Paddle Georgia event touts benefits of state’s waterways

The way Dee Stone feels, she’d have to be in a coffin to miss Paddle Georgia 2014.

Even then, “maybe they can float me down the river,” she said.

This summer will be the 10th year that Stone, an assistant to the senior pastor at Peachtree Christian Church, has participated in the weeklong excursion, during which hundreds of people canoe or kayak down a select waterway for seven days.

This is the 10th year for the camping and education adventure, which kicks off on June 21 on the Chattahoochee River below Buford Dam near Cumming and ends 115 miles later on June 27 in Franklin. Participants will average about 16 miles per day and camp at nearby facilities each night.

The idea is to raise awareness about the importance of Georgia’s rivers. Organizers hope people will gain a greater understanding about what rivers give — from electricity to food — and why everyone has a stake in making sure they are protected.

“All my life I’ve driven by them, I’ve fished from them and I’ve crossed them by bridges or ferries,” said Stone, a member of the board of the Georgia River Network, which puts on the annual event. “But I had never seen a river from a river. You see the river from a new perspective. It turns people into river lovers, and it turned me into an activist.”

Since its start, more than 2,800 paddlers have participated, traversing more than 900 miles of water trails on 11 different rivers. The event has raised more than $180,000 for river protection. Proceeds from this year’s event will also benefit the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the Hooch.

Last year, the event sold out in 24 hours. More than 150 people who raised at least $200 through a Canoe-a-thon received priority registration for this year’s event. The rest of the slots will be filled by invitation or through an online lottery, which has been extended to midnight Sunday. About 185 slots will be available for the lottery, with several reserved for Georgia teachers.

In the past, paddlers have ranged from ages 4 to 84.

“There’s this great sense of community,” said April Ingle, executive director of the Athens-based Georgia River Network. “Everyone is involved in this adventure together.”

The hope is that people will go back to their communities fired up about protecting the rivers.

While novices are invited, Ingle said, they should have some experience in a canoe or kayak, be able to control in moving water and be able to rescue themselves, although at certain points safety crews will be available.

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