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Paddle Georgia: One week, two rivers
Several residents on annual voyage
Kayak Trip 2 es
Kaitlin Avra, with her brother Tucker and father Bill, in the background, checks kayaks before loading them onto the family's car for Paddle Georgia. - photo by Emily Saunders
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To learn more about the Georgia River Network and Paddle Georgia, go online at
Several Forsyth County residents are among a group of more than 300 paddlers spending the week traveling North Georgia by water.

As part of Paddle Georgia, an annual event organized by the Georgia River Network, the locals planned to set out Saturday from Ellijay on a seven-day, 92-mile canoe and kayak tour.

Paddling its way down Coosawattee and Oostanaula rivers, the group's journey is scheduled to end Friday in downtown Rome.

Cumming resident Joe "Doc" Stephens is excited to participate in the river trek, which raises awareness and funding for the non-profit river network.

According to its Web site, the organization works to ensure "a clean water legacy by engaging and empowering Georgians to protect and restore our rivers from the mountains to the coast."

"When you're on the river, everybody's equal," said Stephens, who has been on every Paddle Georgia journey since its inception five years ago.

"The first time I went, I didn't know a soul," he said, adding that the inaugural event inspired him to buy a kayak.

He now owns three kayaks, plus a canoe, and the event is "like a big family reunion."

Forsyth resident Bill Avra is making the river trek with 17-year-old son Tucker and 19-year-old daughter Kaitlin.

"It's like going to camp every summer and seeing people you only get to see then," he said. "You do the Facebook thing with everyone throughout the year, but then you only get to actually see them once a year. It's really neat."

Organizers of Paddle Georgia say the trip is about much more than just drifting along rivers.

Executive director April Ingle said in a statement that the trip will include educational programs on the rivers' cultural and natural history, tours of facilities and historic sites along the way and nightly games and entertainment.

She said the group will also take part in a research program, helping collect chemical and biological data for a snapshot of the current health of the two rivers.

Bonny Putney, also of Forsyth County, was so inspired by her first Paddle Georgia trip five years ago on the Chattahoochee River, she ended up getting a job with the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organization.

"I've always been on the water, but I really got involved with the river because of Paddle Georgia," she said while loading gear into her car for this year's trip. "I liked it so much, I got a job with the riverkeepers."

Putney encouraged anyone with interest in paddling to take advantage of Paddle Georgia next year.

"On these trips, you'll see parts of Georgia that most people never do," she said. "There are so many areas in this state that there's no other way to get to except on the back of a little boat."

E-mail Crystal Ledford at