Registration for the country’s largest week-long canoe and kayak camping adventure opens Wednesday, and participants this year will embark on the Yellow and Ocmulgee Rivers between Stone Mountain and Macon to highlight Georgia’s emerging water trail system.
The event is hosted by Georgia River Network and attracts more than 400 participants each year. This year, the paddle is set for June 16 through June 22.
The 14th annual Paddle Georgia charts a four-day course through suburban Atlanta on the Yellow River in Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton counties to Lake Jackson and then continues for three more days on the Ocmulgee River, flowing through Jasper, Butts, Monroe and Jones counties before finishing in Macon.
Local river boosters, with assistance from Georgia River Network, are developing water trails on both the Yellow and Ocmulgee by improving public access to the rivers, providing information about river conditions and promoting events on these rivers.
“During the past several years, we’ve seen an explosion in water trail development,” said Gwyneth Moody, director of programs and outreach with Georgia River Network. “Local communities are rediscovering their rivers and recognizing them as a recreational amenity for residents and visitors on par with ball fields, parks, walking trails and other more traditional public recreation projects.”
In fact, a past Paddle Georgia participant is helping lead the effort to establish the Yellow River Water Trail. Tonya Bechtler, a resident of Covington, first participated in Paddle Georgia in 2009.
“After that trip I was inspired,” said Bechtler. “I saw we had a beautiful river in our own backyard that was worthy of paddling and wanted to see it made more available.”
Since then Bechtler has worked to establish launch sites and other amenities along the river.
Paddle Georgia participants will utilize many of these facilities, including camping for four nights at Porterdale’s Yellow River Park along the river in the heart of the historic Newton County textile mill village.
“We chose to venture on the Yellow and Ocmulgee this year largely because of the work taking place on the rivers to improve access and promote their use for recreational activities,” said Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia coordinator. “This is a chance for people to see two rivers that don’t get as much attention as some of the headline-stealing rivers like the Chattahoochee and Flint.”
Registration fees are $425 for adults, $230 for children ages 8-17 and $30 for children 7 and under.
A very limited number of spaces are available for “Paddle Georgia Lite,” an abbreviated version of the trip that includes either the first two days of the trip (June 16 and 17) or the last two days of the trip (June 21 and 22). Registration fees for Paddle Georgia Lite are $120, $70 and $15. Additional registration information is available at www.garivers.org/paddle_georgia.
You can register for the event at: www.garivers.org/paddle_georgia. Registration is on a first-come, first serve basis until all spaces are sold.
The event, billed as an environmental education adventure for the whole family, is designed to connect people with Georgia’s rivers.
In addition to paddling about 12 miles each day, participants will learn about the river through nightly programs about the river’s ecology and cultural history and special tours of historic sites and industrial facilities. A street party is planned in Porterdale on June 17 featuring music, food and canoe tug-o-war competitions.
Paddle Georgia serves as a fundraiser for Georgia River Network and local watershed protection groups. Since the inaugural Paddle Georgia in 2005, GRN has introduced more than 4,000 paddlers to more than 1,300 miles of water trails on 13 Georgia rivers.
Along the way the event has generated more than $400,000 for river protection. Yellow River Water Trail, Ocmulgee River Water Trail and Altamaha Riverkeeper will be the local groups benefiting from this year’s event.
The 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.
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.
Founded in 1998, Georgia River Network is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that serves as the voice of Georgia’s rivers and works to empower everyone to enjoy, connect with and advocate for economically vital and clean flowing rivers.
Those interested in participating can get more information at the Paddle Georgia website at http://www.garivers.org/paddle_georgia or by contacting Joe Cook at (706)409-0128 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or contacting Dana Skelton at (706)549-4508 or email@example.com.