A relaxing activity: Paddling with Georgia River Network

Upcoming paddles include Flint River and Okefenokee Swamp

The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in the United States.It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974.There are more than 120 miles of water trails.According to some environmentalists, the swamp is one of the oldest ecosystems on Earth.Its name comes from the Creek Indian word “Okvfenokki,” which translates as “land of trembling earth.”

Eight and Eighty-two.

That’s how many paddling trips Camm Swift has been on with Georgia River Network and how old he is. He’s just one of several metro Atlanta older adults who have found adventure and enjoyment on Georgia’s rivers through paddling trips with GRN, an organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of the state’s waterways.

The group is hosting two-day paddle camping adventures in the fall on the Flint River and the Okefenokee Swamp.

A Cumming resident, Swift was a fishery biologist for many years and moved here from California in 2011. His first paddle with GRN was on the Flint River in 2015 and he was hooked.

“They design these paddle trips so everyone can do it, seniors, families with smaller children, younger adults, everyone,” Swift said.

He loves the paddles from a naturalist’s point of view. He likes to see how our rivers are being treated and what kinds of fish live there. He wants other Atlanta seniors to know how much enjoyment they might get from a paddling trip.

He and his wife are considering a fall paddle on the Flint River.

“I would say to anyone who’s never done it, to do one of the smaller paddles, a one-day or two-day paddle,” he said. “That would be a good way to see if you’d like it. The Flint River, in particular, is very pretty.”

Atlanta seniors are many of the participants in paddle trips with Georgia River Network.

Credit: Contributed

icon to expand image

Credit: Contributed

Ann Hill has her sights set on a trip into the Okefenokee Swamp in November.

The 60-year-old Kennesaw resident is a recent retiree and said GRN hosts several paddle adventures each year including trips coming up in October and November. She recently paddled with them and can’t wait to get back on the water. She hopes other Atlanta seniors will give it a shot as well.

A nature enthusiast, she’s always loved the water. She’s done day trips with GNR before, and recently undertook a bigger adventure, Paddle Georgia, which is a week-long group trip.

“I was very impressed with the organization of it and the safety,” Hill said. “Not only that, but each trip is fun and educational.”

Whether they’re nature lovers, paddling enthusiasts, or simply those hoping to connect with others on a fun adventure, Hill recommends at least considering a paddling trip with GRN.

The first of two upcoming trips is a two-day trip covering 36 miles on the Flint River Oct. 6-8. The trip will feature sights such as limestone bluffs, blue hole springs, and of course, an abundance of wildlife.

On Nov. 10-12, participants can explore 22 miles of the Okefenokee Swamp and Suwannee River. The trip will take paddlers through some of the most scenic stretches of the famous swamp filled with birds, turtles, and alligators as well as a myriad of other wildlife.

Joe Cook with Georgia River Network, said those trips will feature campsites with restrooms and showers, catered meals, and educational programs.

“The adventures are more than just paddle trips,” he said. “Our goal is to connect people with our state’s rivers and help them understand the importance of these waterways. And we have a great time doing it too.”

In particular, he said, seniors make up a bulk of their participants on each trip. There’s something about the ease of travel and the camaraderie that appeals to adventurers in that age group.

“One of the things we do in the evening programs of our big trips is we give awards to the oldest and youngest paddler,” he said. “When we do that, the vast majority of the people are over 50. That 55-70 age group is the demographic we seem to hit.”

In fact, Cook joked, some of the paddlers on their trips have an easier time navigating their canoes and kayaks than they do walking.

In June, Georgia River Network hosted the first Paddle Georgia 2023 trip on the Savannah River from June 24 to July 1.

Credit: Contributed

icon to expand image

Credit: Contributed

“Some people have mobility issues,” he said. “Some have bad knees or hips. But once you get in the boat things even out and you realize it’s enjoyable, recreational paddling. It’s not strenuous and it’s something you can enjoy well into your later years.”

Hill has her own kayak, but GNR has provided her with one in the past. There are boats available for rent for trips, or you can bring your own.

“The rivers we’re on are calm rivers,” she said. “I just love being outside. It’s a good way to look at nature, birds, turtles, deer, trees, and rock formations. I would say give it a try. You can look on the website and try a shorter trip. I find there are a lot of people my age that are doing this. They are gentle paddles.”

Georgia River Network has a fleet of boats for rent, or you can bring your own.

Credit: Contributed

icon to expand image

Credit: Contributed

She knew one other participant before her Paddle Georgia trip. But surrounded by other paddlers, that quickly changed.

“I didn’t know anybody but that one friend,” Hill said. “But within a day I had five new best friends. They showed me what to do and made sure I had a great time. I made a lot of friendships I want to continue growing and people I want to continue paddling with.”

And if you enjoy the ease of paddling but don’t feel like camping, Hill said there are other options when you get off the river.

“I’m not a big camper,” she said. “There were a lot of people who camped in tents but you had the option to stay in a cabin or bunk room. Just because you go on these trips doesn’t mean you have to sleep in a tent all the time. You can be more comfortable. And (Georgia River Network) provides you with phenomenal food and fun activities.”

Registration fees for the trips range from $205 to $360 for Fall Float on the Flint and $325 to $475 for the Okefenokee-Suanee River Adventure. To learn more about particular trips or to sign up, visit garivers.org/events.

“A lot of people are intimidated by getting out on the river,” Cook said. “Rivers can be dangerous. But our trips are designed to be safe and to help novice paddlers experience the river in an environment where they’re surrounded by other people who have more experience and are willing to help.”