ALBANY — Flint RiverKeeper members from Albany will join about 120 paddlers next weekend on a 48-mile family Flint River Float.
Officially called the “Paddle Georgia’s Fall Float on the Flint,” the event is sponsored by the Georgia River Network based out of Athens.
The GRN is a nonprofit organization that serves as the voice of advocacy for Georgia’s rivers. Since its inception in 2005, more than 4,300 people have participated in GRN’s Paddle Georgia events, raising more than $480,000 for river protection.
This year, the Fall Float on the Flint is being held in partnership with Flint RiverKeeper, which will receive a grant from GRN in exchange for services provided during the journey.
Jessica Rutledge, administrative assistant and volunteer coordinator for Flint RiverKeeper, said 10 to 14 RiverKeeper staff members, board members and volunteers are expected to participate in the Paddle Georgia event.
“We will provide the lead boat and the sweep boat each day on the river, along with other boats to serve as safety guides,” Rutledge said. “We also help with registration. We help out at camp and boat-sit between shuttles. We will help greet participants and will conduct educational presentations at the camp.”
Rutledge said the RiverKeeper, along with Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful, will operate a recycling center at the camp.
As for the amount of the grant that will be donated to Flint RiverKeeper, Rutledge said several factors are involved based on participation as well as other fundraising activities through the three days of the event. For example, paddlers can participate in the Fall Float Poker Run, a live auction and a Flint RiverKeeper raffle for a paddle boat valued at more than $1,000.
The Fall Float on the Flint was organized as a result of overwhelming demand for GRN’s annual weeklong summertime paddle trip called “Paddle Georgia.” The GRN also hosts a two-day Satilla River trip in the spring.
For the Fall Float, plans are to travel 48 miles from south of Albany to Bainbridge, exploring the best of the Flint, including the blue hole springs, shoals, wildlife, waterfalls and more.
Joe Cook, heads up the annual event.
“All of our paddle trips are family-friendly,” he said. “It’s a priority of GRN’s to offer ways for friends and family to share time together building memories. And what better place to do this than outside on a river? The great thing about a trip like this is that, by the end of the trip, everyone is like one big family. Many lifelong friendships have been born out of GRN paddles.”
The float will take place from 6 p.m. Friday, for camping and check-in, to 5 p.m. Oct. 9. Boaters will launch Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
“In addition to experiencing the beauty of Georgia’s rivers, these individuals have experienced a rare and unique sense of community during our journeys,” Cook said. “Fall Float on the Flint is not a commercial, for-profit guided trip for individuals. It is an educational community adventure led by volunteers and staff of nonprofit organizations and depends on well-prepared and self-sufficient individuals and the pooled efforts of the entire Paddle Georgia group.
“Participants should come prepared to take care of all their own needs and to volunteer their services during the course of the journey. These services include assisting themselves and others at launch sites/takeouts; serving dinners, breakfasts and lunches, or lending a hand to your paddling friend when one is needed.”
Cook said that the Fall Float on the Flint, like the original Paddle Georgia, is open to all paddling skill levels, and its purpose is to engage and empower citizens to become involved in the protection and restoration of Georgia’s rivers.
“Participants come from all walks of life and have ranged in age from 4 to 84,” Cook said. “Spending time outdoors is fun and healthy. You get the chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the usual day-to-day for four days. Paddling down a river, you see and experience nature in a way that just isn’t possible driving down a road.”
Participants will tent camp for three nights at Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat near Newton. Boaters will leave camp each morning around 8 o’clock and return evenings around 5 p.m. Meals will be catered. Registration includes three dinners plus daily breakfasts and lunches, as well as all transportation to and from the river each day, and shuttles to pick up boats at the end of the event.
This year most of the participants are adults, Cook said. Even so, the float is perfect for families.
“This year we have one family from Atlanta with seven children that will participate,” he noted.
Although the 2017 trip course will not take paddlers through downtown Albany, many participants are from the area.
In addition to enjoying nature while floating on the Flint, several educational tours of local points of interest will be part of the event, including a Sunday visit to the Jones Ecological Research Center, where participants can visit with scientists and biologists. The center focuses on research to better understand longleaf pine ecosystems and aquatic ecology and water resources. Also planned Sunday is a stop at Cover Rise Plantation, where participants will learn about quail and Southwest Georgia’s quail-hunting culture.
A Georgia Adopt-a-Stream workshop will offer chemical water quality monitoring workshops during Fall Float on the Flint. The training begins on the river Sunday, when trainers and students will stop at several locations to demonstrate chemical monitoring protocols, collecting and testing water quality samples. Following the on-river training, participants can complete the Adopt-a-Stream certification process in camp, either that evening or later during the trip.