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Hall County residents enjoy week of paddling
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Cheryl Smith snaps a shot as she glides along the Flint River during Paddle Georgia 2013. - photo by Cheryl Smith

Paddle Georgia 2014

What: A 110-mile canoe/kayak journey on the Chattahoochee River, organized by Georgia River Network

When: June 21-27

Where: Beginning in Suwanee, the paddlers will end the trip in Franklin.

More info:

If you’re paddling in a group with Cheryl Smith, you may want to stay ahead of her.

“What I’ve learned from these trips is, you get a water gun and you park yourself around a bend,” she said matter-of-factly. “And when people come paddling around the bend ...”

Smith and her husband, Pete, are two of nine Hall County residents taking part in the annual Paddle Georgia event, a canoe and kayaking journey organized by the Georgia River Network. More than 400 people are paddling this year, gliding along 110 miles of the Chattahoochee River from now through June 27.

“We do a different Georgia river each year,” said April Ingle, executive director of Georgia River Network. “This is our 10-year anniversary, so this year we are going back to the Chattahoochee where we did the very first Paddle Georgia.”

The starting point was in Suwanee Saturday; the paddlers will arrive in Franklin, near the Alabama line, on Friday after a week of visiting communities along the river. They’ll set up camp in Suwanee, Smyrna, Newnan and Franklin in various high schools and parks; some places have events prepared for the travelers.

The final celebration is June 27 at Heard County’s Riverside Park in Franklin, complete with a fish fry.

Cheryl Smith, who hits the water frequently and has participated in Paddle Georgia events over the years, said it can get a little emotional after a week on the open water, especially as the social event comes to a close. There was a moment last year when she especially became reflective.

“You went from an open water to a marshy area to a canal to coming out and seeing the ocean,” she said. “You get there, and you’re thinking, ‘Wow, I made it. I finished.’

“People were saying, ‘Well, I’m glad the week is over. This has been great.’ And me, I was going ‘I want to paddle another 100 miles!’”

It’s not all fun and games. It’s easy to develop a sunburn. Most people will wear long sleeves and hats on the water, along with plenty of sunscreen.

But the most difficult part may come at the end of the day.

“I think the worst thing is not the bugs but the snoring,” Cheryl Smith said, beginning to laugh. “You get to deal with three or four people, maybe more, who snore ... it’s like a symphony.”

Along with the Smiths, other Hall County residents joining the expedition according to Ingle include John Branch, Sarah Brookshire, Joe Kidd, Jim and Debbie Lynn Fountain, and Tim and James Watson.

Both Cheryl Smith and Ingle agree the best part of the trip is the sense of community it creates.

“I think the thing that makes Paddle Georgia really neat is that it’s a really different kind of summer vacation,” Ingle said. “We have a lot of individuals, from young to seniors who come on the trip. We have a lot of families. It’s just a really neat, different kind of way to have a summer vacation and a really neat, different way to see Georgia.

“You can’t see it any way else by traveling in a canoe over 110 miles.”