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Archive for February, 2020

Return to Puddle Georgia

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The Flint River at Yellow Jacket Shoals is famous for its displays of shoals spider lilies.

In 2008, on the fourth Paddle Georgia adventure ever, Georgia River Network and a crowd of 300-plus paddlers ventured on the drought-stricken Flint River. It was a journey that lives on in the lore of Paddle Georgia. Such were the conditions that we spent nearly as much time walking our boats over shoals as we did paddling them. Some called it Puddle Georgia. It was an adventure we will never forget.

This year, we return to that same river. While the above description doesn’t seem a strong endorsement of a return to this river, it should be noted that 2008 was the tail end of a two-year drought. It was an anomaly–not the norm.

From where I sit in February, a massive front has just dumped several inches of rain across North and Central Georgia. Here’s hoping the steady rain continues through May!

During my first excursions on the Flint in 2008, I was gobsmacked by its beauty. In fact, there’s nothing quite like it in Georgia. It’s why the river as it winds through the Pine Mountain area and past Sprewell Bluff is a “bucket list trip” for Georgia river lovers.

Georgia’s southern-most ridges create a unique landscape–a perfect mix of mountains and water.

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Soaring vistas of Rockhouse Mountain, Pine Mountain and Sprewell Bluff highlight the first day of Paddle Georgia 2020 on the Flint River.

In North Georgia where rivers flow through the heart of the state’s mountainous terrain, they are generally small, narrow and enclosed by those same mountains. Sweeping vistas from the river of soaring mountains are rare. But, on the larger, more open Flint, you get those views. Pine Mountain, Rockhouse Mountain and Sprewell Bluff are all in plain and spectacular view from the seat of your kayak. It’s just one of the reasons, the Flint is perhaps my favorite river in the state.

Our Paddle Georgia route between Thomaston and Montezuma/Oglethorpe is also steeped in history.

Sprewell Bluff became the epicenter of an early battleground in Georgia’s environmental awakening of the 1970s. It was here that Gov. Jimmy Carter, spurned to action by thousands of concerned citizens, put a stop to a proposed hydropower dam that would have forever destroyed this scenic stretch of river.

As president he successfully continued efforts to save free-flowing rivers, including stopping two other proposed Flint River dams.

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The 99-mile course down the Flint set for Paddle Georgia 2020 includes numerous shoals during the first three days of the trip followed by four days of mostly flatwater paddling as the river winds through the Coastal Plain.

Downstream from Sprewell Bluff in Upson County along the banks of the river was one of the first “Indian Reservations” in the country–a one-mile square plot of land set aside in 1821 during the Treaty of Indian Springs. The lot was to be the property of Tustennugee Emathla, a Creek Indian who fought on the side of the U.S. and Georgia against hostile Native Americans.

Not far downstream is the ancestral home of Gen. John B. Gordon. A visage of him on horseback towers over the grounds of the Capitol building in Atlanta, and like the commemorative statue, he was a towering figure in antebellum Georgia. Like many of the state leaders enshrined in statue on the capitol grounds, there is much about his life that in hindsight causes embarrassment. An outspoken opponent of reconstruction and widely believed to be the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, his popularity vaulted him to the governor’s seat as well as the U.S. Senate.

In Crawford County–along our Paddle Georgia route–beginning in 1803 sat the U.S. Indian Agency headed by Benjamin Hawkins who toiled to keep the peace between the Georgia immigrants and the native people. Respected by both the Creek Indians and Georgia’s earliest settlers, he ultimately resigned from his post after U.S. troops razed Creek Indian towns during conflicts in 1813 and 1814.

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The Flint River near Miona Ferry. Once the Flint spills over the fall line and enters the Coastal Plain, oxbows, sandbars and cut banks begin to dominate the river’s course in stark contrast to the rocky shoal filled reaches of the Piedmont. 

Hawkins was a pragmatist who believed the only hope for the Creek Indians to remain on their land was for them to assimilate into the white man’s culture. To that end, he attempted to use his plantation as an example and tried to teach the Creeks the skills that Europeans brought to the New World. Moravian missionaries who lived for a time at the Indian Agency and tried to convert the native population to Christianity bristled at Hawkins emphasis on teaching skills and trades. Said one of the missionaries: “Col. Hawkins, with his fixed ideas on civilizing the Indians with arts and crafts, was no real patron of the preaching of the Gospel.”

Fast forward to the 20th century and we find along the Flint, the root of one of the civil rights movement’s most controversial leaders–Malcolm X. His father, Earl Little, was born in Reynolds in 1890, the grandson of slaves that toiled on nearby plantations. Earl had six brothers, four of which were killed by white men, including one who was lynched. One doesn’t have to wonder about Malcolm X’s militancy given this family history.

Below Reynolds, during our journey, we will stop at Miona Ferry, the site of the last operating ferryboat in Georgia. It ceased operation in 1988, bringing to an end Georgia’s era of ferries that spanned more than 200 years of the state’s history. Nearby is Miona Springs, site of a health resort in the early 1900s that featured a 22-room hotel, cottages, a dance floor and a swimming pool. While the health benefits of the mineral springs were extolled, it was probably the ability to drink the pristine and untainted spring water that brought about the biggest improvements in health for visitors to the resort.

This is just a bit of the history that we’ll pass through during Paddle Georgia 2020. Join us as we make our won history on this river June 20-27! www.garivers.org/paddle-georgia

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The Flint River near Pobiddy Road. The Paddle Georgia 2020 route will cover 99 miles of the Flint, much of it on sections that would otherwise be reservoirs now if not for the advocacy of thousands of citizens and the leadership of President Jimmy Carter. 

 

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