With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting the way Georgians work and play and the demand for close-to-home outdoor adventures soaring, Georgia’s leading river advocacy organization will offer more than a dozen guided canoe/kayak/paddleboard adventures in 2021, including trips in each of Georgia’s 14 major river basins.
The trips will be limited in size and social-distancing protocols will be strictly adhered to, according to organizers at the Athens-based Georgia River Network.
“The shift to smaller group trips is necessary to keep everyone safe and limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said Rena Peck, Georgia River Network executive director. “Outdoor recreation — canoeing and kayaking especially — is a safe activity in the midst of this pandemic. We’re staying outside and keeping our distance from one another while still being able to socialize and enjoy each other’s company.”
Since the pandemic hit in 2020, outdoor recreation has seen a boom in participation. Sales of canoes, kayaks and paddleboards have skyrocketed with retailers and manufacturers struggling to meet the demand.
Earlier this year, Don Meredith, director of product and marketing with Confluence Outdoor, maker of Dagger, Perception, Wilderness Systems and other brands of canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, told GRN, “It’s unconstrained demand right now. We can’t make it fast enough.”
Georgia River Network has for the past 15 years organized what is considered the largest week-long canoe/kayak camping adventure in the country. Paddle Georgia takes place on a different Georgia river each summer and traditionally attracts more than 300 participants who paddle, camp and eat together for the week. Last year’s trip was cancelled due to the pandemic.
“Bringing that many people from all over the state and country together to live in close quarters with one another runs obvious risks in the midst of a pandemic, so we’ve had to get creative in offering river enthusiasts safe alternatives,” said Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia coordinator. “We’ve had some success with some unique trips in 2020, and we plan to continue them in 2021.”
“Pedal-paddle” trips have been chief among them. To avoid putting participants together in buses, vans or vehicles to run shuttles as you would traditionally, GRN has offered trips in which participants cycle from the river take out site to the launch site to begin their journey. Instead of shuttling people, the group shuttles bicycles.
In 2021, GRN plans pedal-paddle trips on the Tallapoosa, Chattahoochee, Oostanaula, Oconee and Tugaloo rivers as well as Chickamauga Creek.
The group also has a slate of weekend canoe/kayak camping adventures planned. The trips include on-river camping, two days of paddling, catered meals, educational programs and other amenities.
GRN’s weekend trips include adventures on the Ogeechee, Satilla, Flint, Altamaha, Ochlockonee, Suwannee, and St. Marys rivers with excursions into the Okefenokee Swamp included.
The journeys begin in January with two-days, two-nights on the St. Marys River and Okefenokee Swamp Jan. 23-24 and continue through November. A complete listing of trips can be viewed at: https://garivers.org/events
GRN also plans to host a special edition of its annual week-long Paddle Georgia event. The trip will take place on the Flint River in Southwest Georgia June 20-26 and will be limited to about 20 participants. The organization expects to release details about this adventure early this year.
The trips, many of which will take place on designated water trails, are designed to be educational adventures with cultural and natural history programs included.
“Georgia River Network hosts these trips to connect people with our rivers and create river advocates,” said Peck. “There’s no better way to fall in love with a river than to venture on its water.”
GRN’s 2021 paddle trip schedule includes:
♦ Jan. 23-24: Okefenokee & St. Marys River—Two days of paddling and two nights of camping as we explore the Okefenokee Swamp and the St. Marys River along the Georgia-Florida line.
♦ March 13-14: Ogeechee River—A coastal adventure with two days of paddling on the Ogeechee River with camping and programs at the historic Savannah-Ogeechee Canal.
♦ April 10-11: Satilla River—“Spring on the Satilla” features two days of tidally-influenced paddling on the Satilla River and beautiful blackwater creeks with camping at rustic Satilla Lodge.
♦ April 24: Tallapoosa River—A pedal-paddle adventure along the Dub Denman Canoe Trail in West Georgia’s Haralson County.
♦ May 8: Ocmulgee River—A pedal-paddle adventure along the Ocmulgee River Water Trail in Central Georgia coinciding with the Ocmulgee Wild Hog Festival in Abbeville.
♦ May 15: Chickamauga Creek—A pedal-paddle adventure on a Tennessee River tributary in Northwest Georgia.
♦ May 29: Tugaloo River—An adventure along the Tugaloo River Water Trail and Lake Hartwell featuring a side trip to Long Nose Falls and a celebration of the dedication of the Tugaloo River Water Trail.
♦ June 20-26: Flint River—2021’s version of Paddle Georgia, a seven-day, canoe/kayak camping adventure covering nearly 100 miles of the Flint River in Southwest Georgia between Cordele and Bainbridge limited to about 20 participants.
♦ July 24: Chattahoochee River—A pedal-paddle adventure on historic portions of the Chattahoochee River in Carroll, Coweta and Heard counties.
♦ Aug. 21: Oostanaula River—A pedal-paddle adventure on this Coosa River tributary in Northwest Georgia known for its robust population of freshwater mussels
♦ Sept. 11: Oconee River—A pedal-paddle adventure on the Oconee River featuring visits to Barnett Shoals and Scull Shoals historic sites.
♦ Sept. 18-19: Ochlockonee River/Spring Creek—A two-day journey along the Ochlockonee River Water Trail and Spring Creek in southwest Georgia with camping at nearby Birdsong Nature Center.
♦ Oct. 9-10: Flint River—Fall Float on the Flint includes 36 miles of paddling featuring some of Georgia’s most beautiful blue hole springs with two nights of on-river camping at Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat.
♦ Nov. 5-7: Sapelo Island Adventure—Three days and two nights of exploring the Altamaha River estuary and Sapelo Island with paddling, hiking, bicycling and camping on the storied barrier island.
♦ Nov. 13-14: Okefenokee & Suwannee River—A two-day adventure beginning in the Okefenokee Swamp and ending along the Suwannee River near Fargo with two nights of on-river camping.