Archive for November, 2017


The Yellow River in Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton counties cuts through the same geology that gave rise to Stone Mountain. The river might best be described as Stone Mountain Park on flowing water.

I’ve always had an interest in the Yellow River that runs through Atlanta’s eastern suburbs. My mother’s family comes from Newton County and Covington where the river courses just a couple of miles from the farm on Salem Road where Ann Hull Ramsey each fall picked cotton to earn spending money for the county fair.

Every summer, we still spend a week at Salem Campmeeting in Newton County, a gathering that the Ramsey family has attended each year since its inception in 1828. The campground is there because water is there–a bold spring that ultimately feeds the Yellow River and provided water for drinking and cooking in the days before county water came to the campground.

If there is a river that roots my ancestors to the land, it is the Yellow.

Of course, there are other reasons to recommend our Paddle Georgia 2018 route on the Yellow and Ocmulgee rivers. For one, Paddle Georgia alumnus Tonya Bechtler has rallied local support for the Yellow River Water Trail (YELLOW RIVER WATER TRAIL WEBSITE), and over the course of the last several years has helped develop new access points on the river. Now, outfitters offer boat and tube rentals and cities like Porterdale are embracing river


Chris Thompson runs shoals along the Yellow River. Playful shoals like this will be common on the first two days of Paddle Georgia 2018.

recreation as part of their economic development “toolkit.” Her tireless work is the kind that Georgia River Network hoped to inspire when the organization birthed the idea of Paddle Georgia back in 2005.

Then there is the river itself. On Oct. 15, with Paddle Georgia veteran Chris Thompson as my guide and companion, I got my first taste of the Yellow. It did not disappoint. Stone Mountain Park–with its granite monolith–is nearby. The Yellow might best be described as Stone Mountain Park on flowing water, for the Yellow cuts its path through the same rugged geology that gave rise to the iconic mountain.

Shoals are frequent, and in places like Milstead and Porterdale, Class II-IV rapids are created (we’ll be portaging around the bulk of these biggest obstacles). Those who like exploring small, intimate rivers with playful shoals will feast on the Yellow…not to mention the Ocmulgee further downstream.


A view from atop Milstead Dam in Rockdale County. The Paddle Georgia 2018 route will involve a portage around this dam and the significant shoals downstream.

Of course, where there are shoals on Georgia rivers, our ancestors dammed and harnessed, and the Yellow is no exception. We’ll be forced to trailer boats around historic textile mill dams at Milstead and Porterdale, and on the Ocmulgee we will do the same at Georgia Power Company’s Lloyd Shoals Dam as well as the mill dam at Juliette, made famous in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.

Arduous and annoying though they may be, the portages have their perks. They provide access to the shoals between the dams and in the case of Juliette, the portage path goes right by the Whistle Stop Cafe where you can stop in to sample some fried green tomatoes.


The cotton mill overlooking the Yellow River at Porterdale has been converted into living spaces, part of the revitalization of this 20th century textile mill village.

Indeed, like so many of our Paddle Georgia adventures, we will travel not only on a river, but through time–visiting historic sites like Porterdale, where a hulking cotton mill still stands on the banks of the river overlooking the shoals and dam that gave birth to the community. Further south, we’ll pass by the remains of circa 1849 Lamar Mill and the shoals that accompany it on the Ocmulgee, and ultimately finish our journey at Macon’s new Amerson Park, the former site of the Macon waterworks which was abandoned after the historic flood of 1994.

From my first forays into the Yellow, I’d say it’s shaping up to be a fine trip through Georgia’s rugged Piedmont terrain. It will cover an estimated 84 miles of river with our longest day being 15 miles and our shortest a 6-mile river/lake paddle into Jackson, the reservoir created by Lloyd Shoals Dam.


Chris Thompson runs a ledge on the Yellow River. The river in Gwinnett and Rockdale counties alternates between stretches of flat water and small shoals like this one.

Yes, the portages will be troublesome, but the rewards will be great. And, hopefully, by the end of the trip, there will be many others like me who long for the day when old, obsolete dams will be removed, restoring our rivers to a semblance of what existed when our forefathers first encountered them and rightfully saw in them a wild, powerful thing to be harnessed for the advancement of civilization.

When these dams come down, we can then truly experience “time travel,” seeing with new eyes river features that have been buried for decades, and, in some cases, more than a century. I look forward to that. In the meantime, I look forward to another fun adventure June 16-22 on Paddle Georgia 2018. Registration opens in late January/early February.


A massive rock outcropping slopes down hill toward the Yellow River. The geology familiar to so many at Stone Mountain can also been seen along the route of Paddle Georgia 2018.


When not rolling over shoals, the Yellow moves peacefully between wooded banks.


Yet another shoal on the Yellow. For those who like small, intimate rivers with playful shoals, there will be much to like on Paddle Georgia 2018.

Joe Cook

Paddle Georgia Coordinator

Nov. 21, 2017








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