Day One on the river was not a normal Paddle GA day. Late buses, slow start on the river, traffic jam of boats at portage, and a dip on two through the rapids, made true paddlers of us all.



As Joe put it at 8:30 pm when the last bus arrived back to camp, we all had some dips, tips, and wipe outs at some point during the day. The safety volunteers from Georgia Canoe Association were the heroes of the day and our paddlers were truly grateful for their dedication and assistance with patience. What a crew!


Paddle Georgia would not be the same without a few bumps and bruises or chasing down unoccupied boats, gear and ejected paddlers. No one was spared today from the water. Even if you survived the river, many who returned to camp early were not spared the rain or the thunderstorm. As Joe confusiously stated: “We all had shared experience today, and the fact that we all survived today’s paddle, means we can survive ANYTHING!”


– Tammy Griffin, GRN Boardmember


Perspiration and sweat.  The first from the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer day, the later from the hard work of Joe, Dana, Gwyneth and the host of volunteers and interns who have so diligently brought together the grand production:  Paddle Georgia 2018.


Shirl and I found our way to Porterdale noonish from Ormewood Park in SE Atlanta and met up with our friend Betsy Richter.  The Village of Porterdale has provided an emerald field aside the Yellow River and sheltered by a pastoral bottomland forest along the periphery – home base for the first four days of adventure.

Schlepping…Had to get our boats up to the launch pad about an hour away with traffic and all.  Nestled deeply in the miasma of suburbia, the launch site itself seemed a bucolic anachronism…a pleasant wooded stream.  What adventures will it provide those of us who will sally forth on it for the next seven days?

Returning to Porterdale we navigated backroads, much more pleasant travel indeed.  The wooded periphery of the field had been populated into a tent city by the time we got back around 4:00 and I set out to meet and greet… the assigned task for the day.  It was great…lots of folks I hadn’t seen since last year and certainly some new ones as well.  And as always on the day before a great adventure there is a pervasive underlying energy…an optimism, a chomping at the bit.  To cite Dr. Frankenfurter (Rocky Horror Picture Show) I would say the group psyche was one of ANTICI…….


Keith d’Sweep Parsons, GRN Board member


The dam at Juliette on the Ocmulgee River. During Paddle Georgia 2018 we’ll portage around this circa-1920s dam and stroll through the 1991 movie set of “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

I take two words from this week’s 23-mile Paddle Georgia 2018 scouting journey on the Ocmulgee River with Georgia River Network board members and Paddle Georgia veterans Vincent Payne and Kit Carson

An anagram for those two words is “mad dash.”

Shad and dam.

Shad—we saw a school of them shooting through the river’s clear water.

Dam—the shad were bound no further than the Juliette Dam, the concrete structure that blocks their historic spawning grounds up the Ocmulgee and also forced us on a nearly half-mile portage.

For the record, trailers and trucks will be used to portage our boats during Paddle Georgia, and we’ll have the opportunity to stroll through Juliette and order some fried green tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Juliette, you see, was the set for the iconic movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,” and tourism is now the circa 1920s village’s primary draw.

Scenes from the movie include the iconic low head dam which rises 20-feet above the bed of the river and creates a crashing waterfall.

Like many mill villages, the dam—which originally powered both a textile and grist mill—is inextricably linked to the town’s history. It is every much an emblem of the town as the fictional Whistle Stop Café so when the powerhouse and dam were recently threatened with closure and potential removal, the town’s boosters were understandably alarmed. In 2015, they began circulating save the dam petitions and held a festival to promote its preservation.


Shoals like this one at Dames Ferry (downstream from Juliette) might be revealed if the Juliette Dam were removed and the river allowed to flow unfettered.

Earlier this year, owners of the dam asked federal courts to reverse a decision by federal regulators revoking the license to operate the dam. The revocation caused power generation to cease at the dam and opened the door to the possible removal of the dam to free up more of the Ocmulgee for shad and other migratory fish. The court’s decision is still pending.

The conflict is symbolic of similar dam fights playing out across our country. Our nation is home to 90,580 large dams. Like the one at Juliette, many are obsolete. They no longer turn spindles at textile mills or grind corn or wheat. The electricity they produce is minimal.

When built, they transformed communities. Today, depending on your perspective, they are nostalgic symbols of days gone by or relict killers of rivers and the critters that live in them. In the coming years, battles between two kinds of historic “preservationists” will be waged upon the ramparts of these dams.

In Juliette, one preservationist will call the dam a historic structure with intrinsic value to the community. The other will look further back in history to a time when the rivers flowed unfettered and the fish, mussels and other critters were abundant.


This Altamaha slabshell mussel siphoning water on the bottom of the Ocmulgee might be one species that would benefit from the removal of Juliette Dam. Mussels depend upon fish to carry out a portion of their life cycle. The dam serves as an obstacle to fish, thus diminishing the reproductive prospects of mussels. The mussels do us a favor by filtering and cleaning vast quantities of water.

Include me among the latter. I have traveled the Chattahoochee through Columbus both before and after the removal of the town’s two historic mill dams. In 1995, I traversed every inch of that section by canoe, hoofing it around each of the dams, paddling the still water above them and lining my boat through the exposed shoals beneath them. In 2013, I made the same journey on a raft, experiencing a semblance of the shoals that caused Native Americans to congregate at this site long before the first settlers threw up the first dam in 1828.


The Ocmulgee is flanked by many a rock outcropping and shoals break up long stretches of flat water in Jasper, Monroe, Jones and Bibb counties.

It was the closest thing to time travel I have ever experienced. A river unknown to several generations of Georgians was revealed, transporting me back in time—not 150 years to when we first began “developing” the river, but 500 years to when the river still flowed free.

What has happened in Columbus is well documented. The whitewater run created by the dam removals has generated unprecedented river-related economic development.

Similar transformations could take place in Juliette. While the town might lose portions of its circa 1920s dam, it would gain its free-flowing river that, like Columbus’ whitewater run, would likely attract paddlers and other river recreationist.

A dam removal discussion in Juliette is worth having. A “mad dash” to protect the “historic dam” at all costs leaves us and the shad with a dam in the way of an odd kind of progress—progress that turns back time.

Joe Cook, May 14, 2018

Join us Friday, June 22 at 2pm for the Paddle Georgia Ducky Derby! Adopt A Duck and win $250. The Duck Derby will take place on the Ocmulgee River during our River’s End Celebration at Amerson Park. The first duck to the finish line wins for their adoptive parent. 
Duck Adoption Prices:
Duckling: 1 duck for $5
Duck Duo: 2 ducks for $10
Duck Trio: 3 ducks for $15
Duck Family: 6 ducks for $25 (5 ducks & 1 for free!)
Team of Ducks: 8 ducks for $35 (7 ducks & 1 free!) 
Flock of Ducks: 12 ducks for $50 (10 ducks & 1 free!)
Adopt your duck here

educators scholarship

Georgia school teachers will have the opportunity to join the country’s largest week-long canoe/kayak camping adventure and receive environmental education training for free as part of Georgia River Network’s Paddle Georgia 2018.

Paddle Georgia’s Educator’s Scholarship Program will provide complimentary registrations valued at $425 to Georgia teachers in grades K-12. The journey begins June 16 on the Yellow River near Stone Mountain and ends June 22, 86 miles downstream on the Ocmulgee River in Macon.

Recipients of the Paddle Georgia Educator Scholarships will paddle for seven days while receiving training in the Project WET environmental education curriculum and Georgia Adopt-A-Stream water monitoring protocol.

“The goal of the program is to have teachers use their experiences on the river and in the workshops to incorporate environmental education in their classrooms,” said Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia coordinator.

Paddle Georgia is an annual canoe and kayak journey on a different Georgia river each year. In the event’s first 13 years, Georgia River Network has guided more than 4,500 people down 14 Georgia rivers and generated more than $400,000 for river protection. More than 75 Georgia educators have participated in the scholarship program.

Educators must apply using forms on the Paddle Georgia website: www.garivers.org/paddle_georgia. All scholarship applications must be received by April 20. Winners of the scholarships will be announced April 25.

This year’s Paddle Georgia route along the Yellow River features impressive shoals, rock outcroppings and bluffs reminiscent of nearby Stone Mountain and includes two portages around historic mill dams at Milstead and Porterdale that provide access to little-seen portions of the river. The route continues into Jackson Lake where another portage will take paddlers to the Ocmulgee, formed by the Yellow, South and Alcovy rivers. On the Ocmulgee, paddlers will get a first-hand look at a river as it leaves Georgia’s hilly Piedmont region and crosses the fall line into the Coastal Plain. Shoals, rapids, beautiful scenery and even a stop at the legendary Whistle Stop Café in Juliette highlight the journey to Macon.

Daily paddle trips will average about 12 miles, and each night participants will camp at nearby facilities. Teachers will participate in workshops during the week and even create programs for youth and adults participating in the trip.

The trip is suitable for novice paddlers as well as experienced paddlers. Paddlers range in age from 4 to 84, with many families participating.

Sponsors of the event include Hennessy Land Rover, Cedar Creek Park and Outdoor Center, CYA Insurance Agency, Oglethorpe Power, Cary S. Baxter CPA, LLC, R. Terry Pate CPA, China Clay Producers Association, Patagonia and EarthShare Georgia. Partners include American Canoe Association, Café Campesino, Yellow River Water Trail, Ocmulgee River Water Trail, Altamaha Riverkeeper, Georgia Canoeing Association, Georgia Adopt-A-Stream and Project WET.

Georgia River Network is a nonprofit 501c3 organization working to ensure a clean water legacy by engaging and empowering Georgians to protect and restore rivers.

For more information, contact Joe Cook at 706-409-0128 or joecookpg@gmail.com


For two weeks in July and August of 1864, Maj. General George Stoneman and several thousand of his Union cavalry alternately blundered and pillaged their way along the east bank of the Ocmulgee River in Jasper and Jones counties. The ultimate goal of this daring raid behind the Confederate Army defending Atlanta was to rendezvous with other Union cavalry on the west side of the Ocmulgee and destroy railroads leading to Atlanta.


Vincent Payne and Keith Haskell inspect the remains of Lamar Mill. Milling operations at Seven Islands on the Ocmulgee began in 1845. 

Destruction of the railroads would, Union Gen. William T. Sherman believed, cut off vital supplies to the Confederate Army defending Atlanta and force the city’s surrender.

Maj. Gen. Stoneman planned to cross the Ocmulgee on a bridge that presumably spanned the river at Seven Islands, near a mill that was churning out textiles for the Confederacy. But, contrary to intelligence reports, there was no bridge at Seven Islands, only a small ferry. Moving 2,200 men and horses across the river on a ferry boat was simply not practical.

Vexed by the river, Stoneman and his men never made the rendezvous west of the Ocmulgee and the daring raid turned disaster. The Confederates repelled and hunted them down as they desperately tried to reach the safety of the Union lines. Their harrowing tales of escape are the stuff of legend.

154 years later, the Ocmulgee is still a vexing vessel of water, if for different reasons. The Paddle Georgia quandary, like Stoneman’s quandary, is how to move hundreds of intrepid explorers safely through the Ocmulgee’s storied Seven Islands region—a place studded with as many historic sites as shoals and rapids.


A kayaker navigates the Class III Lamar Mill Rapid on the Ocmulgee River. During Paddle Georgia 2018 we will paddle or portage around this thrilling ride. 

This past weekend, I traveled with Kit Carson, Mary McDonnell, Keith Haskell and Vincent Payne to scout the Seven Islands, home to Lamar Mill Rapid. In today’s river vernacular, it is a noted “Class III” obstacle (a level of difficulty prohibited by our Paddle Georgia liability insurers).

Some hundred years ago, in the vernacular of The Engineering Magazine, Lamar Mill was a shoal that if properly dammed would be capable of producing 3,500 horsepower. And harnessed it was. Lamar Flour Mill operated there well into the 1900s.

Still further back in history, entrepreneur C.A. Nutting knew only that this impressive force would certainly turn the spindles in his textile mill, and thus at this beautiful shoal, a thriving industry and community sprouted in 1845.

Some 20 years later that community was destroyed. In November 1864 after setting ablaze Nutting’s mill, the Union army did finally cross the Ocmulgee here at Seven Islands, setting down pontoon bridges and marching across the river in route to Savannah.


Kit Carson shoots through shoals on the Ocmulgee River. The Paddle Georgia 2018 route includes numerous small shoals and rapids on both the Yellow and Ocmulgee rivers. 

This summer, we follow in these historic footsteps and hoof prints. 150 year hence, what might the historians note about an army of 300-plus paddlers embarking on a bold journey down—not across—the Ocmulgee?

Our goal might not be as lofty as preserving a country or ending slavery, but never doubt, our week of fun each summer is about something far greater than a playful water battle on a hot summer day.

By traveling the Yellow and Ocmulgee this summer, we push the cause of those working to establish the Yellow and Ocmulgee River Water Trails. We change the conversation from “horsepower” to “Class III.” We usher in an era when our rivers are cherished not just for their power to turn spindles, grind corn or light our homes, but also for their intrinsic beauty and the recreational opportunities they freely provide us.

Onward soldiers! Now to navigate the shoals surrounding Lamar Mill Rapid safely!

Joe Cook, March 21, 2018


Though we saw no beavers on our daylight adventure on the Ocmulgee signs of their nocturnal activity (and industry) were found everywhere. How long did it take to fell this massive tree? 


In addition to exciting shoals, the Ocmulgee dishes up long stretches of peaceful flatwater, much of it bordering the Oconee National Forest. 


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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