Paddlers take to ‘Little Amazon’
Trip along the Altamaha River focuses on health of state’s river
By Lee Johnson
POSTED: June 11, 2012 11:41 p.m
A group of kayakers and canoers, including a handful from the Gainesville area, are preparing this week to take on the state’s “Little Amazon” — the Altamaha River.
On Saturday, about 350 paddlers from all over the nation will make the 105-mile journey from Baxley to Darien on the Altamaha during the eighth year of “Paddle Georgia,” an annual trip sponsored by the Georgia River Network. The trip will take seven days.
Vincent Tillirson, a Forsyth County resident, will pack his kayak, and coming with him is his 12-year-old daughter, Emma.
“One of my major points of doing this was that father-daughter bonding,” Tillirson said. “She’s at that age where she’s about to be a teenager and I just wanted to take a trip that, especially while she still looks up to me and thinks I know everything, that we’ll remember.”
Tillirson has done whitewater kayaking before but never a trip of this length.
“I just think it’s going to be an incredible experience,” he said. “We love being on the water, and that made it a perfect combo of a trip.”
But the paddlers are in it for more than just being on the water. It’s about learning and experiencing up close what the river system has to offer and how to protect it for future paddlers.
“As you paddle down the river you become aware of the damage that is being done to the river,” said Joe Kidd, a Gainesville resident. “Seeing it firsthand is different than reading about it.”
Kidd said he grew up on the Chattahoochee River and has seen pollution in the state’s river systems.
This kind of trip, he said, will open some eyes to both the beauty of the river and the dangers of human negligence.
“Awareness is the big thing,” he said. “We’ll see clean areas of the river and we see polluted areas of the river.”
It’s trips like this, he said, that help expand that awareness.
“Too many people just dump whatever they want to into the streams, and there’s no stop to it if we don’t do something about it,” Kidd said.
And the Georgia River Network is all about conservation of the state’s waterways.
Since the trip’s inception in 2005, organizers have guided more than 2,100 paddlers down more than 700 miles of Georgia rivers, including the Chattahoochee, Etowah, Ocmulgee, Flint, Coosawatee, Oostanaula, Broad, Savannah and Oconee.
The trips have raised more than $120,000 for river protection.
All proceeds from the trip go to support the network and some of its benefactors. This year, that includes the Altamaha Riverkeeper.
Gwyneth Moody, the network’s community programs coordinator, said that’s the nonprofit’s aim and this trip is one of the cornerstones to that success.
Moody, who said she grew up on the Broad River as a “river rat,” will actually be joining the paddlers this year.
“I’m excited,” Moody said. “I’ve never done seven days straight on the river, so it’s going to be a matter of endurance, but it’s going to be so much fun meeting amazing people that really care about rivers.”
She said the trip is the only one of its kind in the nation.
Throughout the week the paddlers will tour facilities and historical sites along the river, along with participating in educational programs on its cultural and natural history.
They will even help with a research program, collecting chemical and biological data to give a snapshot of the current health of the river.
“These trips are really worthwhile,” Kidd said.
As for what he hopes to bring back with him from the trip?