Some 350 people hailing from 13 states will embark this Saturday near Valdosta for a week-long, 92-mile canoe and kayak journey on the Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers.
Paddle Georgia 2019, an annual celebration of Georgia’s rivers organized by Georgia River Network, begins Saturday near Valdosta on the Withlacoochee River and ends June 21 on the Suwannee River near Mayo, Florida.
The trip is unique in Paddle Georgia’s 15-year history in that it ends in Florida. Since the Athens-based river protection group began organizing its annual, week-long Paddle Georgia trips in 2005, it has ventured on 13 Georgia rivers and covered some 1,400 miles, but no journey has ever ventured into a neighboring state, though multiple Georgia rivers flow into Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.
“In a day when disputes over water with our neighbor states steal the headlines, we decided it was time to highlight the fact that rivers care not a wit for arbitrary human boundaries and that our water is a shared resource,” said Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia Coordinator. “Of course, we also get to see some of the most beautiful and storied rivers in Georgia and Florida.”
The Suwannee, celebrated in Stephen Foster’s song, is well known. With its origins in the Okefenokee Swamp, the Suwannee sports blackwater and moss-draped tupelo and cypress tree-lined banks and is among Florida’s most popular paddling destinations. Though lesser known, the Withlacoochee serves up the same heavy dose of Deep South river vibe.
But Paddle Georgia organizers are emphasizing the surprises participants will find along these rivers. The Withlacoochee, despite flowing through flat terrain is home to unexpected shoals, and both rivers are dotted with beautiful, cold, blue hole springs, some of which have been named among the best swimming holes in North America.
Participants will have the opportunity to visit Florida’s Madison Blue Springs and Lafayette Blue Springs state parks as they travel through Lowndes and Brooks counties in Georgia and Hamilton, Madison, Lafayette and Suwannee counties in Florida.
The group will camp at Grassy Pond Recreation Area in Lake Park, Georgia and Camp Suwannee in Dowling Park, Florida.
GRN will commemorate the event’s 15th anniversary by awarding 1500-mile paddler decals to those who have participated in every trip since 2005.
“We have many paddlers that return year after year,” Cook said, “That’s one of the special things about Paddle Georgia. There’s lots of camaraderie and paddlers support one another. Over the years, it has become something of a family reunion as much as a paddle trip.”
Billed as an environmental education adventure for the whole family, the trip is designed to connect people with Georgia’s rivers. In addition to paddling about 13 miles each day, participants will enjoy catered meals and learn through programs about the river’s ecology and cultural history as well as special tours of historic sites and industrial facilities
Paddle Georgia serves as a fundraiser for GRN and local watershed protection groups. Since the inaugural Paddle Georgia in 2005, GRN has introduced more than 4,300 paddlers to Georgia’s rivers and raised more than $430,000 for river protection projects.