When we decided to hold Paddle Georgia 2016 on the Conasauga and Oostanaula rivers in northwest Georgia, I danced a little jig at my home in Rome. Aside from being very fond of both rivers, this meant that scouting trips would not entail long-distance car journeys.
So early Sunday morning my very accommodating wife, Leanne, got up before 6 a.m. to run me and scout dog, Oconee, an hour north to Dalton for a journey on the Conasauga from Beaverdale (our tentative Day 1 launch site) to Airport Road—a distance of 27 miles that takes in the projected first day, and portions of the second day, of Paddle Georgia 2016.
The river did not disappoint. Can a river disappoint on a 70-degree December day?
Like many of Georgia’s rivers, the Conasauga is a river of superlatives. It is astoundingly biologically rich—home to 76 native fish species and 18 mussel species, an incredible variety for a river that’s less than 100 miles long.
In just one tiny run of the river’s headwaters within the Chattahoochee National Forest, more than 70 fish species have been identified. “The Snorkel Hole,” as it is known, attracts people from across the country to snorkel this “freshwater reef.” I’ve had the pleasure of doing this a couple of times, and the experience is otherworldy.
In August, this and other portions of the river’s headwaters became the first river segment in Georgia to be named an “Outstanding National Resource Water” by Georgia’s Board of Natural Resources.
But, my destination Sunday was some 20 miles downstream from the Snorkel Hole where the river winds through northwest Georgia’s Ridge and Valley region—a distinct geographic area characterized by long, straight ridges separated by wide valleys.
This translates into a river that winds through bucolic farmland and occasionally collides with a ridge where the interface results in impressive bluffs and rock outcroppings. There are no rapids and only occasional shoals—those obstacles are left to north Georgia rivers that traverse the state’s Blue Ridge and Piedmont. In fact, the only serious rapid on this section of river is the rock dam at Dalton Utilities raw water intake. It’s a rapid that will likely require a portage in lower water, but on this day it provided a thrilling ride. CLICK HERE TO VIEW YOU TUBE VIDEO OF OCONEE RIDING THE DALTON UTILITIES RAPID.
Of course, since the river is just a short distance from its headwaters in the Cohutta Wilderness, it is small and intimate which means…you guessed it!…It is also home to an occasional strainer. The sequel to “Strainbusters 2015 on the Ogeechee,” “StrainerBusters II” will premiere in June 2016.
Oconee and I had a delightful day exploring the river, though ‘Conee took more than one spill as a result of the strainers. Words of advice from the four-legged scout: do not stand atop your canoe seat when entering a log-choked section of river. CLICK HERE TO VIEW A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF OCONEE TAKING A SWIM.
Recent high water left the river littered with the remains of this season’s Conasauga valley corn crop. In places the stalks and shucks completely cloaked riverside trees and shrubs. The high water also released all manner of less organic flotsam to the river.
Chatsworth and Dalton are both drained by this section of river and its tributaries, and the refuse from careless litterers was as clearly evident as the corn crop.
In a day of smart phones, smart TVs and even “Smart Water,” we are sadly plagued by stupid people that discard their trash without regard for its ultimate destination. This year, more than 24,000 volunteers helped remove over 530,000 pounds of trash from our rivers through the state’s Rivers Alive program.
Perhaps someday, when enough people have traveled our state’s life-giving rivers and become aware of the link between litter and our rivers, such cleanups will be unnecessary.
Hint: Paddle Georgia 2016, June 18-24 would be a good place to start. Georgia River Network staff are currently fine tuning the details of the event. Registration will begin in February. Join us for another memorable north Georgia adventure.