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Recreation Leads to Conservation

June 17, 2010

As the Georgia River Network staff gears up for Paddle Georgia 2010, it’s time now for a slight diversion from the usual Water Wire fare to take note of an emerging trend among municipal park planners, river conservationists, paddling enthusiasts and others all across Georgia: enthusiasm for developing “water trails.” Once established, these blue trails will provide public access to Georgians and visitors who want to canoe and kayak the state’s rivers, lakes and coastlines.

There’s been a good deal of press about Paddle Georgia lately (look for more to come!), and the closing of this recent article in the Gateway-Beacon of Haralson County notes the relationship between Paddle Georgia and plans there to develop a local water trail on the Tallapoosa River.

Earlier this year, the Gateway-Beacon reported in more depth on that trail section that’s in the works for the Tallapoosa. Back in March, Georgia River Network (a.k.a. the sponsor of this blog) hosted the first-ever statewide water trails workshop to help interested parties across the state network with one another. To further that goal, GRN plans to serve as a clearinghouse for statewide water trails information in the future.

National support for water trails comes from two other sources.  Charlotte Gillis, with the Atlanta office of the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, is a key facilitator in the Georgia water trails movement. Additionally, American Rivers is also active on the national water trails scene – see their resource page here.

There’s also been progress in planning trails reported in the news media this year in Middle Georgia along the Ocmulgee River and in Northwest Georgia along Chickamauga Creek.

Of interest for many of these groups, including GRN, is the remarkable potential that water trails hold for activating new river conservationists. In many areas of the state, just getting more eyes on the water – and on the things affecting it – can be a good way to get needed protections or enforcement actions implemented quickly. More broadly, a water trail can provide the missing link for communities that want to develop a relationship with a river or other water body.  After all, knowing a place is the first step toward protecting it.

The Georgia River Network has watched this happen through Paddle Georgia for six years now. This annual summertime adventure has brought a lot of Georgians into the fold when it comes to protecting and promoting healthy rivers. Paddle Georgia has also provided a lot of the impetus behind the effort to promote water trails across the state. There aren’t a whole lot of trails established between the banks in Georgia yet, but the opportunities are vast, so keep an eye out for future developments.

And (shameless plug), keep an eye out for yours truly next week on the Paddle Georgia blog, where I’ll be keeping up with the week’s adventures and sending the stories of the trip out into the world. We launch this Saturday, June 19th from Franklin Springs, headed for Augusta on the Broad and Savannah rivers. Wish us luck and smooth paddling!

-Ben Emanuel

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