The country's largest weeklong canoe/kayak camping adventure will stroke down the Ogeechee River this summer, with more than 400 paddlers ranging in age from 4 to 84 making the journey.
Georgia River Network's Paddle Georgia 2015 will launch on the Ogeechee at Rocky Ford Road on June 20 and travel for seven days and 95 miles, finishing at Kings Ferry near Richmond Hill.
The event, billed as an environmental education adventure for the whole family, will celebrate its 11th year.
"The purpose of the event is to encourage people to protect our rivers, raise funds to help protect these rivers and promote recreational use of our rivers," said Paddle Georgia Coordinator Joe Cook.
During Paddle Georgia's first 10 years, the Georgia River Network has introduced more than 3,200 paddlers to more than 1,000 miles of water trails on 11 rivers. Along the way, the event has generated more than $220,000 for river protection.
Registration for the trip is currently underway.
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 just the first two days. Registration fees for Paddle Georgia Lite are $120, $70 and $15. Additional registration information is available at www.garivers.org/paddle_georgia.
Some spots on the trip have already been claimed through a priority registration available to participants who raised more than $300 through a Canoe-a-thon to benefit GRN in 2014.
Paddle Georgia 2015 will introduce paddlers to the blackwater Ogeechee River as it courses through Screven, Bulloch, Effingham, Chatham and Bryan counties. Wild and winding, the Ogeechee is surrounded by acres of floodplain and bottomland swamp.
"It may be the wildest river Paddle Georgia has ventured on," Cook said. "Its blackwater, stately moss-draped cypress trees and swampy sloughs make you feel like you are paddling back in time to the dawn of creation."
Daily paddle trips will average about 14 miles, and each night participants will camp at nearby facilities such as schools and parks. In addition to spending each day on the river, paddlers will have the opportunity to explore everything from downtown Statesboro, where a street party with dancing and Canoe Tug-O-Wars is planned, to the historic Ogeechee-Savannah River Canal.
Paddle Georgia comes just four years after the Ogeechee suffered the largest fish kill in Georgia history. Some 38,000 fish died and the tragedy was linked to discharges from the King America Finishing textiles plant in Dover.
Since then, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Georgia Environmental Protection Division have worked to secure a $5 million legal settlement with the textile company to clean up the river. Upgrades to pollution controls at the plant, which has since changed hands from Westex Inc., based in Chicago, to Milliken, based in Spartanburg, South Carolina, have been made and a comprehensive river monitoring program is underway. Milliken also changed the name of the plant to Longleaf.
"The Ogeechee Is recovering," Dowling said. "Despite the tragedies of the past, this river is still very much alive and still a beautiful place to explore.
In addition to supporting the river network's efforts to protect Georgia's rivers, proceeds from this year's event will benefit the programs and efforts of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper.
Through support from sponsors and individuals, the network offers "scholarships" for both teachers and students to participate in the trip. Georgia teachers can participate and receive Georgia Adopt-A-Stream and Project WET training so that they may include environmental education in their classroom activities. More information about this scholarship program is available on the Paddle Georgia website.
Sponsors of the event include Hennessy Land Rover Centres; Patagonia; Oglethorpe Power Corporation; StreamTechs; Cedar Creek RV and Outdoor Center; Chambliss, Sheppard, Roland & Baxter LLP; China Clay Producers Association; The Outside World; Maxxis Tires; Troncolli Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Subaru; and Sole Source Electrical Contractors, LLC. Event partners include the American Canoe Association; Georgia Canoe Association, Georgia Adopt-A-Stream, Café Campesino and Ogeechee Riverkeeper.
Georgia River Network is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization working to ensure a clean water legacy by engaging and empowering Georgians to protect and restore our rivers from the mountains to the coast.
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.