Doris Lindsey’s vacation didn’t exactly get off to the ideal start.
The first night of her seven-day paddling trip down the Flint River a terrible thunderstorm passed over the campsite, flooding her tent. Lindsey decided to sleep on top of a picnic table to stay out of the water, but fortunately her neighbors on higher-ground came to her rescue. The Kentucky residents had a two-room tent and allowed her to stay in the unoccupied portion.
“In the morning, I got up and checked my tent and it was totally flooded,” Lindsey said. “I pulled everything out of my tent at like 3:30 in the morning and brought everything over to dry out.”
The Gainesville resident returned to her tent later and found an animal had moved in. Lindsey reclaimed the tent after what she presumed to be a fox ran into the woods.
“It was pretty funny,” Lindsey said laughing.
Though the bad weather put a damper on her restful night, Lindsey said it didn’t bother her. She made a couple of new friends.
This was Lindsey’s second year traveling with Paddle Georgia, a weeklong paddling trip that aims to educate people about Georgia’s river systems. More than 350 people participated in the ninth annual trip sponsored by the Georgia River Network. The trip serves as an educational adventure and a fundraiser for the network and the Flint Riverkeeper. Each year the trip follows a different river. Next year the trip will take paddlers down the Chattahoochee.
The trip began June 15 at Lake Chehaw in Warwick and ended June 23 in Bainbridge.
“It’s a really great experience,” Lindsey said. “Everybody’s nice. Everybody helps each other. I go by myself, but when I’m done I’ve met 350 people. It’s a great experience. Everybody who’s done it loves it. I don’t think anybody wouldn’t come back the next year.”
The event is popular with families and appropriate for any age group. The youngest person to paddle was 4 and the oldest was 83. The trip gathered quite a bit of steam this year, more than 300 of the 350 available slots filled within 24 hours of opening registration.
Lindsey said she considers the trip her annual vacation and plans to be among the first to register next year. For her, the trip provides an opportunity to get to know people from all across the Southeast. Now that she’s becoming a regular attendee, she’s starting to recognize a few faces.
“You never feel alone,” Lindsey said. “You’re camping with so many people and everybody wants to meet you. They encourage you to go out and have other people sign up for the next year.”
Many paddlers bring water guns to help break the ice with others. And while there is a definite social aspect to the trip, its primary purpose is to educate and build an appreciation for the state’s waterways.
“The idea is to start a little love affair with our rivers,” Paddle Georgia coordinator Joe Cook said. “When people have a relationship with something, they’re a lot more likely to care for it and want to protect it.”
Paddlers averaged about 15 miles each day and saw wildlife in their natural habitat. Paddlers saw alligators, bats, humming birds, snakes, fish and a few stray dogs.
Cook, who paddled the river twice before, said he found several breath-taking sights he did not notice on his previous trips.
“There are so many things in the state of Georgia to discover,” Cook said. “There are a lot of hidden places out on the river that most people don’t even know are there.”
After being on the river all day, paddlers stayed the night in campgrounds and the hallways and gyms of various community schools along the way. Cook said the communities the paddlers travel through are always welcoming. He said the communities understand that paddling is becoming a popular recreational activity and know it could be an economic development tool.
The city of Camilla hosted a “street party” for the paddlers on the town square. Paddlers were free to wander the city’s downtown and shop and eat in restaurants.
Joe Kidd of Gainesville said he felt “welcomed” by the city. By the end of the party, Kidd was
speaking with the mayor and the city’s manager.
Kidd said the experience overall was “great” and it fueled his environmentalist passions.
All along the river, Kidd took water samples to monitor the chemicals in the streams. Kidd was certified to test water conditions at Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville. He also kept an eye out for invertebrates. Diversity, or a lack thereof, could indicate a problem with the water.
Kidd said he was impressed with how clean and healthy the river seemed to be, especially in the more rural areas. Kidd grew up in Newnan on the Chatahoochee River. In the late 1960s, Kidd recalled how polluted and “ruined” the river became because of run off from Atlanta. Because of the polluted river, Kidd understands how important it is to help educate others about water quality.
“We’re trying in a gentle sort of way to convince people they shouldn’t pollute water,” Kidd said. “It’s just something we absolutely have to have. There is no alternative to clean water. We can’t live without water so just keep it clean.”