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Archive for October, 2015

Cynthia Cox slides through shoals in downtown Albany during Day 1 of Fall Float on the Flint.

Cynthia Cox slides through shoals in downtown Albany during Day 1 of Fall Float on the Flint.

If Georgia rivers get any better than the Flint River between Albany and Bainbridge, you can pummel me with water cannons in the middle of a sub-freezing winter paddle. I just don’t think it gets much better than this 70-mile run…especially when you’re in the company of 140 other paddling enthusiasts as each of us was during the four days of Fall Float on the Flint.

Where else in the deep south of Georgia can you run whitewater shoals (O.K., O.K. it’s not the Chattooga, but it’s still fun)? Where else can you find a gopher tortoise swimming across a river while a bald eagle soars over head? Where else can you leap into water so crystal clear and blue that it appears almost cartoonish? Where else can you uncover 50 million year-old fossils of sea shells in one hand and native freshwater mussel shells in the other hand…all on the same sandbar?

A foggy view from atop limestone bluffs on Day 4 of Fall Float on the Flint.

A foggy view from atop limestone bluffs on Day 4 of Fall Float on the Flint.

If I were naming bucket list paddles in Georgia, the Fall Float run on the Flint would have to be near the top of the list.

And, this year’s Fall Floaters would agree.

Melissa Ballard of Fairmount who brought along five members of her Boy Scout Adventure Crew shared with us some of the comments she heard from her teenagers on the way home:

“The best part was…all of it.”

“The springs were beautiful.  I loved the places we camped.”

“The best part of the trip?…definitely the springs, jumping from the tree, the cliff jump…well, OK, all of it.”

Upon arriving home after four days on the Flint, Cynthia Cox posted to Facebook: “I loved this paddle so much…I’m already missing it.”

I for one am still telling shoal bass jokes, and I’m especially fond of Barry O’Neill’s offering: A shoal bass walks into the sandbar and the bartender says, “Hey that’s an nice pair of Bass Wejun penny loafers you have on there.” To which the shoal bass replies, “Thanks, and they’ve got great shoals.”

Bad jokes and all kidding aside, this year’s Fall Float did what all of Georgia River Network’s paddle trips do. It connected people with rivers, starting intimate relationships that lead to paddlers taking action to protect rivers.

Taking the plunge into Wilson Blue Hole Spring on Day 1 of Fall Float on the Flint.

Taking the plunge into Wilson Blue Hole Spring on Day 1 of Fall Float on the Flint.

During the course of the four day event, the group heard from Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers and American Rivers’ Jeremy Diner, learning about how state water policies are draining the Flint dry and what solutions are out there to reverse the trend.

More than a dozen paddlers participated in Georgia Adopt-A-Stream water testing workshops; 32 individuals donated money to Georgia River Network for the chance to win a $250 pot of cash in our first ever Poker Run (David Garr was the winner with a flush!) and countless participants purchased raffle tickets to win a new canoe (Polly Sattler of Atlanta was the winner).

Together, we generated about $10,000 to help Georgia River Network and Flint Riverkeeper protect our rivers…and we had a great time doing it.

If you haven’t run the Flint from Albany to Bainbridge, put it on your bucket list, and hopefully, you can join us for another Fall Float on the Flint.

Gwyneth Moody explores one of the many blue hole springs that we ecperienced during four days on the Flint River from Albany to Bainbridge.

Gwyneth Moody explores one of the many blue hole springs that we ecperienced during four days on the Flint River from Albany to Bainbridge.

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P1120267Our last day was a day to remember and 12112350_10153630662688468_1544022097346998408_nnot because we paddled 18.5 miles… but for all of the amazing experiences we had along the journey…

The morning mist which lasted from before dawn til lunchtime, shrouded paddlers into a magical world where only a faded glimpse of the river corridor ahead and behind could be seen. We were convinced that Puff the Magic Dragon would stick his head out of one of the P1120457deep caves on shore.

Different colored layers ofDSCF0902 pocked Karst lined the river bank – blue, green, brown, grey – jagged but soft with a blanket cover of ferns and flowers.

As the sun burned through high overhead, hundreds of webs glistened amongst the weeping 
branches of the willows. Beautifully patterned spiders quickly retreated from their vantage point as you – a potential predator – stealthily glided by. Dragonfly danced across the river dipping and diving into the water aP1120388s they grabbed tasty insect morsels.

The call of Pileated woodpecker could
be heard echoing through the forest as P1120380they notified their mate of their whereabouts and cautioned others to staP1120433y away from their dwellings chipped out of dead trees that jutted from the water like power line poles. P1120311These vertical nursery logs are like apartment complexes providing a home for countless other critters – such as squirrels, insects, and other birds. Some of these dead trees resembled chia pets or river gardens with vegetation sprouting from nooks and crannies filled with mulch and decomposing leaf litter.IMG_2618

Although the day started in the mid 60’s the afternoon IMG_2602sun gave some paddlers enough motivation to delve into the cool but refreshing blue springs bubbling forth that we encountered along the way.

Westrick Spring, was by far the most enchanting blue hole on Fall Float on the Flint this year. A hidden paradise of refreshing crystal blue water surrounded by luscious vegetation. Who knew Georgia had such beauty that resembled the tropics?IMG_2577

The Boy Scouts Venturing Crew from Northwest GeorgiaIMG_2623 were a joy to paddle with and highly entertaining to watch! Always asking to help those that may be in need, singing, cracking jokes, devising riddles, and of course… the first to jump off rope swings and cliffs!

This stretch offered large soft golden sandbars – perfect for picnicking and warming up after a revitalizzzzzing dip.

The Adopt-A-Stream team could be seen along the way sampling the
main stem of the river and tributaries flowing into Flint and answering endless questions from curious paddlers passing by. IMG_2653They mean serious business when it comes to testing water P1120220quality to ensure the health of our rivers!

I’ve always been touched by the camaraderie, cheerfulness, and helpful nature expressed by the participants of Paddle Georgia and Fall Float. Everyone is excited to meet new people and be reunited again with their paddling friends and family. 
P1120248By journey’s end, whether it’s someone’s 1st or 11th Paddle Georgia – we are all more enlightened and empowered to return home and take part in river restoration efforts and share our experiences to motivate others to join us next year, and get involved in the protection of the lifeblood of our communities!

Hope to see y’all on our next paddling event on the Ochlockonee River– Nov 14th!

Keep on rollin’ down the river ~

Gwyneth Moody, Georgia River Network

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Lead boat Mike Worley launches at first light from Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat.

Shoal bass, albino crayfish, blind cave salamanders, shiny-rayed pocketbook mussels, Halloween darters and Wyatt Kopp—just a few of the “endemic species” found on the Flint River.

The later celebrated his fourth birthday on the river today from the center seat of a 17-foot canoe with his mother, Emily Kopp, and grandmother, Melissa Spencer. Before leaving the boat ramp for camp after the day’s paddle, Wyatt stuck his head out the window of a Baker County Schools bus and proudly announced: “I saw reptile eggs today!”

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Wyatt Kopp waits for the ride back to camp after a 17-mile paddle on the Flint River.

A cache of the brittle remains of turtle shells on a river sandbar provided the exciting discovery. As 4-year-old river rat birthdays go, it’s hard to beat the discovery of reptile eggs in river sand.

The impressionable Wyatt verbalized what even the adults were feeling on Day 3 of the 70-mile journey from Albany to Bainbridge. The Flint River is alive and the experiences are limitless.

John Pope, an extension agent from Monroe County spent the day casting his fly at shoal bass and other Flint River fish. He learned that on this day, at least, they were cagy—striking but never taking the bait.

Bob Bourne of the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream team ran into a local angler that had better luck. As he drifted by, the angler landed a hefty shoal bass and reported with pride: “That’s why they call me the shoal brother!”

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John Pope of Monroe County casts in search of shoal bass and other Flint River fish.

The Flint River shoal bass, one of the most sought-after sport fish in Georgia, has, indeed caught our imagination and become our unofficial mascot. On Saturday, Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers caught one of the largest he’s ever landed, and each night paddlers have taken turns telling “shoal bass jokes…” during after-dinner announcements.

“What’s the most popular name for baby boy shoal bass?” Rocky…and thus the groans begin, though the throwing of rotten tomatoes has been kept in check (largely because they are out of season).

“What’s the most popular name for baby girl shoal bass?” Pebbles…

“And, when Rocky and Pebbles had twin babies, what did they name them?” Catch and Release

More groans.

Despite a plethora of bad bass jokes, there is a seriousness to the comedy. The shoal bass is a living symbol of the Flint and a reminder of the need to protect and restore this river.

Experienced on the river today…

Cold—with overcast skies and falling temperatures it finally felt like fall.

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Jones Ecological Research Center Director Lindsay Boring talks with Fall Float on the Flint participants about long-leaf pines.

Long-leaf Pines—A stop at the Jones Ecological Center and a stand of long-leaf pines gave us insight into this fire-loving native that was once the dominant tree of the region.

Wiregrass—this native grass that gave Southwest Georgia and Southeast Alabama its nickname, Wiregrass Country, sits under the long leaf pines, collecting its needles and building the tinder for the next fire that will make the long leafs grow.

Mussels—the Flint is a hotbed of mussel diversity. They aren’t very charismatic with their feet buried deep in the sand and muck, but as filter feeders they do help keep the river clean.

Dissolved Oxygen—more than a dozen paddlers learned how to test water for dissolved oxygen and other measures of stream health during a Georgia Adopt-A-Stream citizen water monitoring workshop. This group included youth from a Boy Scouts Venturing Crew from Northwest Georgia led by Melissa Ballard of Fairmount.

End of Full Day…

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Cathy Hodges takes in the riverside forest canopy while her husband, Phillip, takes in a cat nap. The Hodges are serving as Fall Float’s sweep boat.

The final night of Fall Float ended with a celebration at Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat, highlighted by a live auction, awarding of prizes in the Poker Float and Kayak Raffle, and, of course, Wyatt’s birthday cake.

Polly Sattler of Atlanta, though not a participant in Fall Float, won the Old Town Next canoe valued at $1000. She purchased her tickets from the Flint Riverkeeper website!

David Garr, a visiting Florida paddler, turned in the best of more than 30 poker hands: a flush that earned him the $250 pot.

And, several paddlers won items in our auction—ranging from hand-crafted Greenland paddles by Georgia River Network supporter Tom Beaman to shoal bass fishing trips with Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers.

The river won too! Together the raffle, poker float and auctions generated more than $4000 for Georgia River Network and Flint Riverkeeper river protection projects.

Even those of us who didn’t take home a prize won…we had the pleasure of spending another day on a beautiful Georgia river.

Joe Cook, Paddle GA Coordinator

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What is it that makes fall feel complete to you? unnamed (2)Today, paddlers were able tounnamed (5) experience some of the best Fall Georgia has to offer. The sun crested the horizon around 7:30, but clouded skies made for a cool and calm morning.

Freshly fallen sycamore leaves danced along the water’s surface, in hues of gold and brown, while a rainbow of boats launched from Mitchell Landing. The higher waters brought swift currents,unnamed (6) a welcomed start to our 22-mile day. Maidenhair Ferns disguised the limestone banks with their whimsical green fronds. Fall flowers in full blunnamed (4)oom lined our journey- purple mist flowers and yellow goldenrods abound.  As mid-day approached, the clouds parted and the forest warmed with the songs of migrating warblers, and a
Bald Eagle even made an appearance. The afternoon warmed enough to entice some paddlers into the water for a swim.
Blissed out on the beautiful fall views and lively conversations, the miles slipped by easily. At the take-out Rocky Bend, unnamed (3)we passed minutes waiting for returning paddlers with time-honored traditions among paddlers and southerners: hanging out rope swinging and checking in on the day’s football games. unnamed
It wasn’t hard to linger among the limestone today, or ever. Fall on the Flint is something you’ll want experience again and again.
Alicia Evans
Georgia River Network Board Member
Chattahoochee Nature Center

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Our first day on theP1110759 Flint river was more than we could have asked for… Gorgeous weather, with highs in the low 80’s , a mix of sun, shade and a lovely zephyr keeping the gnats at bay. The majestic cypress and ogeechee lime graced the banks towering high above and kneeling before us like ancient majestic bearded giants. P1110798

Radium Springs was a pleasant lunch stop with the welcoming arching bridge and pool, but unfortunately the nutrient load was higher than encountered in past years, the likely culprit agricultural runoff..P1110804. soon to be determined by the water quality testing results from Adopt A Stream.P1110808

Kingfisher chattered and danced along the river guarding their boroughs- some carved 8 feet or more into the bank. A venue of black vultures cavorted over a swollen deer carcass…helping recycle death back into life.P1110901

P1110844P1110990The karst topography etched the river bank and floor into a moonscape, with overhangs draped in luscious ferns. Truly a gorgeous landscape you would never think to see in Georgia!

P1110943Map turtle with their high back ridge and intricate pattern sun bathed themselves on logs along the way and many were so content absorbing the sun, they didn’t move even within reach of paddlers passing by.

P1120007Blue skies prevailed and P1120031the hot sun dared paddlers to jump into the chilly spring fed water and whip out squirt guns for refreshment and revenge.

With 14 miles of paddling under our belts, the bus ride home held sleepers and energizer bunnies…all satisfied with the day’s adventures.

Settling back into camp at Chehaw Park with delicious dinner from Satterfields – warmed our hearts and bellies, followed by an educational presentation from Flint Riverkeeper- Gordon Rogers.P1120150

Georgia River Network staff and volunteers worked hard to ensure everyone’s needs were accommodated and ready for a GREAT journey tomorrow!

Keep on rollin’ on the river!

Gwyneth Moody

Community Programs Coordinator, Georgia River Network

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