Archive for December, 2022

How many miles do you paddle each year? People who bother to inspect my battered red canoe, often ask this question. I’ve never bothered to tally my mileage. My dented and scraped canoe may have more to do with my skills as a paddler than the number of miles I’ve travelled with it.

Michael and Veronica Humphrey glide down the Flint River during Georgia River Network’s Fall Float on the Flint in October.

But, for kicks, at the close of 2022, I decided to add up my mileage. The total? I covered approximately 535 miles on Georgia’s rivers, swamps, sounds and lakes this year.

What prompted this tally was Georgia River Network’s (GRN) upcoming Paddle-A-Thon 2023. In celebration of GRN’s 25th anniversary, we’ve taken our traditional Canoe-A-Thon and pumped it with steroids. Paddle-A-Thon 2023 will feature some $8,000 in prizes to be awarded in multiple categories from most money raised (Paddle-A-Thon is, of course, a peer-to-peer fundraising event) to most miles paddled.

In fact, there are eight categories for which the winner doesn’t have to ask anyone for donations to GRN. All you have to do is paddle: most miles paddled with your pet, most trash collected, most kayak fishing trips and more! You can check out all the categories and register at https://www.mightycause.com/event/Paddleathon. Top prizes include $250-$1000 gift certificates from the likes of Cedar Creek Outdoor Center, Public Lands, Wildwater Rafting, Oconee Outfitters and more!

So, how many miles did you paddle in 2022? Leave your answer in the comment section of this blog and that’ll give us an idea of possible front runners for Paddle-A-Thon 2023

To get your juices flowing for paddle trip ideas in 2023, here are my top ten paddling destinations that I had the pleasure of exploring in 2022. All of these trips, with the exception of the Altamaha and Ossabaw sounds trips, are suitable for novice paddlers:

Bill Hill navigates below Crow Hop/Riverview Dam during a Georgia River Network adventure on the Chattahoochee in August. The historic mill dam that once helped power textile mills in Riverview is slated to be removed in the coming years.

10. Savannah River: I got in some scouting on the lower Savannah River in November (it’s our destination for Paddle Georgia 2023 set for June 24-July 1). An enchanting river in and of itself, the real rewards come from exploring off the main channel where you can find lots of variety: blackwater creeks, crystal-clear spring-fed creeks and mysterious oxbow lakes. Paddle Georgia 2023 is going to be a treat!

9. Chattahoochee River from West Point to Riverview: We explored this 12-mile run in late summer to see the river as it is today—with two 100-year-old and obsolete dams blocking its path (Langdale and Riverview). In the next couple of years, Georgia Power Company plans to remove these dams to restore a free-flowing river. Better check it out before they are gone; just use care when portaging around these dangerous lowhead dams and check the release schedule at West Point Dam before you begin.

8. Chattahoochee in Carroll and Coweta County: When I first paddled this stretch of river in 1995, it still stunk of metro Atlanta’s failing sewer systems. After 28 years of progress, this section of river has been transformed. Sewer upgrades upstream now limit the amount of untreated waste that enters the river and this once “dead river” is very much alive and worth visiting. In fact, GRN will lead a trip from Carroll County’s Moore’s Bridge Park to Chattahoochee Bend State Park in July

Limestone bluffs tower over paddlers on South Chickamauga Creek near Ringgold.

7. Oconee River by Moonlight: During September’s Harvest Moon, we ventured down six miles of the Oconee near Athens. The black of the river, sky and trees seemed to meld together, creating an otherworldly paddling path. As the bats darted above our heads and the light faded from the sky, we were transported into a world where the line between the heavens and the earth seemed very thin, indeed. Then the moon stretched above the horizon, casting light and shadow where there previously was none. Also…we picked a heap of muscadines, the jelly from which I’m enjoying on these cold winter mornings. Oconee Outfitters in Milledgeville, one of our Paddle-A-Thon supporters, hosts regular full-moon paddles on the Oconee.

6. South Chickamauga Creek: Not many know about this little creek, but the secret’s getting out quickly. Put your boat in at Ringgold—a hop, skip and jump from the Tennessee line—and soon you’ll be paddling past soaring limestone bluffs, atop water teaming with aquatic diversity and over fun, playful shoals. At one point, a sinkhole diverts a portion of the creek underground; two miles downstream the flow reappears, gushing from riverside rock formations.

5. Altamaha Sound: Venturing from any of the access points along U.S. 17 between Darien and Two Way Fish Camp, you can ride the tide out to the Altamaha’s Egg Islands and then ride the tide back in for a long adventurous day of paddling. The marshes, stretching as far as the eye can see and the critters that call them home are the highlight. Oystercatchers and Least Terns patrol the shores, pelicans and bald eagles patrol the skies. Alligators are equally abundant. You might even see a cow…yes, Cow Island still has a few living residents. Check the tide charts and wind speeds and plan accordingly. Pick a windless day. The Sound is no place to be caught in a boat in choppy seas. You can legally camp on Rhetts Island (with public dock) but be prepared for mosquitoes. They can be ferocious.

Kit Carson explores the marsh-lined shores of Ossabaw Sound on a still, cloudless morning in the Golden Isles.

4. Ossabaw Sound: Start at Fort McAllister State Park and venture out to the tip of Ossabaw Island using the outgoing and incoming tides to your favor. Access to the island’s beaches is restricted to the hide tide mark, but it’s possible to beach your boat on the protected “bayside” of Bradley Point and walk around the beach for a view of the Atlantic as it crashes ashore. A route hugging the marshlands and avoiding the open water of Ossabaw Sound is breathtakingly beautiful, especially at first light. When the morning sun hits the waving marsh grass, you’ll understand why they call these the Golden Isles of Georgia. As with Altamaha Sound, check tide charts, wind speeds and plan accordingly. Pick a windless day!

3. Alapaha: Tucked into the lightly populated southeast corner of the state, the Alapaha is known by few, but loved by those who have had the pleasure of venturing on it. This blackwater gem descends into the karst geology of South Georgia and North Florida where rivers can actually disappear—as does the Alapaha during periods of low flows. But, catch it in the winter, spring or early summer, and you are in for a treat. Numerous blackwater tributaries contribute to the river, often forming small, but beautiful waterfalls flowing over craggy limestone. Its journey through the unique geology make it unlike other sandy, sinuous, flatwater Coastal Plain rivers. You’ll be surprised to find frothy shoals in places.

2. Ebenezer Creek: You’ve probably seen photos of Ebenezer Creek in your social media feed…that’s because this little blackwater creek in Effingham County just north of Savannah is among the most picturesque stretches of water you will find in the state thanks, in part, to the massive and ancient cypress and swamp tupelo trees that line its banks. At one, you can fit your entire kayak inside the hollow arch made by the spreading trunk. Rich in early Georgia and Civil War history and mostly wild, you can drift with the current imagining the wonder and hardships that earlier visitors to the creek must have encountered. Ebenezer will be a side trip during Paddle Georgia 2023 June 24-July 1.

Joy Tabatabai drifts through a cpyress-lined passage in the Okefenokee Swamp.

1. Okefenokee Swamp: There is no paddling destination quite like the Okefenokee. An international treasure, we are just lucky to have it in our backyard. My favorite route (and I have explored just a fraction of the swamp’s 100-plus-mile Wilderness Canoe Trail System), is from Stephen Foster State Park to Griffis Fish Camp on the Suwannee River. The varied landscapes that you pass through on this route are outstanding as is the wildlife. The birds and alligators, are, of course, everywhere. One of my all time best canoe-wildlife encounters occurred in The Narrows when a large black bear scampered down a tree as I passed—apparently not so silently—along the paddle path. Day trips are great; overnighters on the swamp’s floating campsites are even better (but require reservations long in advance of your trip). GRN’s Okefenokee adventure is set for Nov. 10-12, 2023.

I don’t know who will paddle the most miles in GRN’s Paddle-A-Thon, but I’m guessing the winner is going to log a lot more than 500 miles. Let the paddling begin!

Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia Coordinator, December 2022

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