VALDOSTA — Around 350 paddlers from 13 states set out Saturday on a 92-mile, weeklong canoe and kayak journey on the Withlacoochee and Suwanee rivers as Paddle Georgia celebrated its 15th year.
Organized by the Georgia River Network, this year’s paddle will end Friday on the Suwanee River near Mayo, Florida.
“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 whit for arbitrary human boundaries and that our water is a shared resource,” Paddle Georgia coordinator Joe Cook said in a news release. “Of course, we also get to see some of the most beautiful and storied rivers in Georgia and Florida.”
The 15th-anniversary Paddle Georgia excursion is unique in that it ends in Florida. Since the Athens-based river protection group started organizing its annual weeklong trips in 2005, it has ventured on 13 Georgia rivers and covered some 1,400 miles. But no journey — until this year — has taken paddlers into a neighboring state.
The Suwanee, celebrated in Stephen Foster’s song, is well-known. With its origins in the Okefenokee Swamp, the Suwanee is known for its black water and cypress tree-lined banks. But Paddle Georgia officials say the adventurers will find some interesting surprises along the Withlacoochee.
Over the course of this year’s journey, participants will visit Florida’s Madison and Lafayette blue springs state parks as they paddle through Lowndes and Brooks counties in Georgia and Hamilton, Madison, Lafayette and Suwanee counties in the Sunshine State. Overnight camp sites are at Grassy Pond Recreation Area in Lake Park, Ga., and Camp Suwanee in Dowling Park, Fla.
Paddlers who have taken part in all 15 Paddle Georgia events will receive 1,500-mile paddler decals.
“We have many paddlers who 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.”
Paddle Georgia serves as a fundraiser for the Georgia River Network 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. Founded in 1998, Georgia River Network is a 501©(3) nonprofit 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.
Information about the organization is available at www.garivers.org/ paddle-georgia.