Hidden Gem Paddle & Campout draws visitors to Milledgeville!!

The two-day Lower Oconee Hidden Paddle & Campout on the Oconee river in Milledgeville was a big success with more than 60 participants ranging from 15 months old to paddlers in their 70s.

The event was organized by Georgia River Network , Lower Oconee Water Trail and Altamaha Riverkeeper as part of Georgia River Network’s Hidden Gems Paddling Series. The Hidden Gem events are aimed to highlight local up-and-coming water trails and provide opportunities for people to rediscover some of the hidden gems on Georgia’s waterways and learn ways that they can get involved in the many facets of river protection and enjoyment in their local community.

The short 8.3-mile float spread over two days was geared toward people new to paddling who might be intimidated by Georgia River Network’s longer trips such as the annual Paddle Georgia (seven days, 400 people, 100 miles).

Everyone seemed to enjoy the event, as participant Sarah Brookshire put it, “I had a great time paddling and camping on the Oconee River this weekend. One of the best things about kayaking is the people I get to know. We are all a little off and that makes it even better.”

The event included lunch on the Oconee River Greenway provided by Stacked and presentations along the route, ranging from the Oconee River Greenway (ORG) by Walter Reynolds (ORG Foundation), water health by Dr. Kalina Manoylov (Georgia College), river restoration by Dr. Doug Oetter (Georgia College) native/ invasive plants by Greg Eilers (Lockerly Arboretum) and animals by Ruth Eilers (Georgia College), local area history by Daniel Wilkinson (Georgia’s Old Capital Museum), and a live aquarium with fish seined from the river that afternoon by Camm Swift and Michael Wolfe (North America Native Fishes Association).

After setting up camp the evening was filled with a yoga class and drum circle by Good Karma Yoga, nature trivia by Georgia River Network, live music by Ron Harris, campfires and corn hole provided by Lower Oconee Water Trail and a festive low country boil dinner provided by the Altamaha Riverkeeper. Paddlers woke up to a beautiful sunrise and hot breakfast provided by The Local Yolkal Cafe before heading back out on the river for a leisurely float to the take out.

Tremendous assistance with carrying boats and portaging around the dam was provided by the Georgia Military College ROTC and Kappa Sigma fraternity.

Special thanks to the Sponsors: Blackbird Coffee, Oconee Outfitters, Taylors Restroom 2 go , Good Karma Yoga, Tent-Sational Events, Inc. and Lockerly Arboretum.

“This event drew a lot of attention to this beautiful river and helped highlight the benefits that an established water trail with safe public access and family friendly facilities could bring to the communities along it — from Milledgeville down to Dublin,” Gwyneth Moody, community programs coordinator at Georgia River Network said. “Not only will the water trail boost tourism and economic development, but also improve quality of life by providing recreation opportunities, and promoting a healthy, clean river.”

Georgia River Network has assisted communities throughout the state in the development of water trails (similar to a hiking trail but on a waterway with access points and information kiosks and signage along the route). The Lower Oconee Water Trail is one such trail currently under development in Baldwin County with goals of continued development into Wilkinson, Laurens, Washington, Johnson, Wheeler, Treutlen and Montgomery counties. For more information about the Lower Oconee Water Trail email Georgia River Network Community Programs Coordinator Gwyneth Moody at Gwyneth@garivers.org.

The next Georgia River Network paddling event, Fall Float on the Flint, will take place Oct. 8-10. For more information and to register visit: http://www.garivers.org/paddle_georgia/fallfloat.html.

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