 miles of pulling boats over strainers and walking them through shallow braided channels left us wondering whether a seven-day trip on the Ogeechee was feasible. Undaunted, we set out to scout Ogeechee routes utilizing more of the coast’s tidal rivers and intercoastal waterway. Across a 40-mile course from near the mouth of the Ogeechee, we paddled the Little Ogeechee, Vernon, Burnside, Moon, Skidaway and Wilmington rivers (seven rivers in three days!). But, alas, the monotony of the marshes (though they are beautiful) and the relative lack of access to “play places” and pit stops left us doubting that an extended trip on the intercoastal waterway would be suitable for 300-plus Paddle Georgians. So, we punted to the west and landed on the Lower Flint where I found myself for five days during the Thanksgiving holiday week, scouting a 108-mile course from Lake Blackshear to Bainbridge. For the record, the Flint was my 16th river in 2012!
And, for the record, the lower Flint is now the official route for Paddle Georgia 2013.
I ventured down to South Georgia expecting a typical Coastal Plain river–winding oxbows, expansive sandbars and lots of lazy, flowing water. I found nothing of the sort. Ain’t nothing typical about the Flint. From the Upper Flint where Sprewell Bluff and Pine Mountain make you feel like you’re paddling through the North Georgia mountains to Mitchell County’s limestone bluffs, the Flint does not behave like Georgia rivers are supposed to.
The lower Flint is rife with shoals–yes, shoals. Nothing more than a few riffles, but the combination of lots of limestone and “improvements” to navigation (rock wing dams and islands) introduced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1800s make for long sections of fast-moving water. You’ll find shoals and swift-moving water on all but the lower 20 miles of the journey.
The lower Flint has rock bluffs–yes, rock–not sand. High sandy bluffs are the norm on Coastal Plain rivers, but the Flint cuts through extensive deposits of limestone. The result is a series of high bluffs that often overhang the river, allowing canoes and kayaks to drift beneath the rock shelves that are beautifully festooned in ferns.
The lower Flint has springs…but not creeks. A float on the lower Flint brilliantly and beautifully illustrates the dramatic interplay between South Georgia’s extensive aquifers and the surface water of the Flint. Crystal clear springs unexpectantly boil forth on the banks of the river, and many more rise up from the river bottom. In the 78 miles between Albany and Bainbridge there are said to be at least 20 large springs feeding the Flint. In those same miles, only four creeks empty into the river. As a result of these pure inputs of groundwater, the Flint flows amazingly clear. In fact, it is one of the few rivers in South Georgia where visibility is so good that snorkeling is a legitimate activity.
And, the Flint is teaming with wildlife: the albino crayfish and blind cave salamanders that inhabit the underwater caves are among the Flint’s most notable residents, though they are only seen by the scuba divers that venture into these dark, water-filled caverns. Above ground during my five days on the river, I encountered…alligators (including one 10-foot monster), otters, deer, feral hogs, coyotes, fox squirrels, wild turkey, ospreys, bald eagles and armadillos to name just a few.
While cooking dinner the first night of my journey, I heard my dog Conee chasing something through the woods. Soon, the predator and prey were crashing through the underbrush down the slope behind me. The prey careened into my tent, bounced off, launched itself across my lap, knocked over my cook pot and disappeared into the woods, leaving me with half a pot of chili, welts on my inner thigh from a strong set of claws and a stunned look on my face. Conee never caught the creature, but my best guess is armadillo.
This was the first of many surprises that the Flint dished out over the next four days of beautiful paddling. I have seen at least 1500 distinct miles of Georgia rivers, and I have never encountered anything quite like the Flint. It’s odd. We’ve been scouting and paddling a different river every year for the last nine years. I keep thinking that eventually they will all begin to look the same…but they don’t.
In August, it was the Ogeechee’s mysterious braided channels that befuddled me: a wide, deep blackwater river would suddenly dissolve into several narrow, waterless, winding and strainer-filled channels. Now, in November, the Flint has me flummoxed. Where art thou sandbars? Where art thou bights and rounds? Alas, the Flint doesn’t offer up those features. Instead, you get boiling springs and bizarre limestone.
So get ready for surprises on Paddle Georgia 2013. The Flint is no stereotypical South Georgia river.
Registration for Paddle Georgia 2013 begins in February. Look for details coming soon on the Paddle Georgia website and–if you are on the Paddle Georgia e-mail list–in your inbox
Nov. 27, 2012