Joe Cook; Rome, Georgia; Paddle Georgia coordinator | Photo by Paul O'Mara
"Last August, I spent four days scouting the Altamaha River for this year's Paddle Georgia event. In one stretch, we were visited by an otter, countless alligators, and a pair of dolphins—not to mention a zillion fiddler crabs in the marshes that flank the river as it nears the coast. That same day, we didn't see another human. There are not many rivers in Georgia where you can experience all of that in one day of paddling.
"The great thing about Paddle Georgia is the community that is built over the course of the week, as 300 or more people paddle together through the state's beautiful waters. Some days we feel like we're in paradise, but then we inevitably run into something—discharge from a storm drain or a riparian buffer that's been destroyed by development—that stirs everybody up. After you spend several days on a river, it becomes a part of you. When you see it defiled, it makes you angry and makes you want to do something about it.
"This June we will canoe and kayak 108 miles on south Georgia's Ohoopee and Altamaha Rivers. It might turn out to be our best trip since we began these weeklong excursions eight years ago. The Ohoopee is a blackwater river that oozes 'Old South.' It runs about 120 miles before spilling into the Altamaha River, which is Georgia's biggest river in terms of volume.
"For all its wildness, the Altamaha is fouled like no other river in Georgia—at least that I've seen. In Jesup, discharge from a paper plant has transformed it into a stinking cesspool of industrial waste that doesn't really recover until about 20 miles downstream.
"Paddle a day on a Georgia river and you can avoid these sad places, but paddle a week there and you'll eventually run into the toll humans exact on these waters. It can leave you fighting mad, but that's part of the point of Paddle Georgia—to bring about change." —interview by Jenni Frankenberg Veal
Now in its eighth year, Paddle Georgia has escorted 2,100 paddlers along 700 miles of the state's waterways, raising $125,000 for Georgia River Network and other watershed-protection groups.
ON THE WEB
Learn more about Paddle Georgia at garivers.org/paddle_georgia