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Paddling trips help environmental causes
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Forest Hilyer, chairman of the Lumpkin Coalition, discuss the problem of the parasitic woolly adelgid that is feasting on the hemlock trees of North Georgia.

As the weather warms and frigid mornings give way to sunny skies, local paddlers are itching to get canoes and kayaks on North Georgia rivers.

And at least two trips this weekend will also raise money for environmental efforts.

The Lumpkin Coalition is teaming up with Appalachian Outfitters in Dahlonega to hold the third annual Beetle Battle Paddle on Saturday.

All proceeds generated from boat rentals will fund the fight against the woolly adelgid, a parasite threatening to decimate the hemlock tree, a key species in North Georgia forests.

Appalachian Outfitters will provide canoes and kayaks for paddlers to make a roughly two-hour trek down the Chestatee River.

Forest Hilyer, chairman of the Lumpkin Coalition, said the river trip will raise money to support operational costs for beetle laboratories at North Georgia College & State University, Young Harris College and the University of Georgia.

The laboratories breed specific types of beetles that feed solely on the woolly adelgid, which is quickly destroying hemlock trees throughout the southeastern United States.

"The Hemlock tree is one of the most environmentally impactive trees in the South," Hilyer said. "Anything you do in North Georgia — hiking, fishing — you will be affected by the loss of hemlock trees."

Hilyer added that saving hemlock trees also supports the tourism industry of Northeast Georgia.

"Nobody wants to go where there’s a bunch of dead trees," he said. "The expectation is that by the end of this year, most of the hemlocks in Georgia will be affected by the woolly adelgid. And from that point forward, we’re on a ticking clock.

"Once trees are infected and nothing is done about it, it takes an average of four to 10 years to kill it."

Hilyer suggested all hats and jackets, particularly fleece, be washed after outdoor adventures to prevent more hemlock infestations.

Downstream, the Georgia Canoeing Association is a holding an 8.3-mile river expedition down the Ocmulgee River on Saturday as part of its Georgia River Explorer Series 2008.

Paddlers are invited to meet at the Ocmulgee River bridge on Ga. 83, one mile east of Berner, at 10 a.m. The trip should end at about 4 p.m. near the intersection of U.S. 23 and Ga. 83.

William Gatling of the Georgia Canoeing Association said the trip is the first of three river trips the association is holding to fund legal fees paddlers are incurring in their battle to expand their access to Georgia rivers.

One river trip costs $50 for safety lessons and boat rental, and all three trips cost a total of $100. Children younger than 12 can paddle for free.

The second trip will guide paddlers down the Hudson River near Athens on April 12, and the third goes down the Etowah River near Dawsonville on April 26.

Gatling said private riverfront property owners are the primary obstacle preventing paddlers from exploring Georgia rivers. He said the Soquee River near Helen is an example of a river paddlers have not been able to legally paddle in 26 years.

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