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North Ga. paddling professor reaches Gulf
Fuller began water quality research trip north of Helen, will return via different route
Robert Fuller ends part 1 of a 1,500-mile paddling trip, pulling to the side of the Apalachicola River Thursday afternoon. Fuller, a professor of geosciences and director of the Environmental Leadership Center at North Georgia Col-lege & State University, began his trip in September at the head of the Chattaoochee River and has been sampling the water along the way to test its quality.

Robert Fuller is only partway through a 1,500-mile canoe trip, but he’s reached a big milestone — Apalachicola.

The North Georgia College & State University professor of geosciences began in September at the tip of the Chattahoochee River. He’s not just paddling; he’s collecting data about the water quality of the river system, which he will analyze when his trip is over in December.

“I’ve uncovered some things that I didn’t dream I would find — some water quality issues down here in Florida that I’m going to delve into in the future,” he said Friday, hesitant to go into more detail until he had a chance to analyze his findings.

The work involves releasing a calculated dose of red dye into the river and following that specific portion of water, tracking the peak of his dye cloud. He takes measurements from the boat, looking to document where the quality of that water changes. He’s able to track the dye by using a device called a fluorometer, loaned to him by the state Environmental Protection Division, which makes the diluted dye visible again under fluorescent light.

Once the water reaches a reservoir like Lake Lanier, Fuller takes a break, only to start over again with more dye below the reservoir.

The trip has been about more than science, though. Fuller said he’s been surprised by the generosity of people he has met along the way.

“The wonderful people I’ve met, that’s been the highlight of the trip and that wasn’t what I was out here for, he said. “I was out here for scientific information.”

Some people gave him rides to the store to resupply. Others allowed him to camp on their land. Others simply provided some good conversation.

Wewahitchka, Fla., in particular stood out, Fuller said, where a number of people offered their help, including a town commissioner who let Fuller use his houseboat.

“I was dumbfounded but found my voice soon enough to accept’” Fuller wrote in the blog detailing his trip. “He then proceeded to show me how to operate everything and where the food was, which he invited me to help myself to, and then how to lock the place up when I left.”

The trip hasn’t been easy, though. Physically it’s been about what Fuller expected, he said, tough but manageable.

Camping, though, has been an issue, with large parts of the river bank unavailable for legal camping.

“I think that’s just really a shame because it completely cuts off an ancient and really very important transportation corridor,” he said.

Some campsites are spaced for power boaters, not paddlers.

The river from Lake Lanier to Franklin, north of West Point Lake in west-central Georgia, Fuller described as not very welcoming and not very clean.

“I think we have a lot of work to do in Georgia to clean our act up, to clean our river up,” the 64-year-old said. “And I hope in the time I have left that I can be part of that effort to clean it up.”

On the other hand, Fuller described as his favorite portions the Chattahoochee from Helen to Belton Bridge, and the entire Apalachicola River that flows into Florida from Lake Seminole, beautiful and with plenty of opportunity for recreation.

Now that Fuller has reached the end of that river system, he plans to head out Monday on the Gulf of Mexico, before paddling up the Mobile, Alabama, Coosa and Etowah rivers back home to Lumpkin County.

He won’t be conducting water samples anymore, which will allow him to unload some heavy equipment, but he’ll still be doing some research -- observing and taking notes for a mystery adventure novel he’s writing, in which many scenes take place on a river. He’s also planning to write a nonfiction book about his trip.

The upstream trip will be made easier thanks to many reservoirs along the way, and other parts simply require skill in reading the river and some muscle.

Fuller plans to be back home by Christmas.

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