Right in our own backyard runs one of the last alluvial undammed rivers in Georgia. We don’t even think of it most of the time, like we don’t think of the air or the sky, we just know it’s there. For us it begins right below Rocky Ford and its iced-tea colored water meanders down the eastern border of Bulloch County to form the boundaries between Screven and Effingham. For us it ends at the Bryan County Line right below the Steel Bridge. Most of us have fished or swum or canoed it. We’ve played on her sandbars, we’ve floated downstream on inner-tubes, and some of us have even walked parts of it when the water was too low to carry us.
Our river is not only untamed by man’s mechanizations, she is untamed by her borders, often escaping banks and flooding low lying woodlands to form swampy sloughs or “bays.” Her beauty is like that of a pretty lady without make-up: natural, earthy, serene. She offers us an escape from now and a trip back in time to fish fries, school picnics, and church socials along her tree-shaded banks. Or further back to before the Revolutionary War when her course was called upon to form our county’s borders. Or even before that, when the natives who lived along her banks named her – the Mighty Ogeechee.
Canoe and Kayak paddlers from all over the Southeast have been invited to share the timeless beauty of the Ogeechee River this summer for a week-long excursion, June 20th – 26th. From Rocky Ford to Kings Ferry Park, the seven-day journey will take them through parts of Screven, Bryan, Effingham, and all of Bulloch County.
Sponsored by Paddle Georgia in association with the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Georgia River Network organizations, the annual journey down one of Georgia’s rivers will this year feature the Ogeechee and involve over 400 paddlers from ages 4 to 84.
Paddle Georgia is an event open to all paddling skill levels and was originally created to educate and engage the public through an enjoyable first-hand experience, to make them more aware of our most valuable natural resources, and to empower them to get involved in the protection and restoration of Georgia’s Rivers. Each year it serves as a fundraiser for Georgia River Network and local watershed groups working to protect the year’s paddling route. This year the event will in part benefit the Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization.
Paddlers raise money by soliciting sponsors, much like a walk-a-thon, to pledge an amount for each mile paddled. Donations are tax-deductible and prizes will be awarded to the participants raising the most money. Prizes include new equipment such as canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards, plus other products and services from sponsors and supporters of the event. Pledges are collected on the first day of the excursion upon arrival.
The group will gather at Portal High School on the evening of Friday, June 19th and the morning of Saturday, June 20th for check-in. Participants will receive a map, t-shirt, and event packets with information on meals, camp sites, and daily on-river routes. The boat drop-off point, where the trip begins, is at the Rocky Ford Boat Ramp in Bulloch County, all day Friday and Saturday.
“This is a quality family outdoor tourism event that showcases one of Bulloch County’s most valuable natural resources to adventurers from all over Georgia and the Southeast,” stated Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau (SCVB) Executive Director Heidi Jeffers, who is helping to coordinate the event for Paddle Georgia, as well as providing local sponsorship.
An event for the paddlers is planned for downtown Statesboro on Saturday, June 20th from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. The street party organized by Main Street Statesboro and other local sponsors will offer live music, dancing, and games such as canoe tug-of-wars. Paddlers are also being encouraged to shop and dine in downtown Statesboro after the first day of adventure on the River.
“The economic impact of having 400 additional shoppers and diners in Statesboro for an evening like this is wonderful for our downtown and almost equals the tremendous amount of goodwill that is generated by hosting travel groups like this for our area,” said Jeffers. Local organizers have also planned events for those paddlers who wish to participate at Hunter Cattle Company and at the Garden of the Coastal Plain at Georgia Southern.
Paddlers are also treated to optional beginners training courses, water monitoring workshops, breakfasts, coffee stations, bagged lunches, and sponsored evening meals at the campsites. There is no alcohol allowed on the trip, and everyone is encouraged to assist each other daily in a team effort getting all boats on the water. In addition to experiencing the natural beauty of the Ogeechee River, those who participate develop a rare and extraordinary sense of comradery during the journey.
Along the way paddlers will be camping and dining at host sites on the river route. The first three nights, Portal High School will host the group. The next four nights will be hosted by Effingham County High School. The last night will feature a campout at Kings Ferry Park on the banks of the Ogeechee. A Journey’s End Celebration will include a dinner at Love’s Seafood Restaurant overlooking the river, and more music, games, and an awards presentation ceremony for all participants hosted by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper adjacent to Love’s.
Organizers stress that “Paddle Georgia is not a commercial enterprise or a for-profit guided trip for individuals.” Rather it is a community adventure led by volunteers and the non-profit staff whose pooled efforts make the event successful each year. Since its inception, over 3,200 people have participated in Paddle Georgia, with over $250,000 being raised to protect Georgia’s rivers.
On the last leg of the journey, just as paddlers are coming near the end of the Ogeechee before it meets the Atlantic Ocean, they will experience an on-river tour of the Ogeechee-Savannah Canal, constructed in the early 1800s as a series of locks linking the Ogeechee and the Savannah Rivers. Never a financial success, the River Canal ceased operation in the late 1800s. The remains of the canal are now operated as a historic site by the Ogeechee-Savannah Canal Society. With the closure of the canal, the Ogeechee returned to its natural state, unfettered and free flowing, as it remains today.
Editor’s Note: For more information or to register for Paddle Georgia 2015: the Ogeechee, visit http://www.garivers.org/paddle_georgia