ALBANY — A group of 34 intrepid paddlers embarked on a 100-mile, seven-day journey Sunday on the Flint River stretching from the Crisp County Power Dam near Cordele to Bainbridge as part of Georgia River Network’s Paddle Georgia 2021.

The Athens-based river advocacy group traditionally hosts more than 300 people during its annual weeklong river adventure, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it chose to organize a small-group version of the trip. Paddle Georgia, which is considered the largest weeklong canoe/kayak camping adventure in the country, has taken place each year since 2005, with the exception of last year.

“The pandemic shut us down last year, but it also spawned an explosion in interest in paddle sports,” Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia Coordinator, said. “As we come out the other side of this health care crisis, outdoor activities, especially paddle sports, are experiencing a boom.”

While Georgia River Network typically hosts five paddle trips during a calendar year, when 2021 concludes, the organization will have led more than 500 participants on 18 river adventures, ranging from day trips to this week’s epic journey on the Flint River in southwest Georgia.

“We’ve expanded our paddle trip program partly because the pandemic has forced us to limit the size of our groups, but also to meet the demand,” Executive Director Rena Peck said. “Right now, Georgians are primed to explore the state’s water trails.”

This year’s Paddle Georgia adventure began Sunday with a 16-mile trip from the Crisp County Power Dam through Worth and Lee counties and will end Saturday with a 9-mile paddle into Bainbridge where the Flint Riverkeeper will prepare a fish fry feast to celebrate the completion of the journey. Each night the paddlers will camp on the river while enjoying catered meals and learning about the river through nightly educational programs.

During the trip, Georgia River Network staff will document every inch of the paddle route through a partnership with EarthViews. Using a 360-degree panoramic camera mounted in one of the vessels on the trip, the group will create a digital map of the entire course.

Similar to how Google Maps allows you to see any street from its “street view” mode, these digital maps will enable viewers to tour the river. When completed, they will be posted at www.earthviews.com.

Additionally, representatives from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Adopt-A-Stream program will travel with the group conducting water quality monitoring and training participants to become certified as citizen water monitors.

The group will camp at multiple locations, including Red Oak Plantation in Worth County, Chehaw Park in Albany, Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat in Newton and Covey Rise Plantation near Camilla.

“The Flint’s on-river camping facilities like Rocky Bend and Chehaw Park are the reason we chose the Flint for this journey,” Cook said. “With paddlesports booming, we need more facilities like these along our rivers at other places around the state.”

Georgia River Network is working with local boosters to create recreational boating trails, or water trails, with developed public access points and other amenities on rivers throughout the state. Later this year, the organization expects to launch a smartphone app that will provide river users with details about the state’s water trail network, including where and how to launch a river journey and what to expect once you get on the water.

Earlier this year, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the organization published its sixth book in its river user’s guidebook series with the release of the Ocmulgee River User’s Guide. The Etowah, Chattahoochee, Broad, Flint and Oconee rivers are documented in the other books in the series.

Participants in Paddle Georgia 2021 are generating money to support these projects through a canoe-a-thon fundraiser. The organization expects to raise more than $30,000 for river protection and water trail development during the seven-day adventure.

Founded in 1998, Georgia River Network is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that serves as the voice of Georgia’s rivers and works to empower everyone to enjoy, connect with and advocate for economically vital and clean flowing rivers.

Additional information about campsite locations, launch sites and itinerary is available online: https://garivers.org/paddle-georgia/2021-2/.

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