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Archive for October, 2014

Paddlers launch from Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat, our campsite for the final two days of Fall Float.

Paddlers launch from Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat, our campsite for the final two days of Fall Float.

One of my favorite stories from my river travels was told to me by Joanne Steele, a resident of the Nacoochee Valley along the Chattahoochee River in North Georgia.

She and her young son Jesse were sitting on the banks of the river, taking in the scene–the flowing water and the Appalachian’s rising peaks in the distance–when her boy observed, “Mom, mountains look like tits.” Joanne, a lover of nature and not one to be fazed by the crude—but very keen—description, simply replied: “Yes, that’s true and the river is like mother’s milk flowing out of the mountains.”

I thought of that story during our four days of Fall Float on the Flint. There are no mountains on the Dougherty Plain of southwest Georgia, but what the region lacks in peaks, it makes up for in founts—they lined the river and called to us. We responded like newborns to our mother’s breast.

Steve Blackburn and his daughter Cate play in Radium Springs.

Steve Blackburn and his daughter Cate play in Radium Springs.

Radium, Wilson Blue Hole, Riverbend, The Wall, Culpepper, The Shaft, Bovine, Hog Parlor—each pushing 68-degree water into the Flint—invited us to jump in and we did.

Harold Harbert, Bob Bourne, Ted Pearson, John Gugino, Steve Blackburn and others that submersed themselves in the cool water on near 90-degree days swore that the waters had restorative powers. Similar claims made Radium Springs, one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, a thriving resort during the 1920s.

A decidedly modern scene unfolded at the mouth of Radium Springs during Fall Float as Kathy Vaughn, Stacey Dounias and Kim Piper posed for “selfies” in front of a waterproof i-phone, shoulder deep in the clear blue water.

Kathy Vaughn, Stacy Dounias and Kim Piper pose for a "selfie" in Radium Springs.

Kathy Vaughn, Stacy Dounias and Kim Piper pose for a “selfie” in Radium Springs.

The Radium Springs Casino, a meeting place for generations of Albany residents, may be long gone (demolished after being extensively damaged in floods) but the call of the spring’s clear aqua-marine water is timeless.

And, as we learned from Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers, that water is, indeed, the milk of Mother Nature that nourishes and grows southwest Georgia, irrigating some two million acres of crops and making the region Georgia’s bread basket. Unfortunately, those demands on the Flint and the Floridan aquifer have dramatically reduced flows on the Flint and during times of drought leave Radium Springs dry.

Someone asked me during our journey why the Flint had such “squirrelly” currents. It’s true. While other rivers have their share of eddies and waves, the Flint’s flow as it rolls over shoals often seems unpredictable, pocked with whirlpools and unexpected eddies.

Brian Cardin shoots the shoals in downtown Albany.

Brian Cardin shoots the shoals in downtown Albany.

I can only guess this is a product of the limestone that underlays the river. Unlike other rivers that flow over smooth beds of rock, the Flint’s limestone comes in shelves and looks like Swiss cheese. Those irregular surfaces undoubtedly churn the water in erratic directions—a sharp contrast to the peaceful, clear pools of the springs and blue holes and a fitting metaphor for the forces shaping the Flint’s future. That future seems as uncertain as a canoe ride through Hell’s Gate Shoals.

Rogers showed us Flint River flow statistics covering the past 50 years that paint a bleak and frightening picture of a river literally being sucked dry. Can farms survive if water supplies in the area continue downward trends? Can we change the way we use and return water to the Flint to restore its flows?

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Lindsay Boring points out long-leaf pines on the Jones Center property.

Our visit to the Jones Center offered hope. There, Director Lindsay Boring talked of long-leaf pines–the once dominant tree of the region that covered some 90 million acres from North Carolina to Texas. Today, less than four percent of these majestic forests remain. The Jones Center, and many others, are leading the way in restoring this important ecosystem. And as a result, the critters that call the long-leafs home are also returning–namely the red cockaded woodpecker that relies on the trees for nesting cavities. In 1997, the Jones Center documented just one of the birds; by 2007, they had recorded 60 individuals, and they predict that by 2050, the federally endangered bird may be eligible for delisting–a success story not unlike the bald eagle and American alligator–both of which paddlers spotted on our four-day journey.

Saving a river is not much different from saving endangered species. We have the capacity; we just need the commitment.

Jamie Rogers points her keyak into the sunrise as the Paddle Georgia Navy launches from Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat.

Jamie Rogers points her keyak into the sunrise as the Paddle Georgia Navy launches from Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat.

Still, the star of Fall Float on the Flint was the river itself. In 10 years of Paddle Georgia events, covering 1,000-plus miles of Georgia rivers and 70 days on the water, I have never had the opportunity to paddle through and photograph more beautiful light and scenery.

Some of that was a function of the time of year: we found ourselves arriving at the river closer to sunrise when light is most spectacular; and partly it was a function of camping on the river as we did for two nights at Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat.

That said, in any light, the Flint is a spectacularly scenic path. At one bend, sycamore roots break through ancient limestone, inexplicably holding fast to rock shelves overhanging the water. At another turn, a carpet of lush green southern maidenhair ferns blankets a bluff. The next bend holds ancient cypress trees, their knees lining the banks like a brood of children crowding about their mother’s feet.

As scenery goes, the Flint is hard to beat. Put 175 people on it for four days, and you’ve got a recipe for one great time…and so it was.

We expect to return to the Flint again next year for another Fall Float on the Flint. Oct. 9-12. Mark your calendars and plan on floating.

–Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia Coordinator

A few parting shots…

Pat York powers through the Flint's shoals.

Pat York powers through the Flint’s shoals.

Leslie Raymer snaps a shot of a young shoal bass. Georgia Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Brett Albanese, an avid fisherman, said, "It's a cute fish now, but when it gets to be an adult, it's going to drive some men and women crazy." The big, not-so-cute shoal bass skunked Brett in his efforts to catch one without the help of his seine net.

Leslie Raymer snaps a shot of a young shoal bass. Georgia Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Brett Albanese, an avid fisherman, said, “It’s a cute fish now, but when it gets to be an adult, it’s going to drive some men and women crazy.” The big, not-so-cute shoal bass skunked Brett in his efforts to catch one without the help of his seine net.

With Fall Float taking place in the middle of the school year, the average age of Fall Float paddlers was  considerably higher than the summer verison of Paddle Georgia. That did not, however, keep some of the adults from acting like kids, including Joe Kidd.

With Fall Float taking place in the middle of the school year, the average age of Fall Float paddlers was considerably higher than the summer verison of Paddle Georgia. That did not, however, keep some of the adults from acting like kids, including Joe Kidd.

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photoOur last day on Fall Float 2014 had arrived with amazing speed and camaraderie. All 175 paddlers packed up their camp, loaded aboard the Baker county school buses and hit the Flint.

Folks who enjoy fishing were amongst the first to launch, ready to see what their lines would pull in. Shoal Bass were particularly exciting to see, given their threatened status.

The landscape of the 18 mile section that we paddled today had a bit of a different flavor than that of the previous 3 days. Long beautiful, golden sandbars and steep reddish bluffs jutted out of the river, as well as no shortage of farms, pastureland, and plantations.

The wind picked up significantly in the late morning as if the Greek God Aeolus decided we hadn’t had enough of a workout on the last 54 miles of paddling and wanted to make sure we returned home with chiseled muscles to impress our family, friends and coworkers.

Falling leaves swirled and danced above us gracefully before touching the water below and joining other leaves ebbing along with the flow of the rivers current.

Dobsonfly egg cases which resemble bird droppings could be seen on tree trunks and on the tips of leaves, soon to hatch out and fall into the water below to begin their cycle of life. Metamorphosing from ferocious swimming predatory nymphs called Hellgrammites (often used as fish bait), to flying adults, the males of which have 2 inch mandibles.

Other less conspicuous critters that were spotted along the banks include tree frogs, turtles, giant spiders, and the chimney-like burrows of Crawfish. Just to name a few.

The Springs we encountered were small but pristine, and the water seemed to boil forth with more fury than previous blue holes we had seen.

We pulled into our final landing with a sense of accomplishment and a heightened understanding and passion for this mighty river and sensitive ecosystem.

As your head hits the pillow tonight- with a well-earned thump – we hope you reflect on the new friendships, experiences, and knowledge gained from this first Paddle Georgia Fall Float, and we look forward to seeing you on the next Georgia River Network adventure!

Y’all come back now, y ’hear?

Keep on rollin’ down the river ~

Gwyneth Moody

Georgia River Network
Community Programs Coordinator

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Most paddlers were up before sunrise this morning – the campground dotted with bobbing headlamps as people prepared for the day ahead.  After a scrumdidaliumptious breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage, biscuits with grape jelly and of course a big cuppa delicious coffee from the friendly folks at Café Campesino, we were ready to hit the river! It was such a convenience to launch directly from our campsite at Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat…   

After a couple of miles we came upon a large sandbar on the edge of the 29,000-acre Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center Outdoor Laboratory where a presentation about the amazing diversity of mussels was being held.  Participants could also walk back into the Long Leaf Pine Forest to learn about this threatened ecosystem, and the endemic and keystone species that live here such as the gopher tortoise.

The Georgia Adopt-A-Stream team were out in force training paddlers to become certified in water quality monitoring taking water samples at every tributary in order to determine the health of the river.

Millions of years ago the Georgia Coastal Plain was covered by the ocean and sea creatures lived, died and were buried by sediment and eventually fossilized, which you can spot embedded in the limestone river banks.

Although the temperatures today were the hottest we’ve experienced yet, reaching the low 90’s – you could tell that this part of the State has already  felt the breath of fall as a few leaves had turned to beautiful hues of red, orange,  and gold.

The last highlight of our journey today was a brief paddle up the majestic Ichawaynochaway Creek. The clarity of the water almost matched the springs we’ve encountered in days past, but had a distinctive reddish tint rather than blue. It was nice to sneak off into the Creek which had an intimate feel as opposed to the wide breadth of the Flint River.

Today’s paddle was a little over 17 miles but seemed to go by much faster than yesterday’s jaunt, leaving time in the afternoon for fun and games back at camp ranging from hoola hooping and corn hole to relaxing in a riverside hammock and getting a rejuvenating massage from Eddie  ‘Magic Hands’ Escobar.

Satterfields provided another sumptuous supper that left everyone feeling satiated, smiley and ready for the evening entertainment of S’mores and river trivia by the campfire.

Rejuvenated after a great day, paddlers are ready for our last day on the fabulous Flint tomorrow!

Keep on rollin’ down the river ~

Gwyneth Moody

Georgia River Network
Community Programs Coordinator

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 Although paddlers were transported in swanky stage coaches yesterday, they were not dismayed to find the standard Paddle GA school buses awaiting this morning to whisk them away to the put-in location at Punks Landing. We’re never too cool for school!    

It was like Puff the Magic Dragon had blown a blanket of fog over the river as paddlers set out for the longest trip on the Float, at a whopping 22 miles.  The mist shrouded paddlers enjoyed the cool morning temps until the sun burned through – opening up to another fantastically beautiful day of blue skies and hot temps.

The beautiful sunshine kissed all of us and when we felt overheated there were two viable options: take a refreshing dip in the lovely cool river or pull out your squirt gun and spray an unassuming paddler passing by and receive the resulting retaliation spray-down with happy anticipation.

Spackled camouflage Sycamore trees could be seen along the river banks, the bark from which peeled off in long strips revealing gleaming white bark underneath – a beautiful contrast to the rich green of the ferns and moss covered limestone overhangs and cave walls below.


Blue Springs gurgled up throughout the trip unexpectedly, giving an allusion of boiling water, a thought that was quickly dismissed once a hand was dipped into the frigid aqua marine water.

The highlight of the day was Double Springs, a 50 foot crevasse etched into the limestone bank and wide enough for a vessel to enter but not turn around to exit. To overcome this predicament paddlers entered backwards peering down into the 90 foot cave below.  This spot also made one come to realize the incredible bravery cave divers like Paul Deloach have, to scuba dive 250 feet down, down, down into the network of caverns deep underground until there is only blackness, you, your buddy and the blind cave salamanders and crayfish to keep you company.

Although wildlife was not easy to spot, if you had a keen eye you may have caught a glimpse of a few Alligator, Otter, Egret, heron, tiny fish or the occasional kingfisher.  Beautiful yellow butterflies congregated along the river banks in groups sticking their curly tongues out to slurp up the rich minerals found in the mud.

And speaking of mud, did anyone see the snail trails? Small snails roving along the shallow river bottom, crisscrossing – also filtering out goodies from the juicy mud.
Although there were many miles to paddle, this didn’t stop people from taking a lazy afternoon snooze in their kayak bobbing along in bliss.

We arrived at our new home at Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat – a beautiful wooded riverside campground with grassy rolling hills and an awesome rope swing.
Today was an extra special day being Ben Thompson’s  50th birthday!
***H A P P Y   B I R T H D A Y! ***

How special that he decided to spend it with us paddling fools!
The night ended with the spectacular and hilarious Newly Wet Game Show… never a dull moment when it comes to uncovering ‘special’ moments about ones best friend or partner.
Can’t wait for waltzing down the Ichawaynochaway  tomorrow….

Keep on rollin’ down the river ~

Gwyneth Moody,

Georgia River Network.
Community Programs Coordinator

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   P1070723 175 exuberant paddlers set off early this morning for our first day on the fabulous Flint river.

 Although we had anticipated cool fall weather, temps warmed up to the upper 80’s today- a welcome delight for those that decided to brave the beautiful but chilly 68 degree blue holes we encountered at Radium and Wilson Blue Springs.

Some folks even had the foresight to bring their snorkels to peer down into the depths where the water spewed forth.

P1070715Camm Swift and Brett Albanese- ichthyologists extraordinaire- dragged their seine net and scooped up a plethora of shiner, sunfish, minnow, and bass, etc… not to mention the scorpion water bug that resembled a walking stick but had a powerful bite for those that accidentally made a misstep.

 

The limestone topography dotted the river banks resembling a moonscape, with Floridan Aquifer spring water gurgling up from the depths below. Lush green ferns and vibrant red and purple flowers hung over the karst ledges and caves beneath like a garden, with the occasional waterfall beckoning us to come closer. 

You never would have guessed that you were paddling through downtown Albany until we made a special detour to the Flint Riverquarium.

Paddlers parked their vessels under the overhanging branches of giant cypress and made there way 200 feet around the construction of a new riverwalk and boat launch to the Aquarium.

It was such an interesting experience to go from the secluded and intimate river corridor into revitalized downtown Albany with its pedestrian street signs marking points of interest only walking distance away- such as the James Brown Memorial. 

The Riverquarium is a must see with very well done exhibits of native river life, such as catfish, gar, terrapin & alligator snapping turtles, albino alligator and even tanks with animals from the gulf- such as octopus, sea horse, piranha, shark, and urchin.

Although it was the shortest paddle of the trip at 14 miles,  the scenery along the way made us yearn to stay on the river longer. Giant cypress tress with there elbows and knees flanked almost every bank, twisting and jutting out of the water resembling picturesque statues of everything from swans and dancers, to mother and child.

Fathers paddling alongside their daughters,  mothers with their sons, such a heartening sight to see that these paddling adventures have become such a special family affair.

At the end of the paddle, the colorful assortment of kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards were lined up on the sandy riverbank and the buses lined up to whisk everyone back to our lovely temporary home at Chehaw Park where showers and the evening festivities awaited.

We were thrilled to be joined by Flint river supporter, Representative Winfred J Dukes (Albany)!

Evening entertainment and educational presentations also included Brett Albanese, GA DNR and Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper,

What a fabulous day! Really excited about tomorrow’s journey…

Keep on rollin’ down the river ~

Gwyneth Moody,

Georgia River Network.
Community Programs Coordinator

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Yeehaw it’s great to be here back in Chehaw!

Together for a four day paddling stint~

On the fabulous south Georgia Flint.

Protecting and enjoying Georgia rivers is our mission ~This goal we will never bend.

A reunion of river rats, supporters, volunteers, families and friends.alligator kiss

Our maps are packed with tales of the journey ahead, and our gear is all set ~
Now it’s time for the show to begin ~

We’re ready to get our feet wet!

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