For Carol McNavish, participating in Paddle Georgia has turned into a “big family reunion.” Through the canoe and kayak voyage, the Cartersville resident has explored more than 1,300 miles of rivers across the state.
“When I saw the advertisement for the first Paddle Georgia in 2005 to paddle a week on the Chattahoochee River, I signed up and so did my youngest who was 11 at the time,” McNavish said. “After that trip, we both bought kayaks and my son and I continued each year going back to Paddle Georgia for the weeklong trip.
“I missed the 13th and 14th year of the Paddle Georgia trips because of a move to Texas. Since moving back to Georgia last year, I was able to attend this 15th year anniversary of PG.”
While her son was unable to take part because he is attending medical school in Texas, McNavish shared —although she didn’t have a loved one join her — she “wasn’t really by myself.”
“Over the years, we have made many friends that also come back every year for this trip,” she said. “The trip can be like a big family reunion to many people.”
Presented by Georgia River Network, Paddle Georgia 2019 ventured outside of Georgia for the first time in its history, featuring the Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers. Traveling 92 miles, the journey launched June 15 around Valdosta and concluded June 21 near Mayo, Florida.
“We celebrated our 15th year this year, and we couldn't have picked better rivers,” Paddle Georgia Coordinator Joe Cook said. “The Withlacoochee and Suwannee were a delight and unlike any other rivers we've traveled on in the history of Paddle Georgia.
“More than 330 people participated, helping us raise more than $60,000 through our Canoe-a-thon fundraising effort. All of this money supports river protection projects and the development of recreational water trails across the state.”
Noting the purpose of Paddle Georgia is to “connect people with Georgia’s rivers,” Cook shared the event has attracted thousands of attendees since its inception.
“The idea is to get people to fall in love with rivers during these trips so that when they return home, they will get involved in activities to protect local rivers, streams and lakes,” he said. “Paddle Georgia has been very successful. With funds raised this year, we will have surpassed the half-million mark in funds raised through the event during its 15-year history.
“We've introduced more than 5,000 people to Georgia's rivers and explored some 1,500 miles of the state's rivers. The funds are used by Georgia River Network to support river protection projects and the development of recreational water trails. Additionally, funds are distributed to local watershed protection groups. Suwannee Riverkeeper and the WWALS Watershed Coalition will be the beneficiaries of this year's journey.”
The weeklong voyage featured paddlers ranging in age from 3 to 78, many of whom take part frequently.
“We do have lots of paddlers that return year after year,” Cook said. “About a dozen paddlers have participated all 15 years and received coveted 1,500-mile stickers this year. Because so many people return year after year, the trip has become something of a family reunion as we reunite with friends that we usually see only this one time each year.”
Along with traveling about 13 miles daily, Paddle Georgia participants were treated to catered meals, informed about the river’s ecology, and toured various industrial facilities and historic sites.
“The Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers were absolutely beautiful and was placed in my Top 3 favorite rivers paddled,” McNavish said. “The highlights on this year’s trip were the many beautiful springs that we visited. Swimming in that cold spring water was exhilarating and showed us how pure water can be.
“Even the one day when it rained most of the day, I enjoyed the paddling adventure. Experiencing our rivers up close in a canoe or kayak is very different than seeing them from afar. When you paddle and swim in them for a week, you end up falling in love with the rivers. Each and every day can be a different experience when you’re up close and personal with turtles, birds and the beautiful tapestry of the landscape. It’s easy to continue going back each year when you experience a week of paddling Georgia rivers.”