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Local paddlers join benefit
350 paddlers join 9th annual trip
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Forsyth County News

The ninth annual Paddle Georgia canoe and kayak trip will take 350 paddlersdownthe lower Flint River from Warwick to Bainbridge this week.

This year all of the money raised by the trip will benefit the Flint Riverkeeper.

This isn’t the first time the trip has traveled on the Flint. Participants Phil and SheliahCooper remember their first voyage four years ago with Paddle Georgia didn’t involve much kayaking due to drought conditions.

This year, though, water levels are high, and the Coopers said they are eager to explore the river inside their kayaks.

“Kayaking is very good for you,” Phil Cooper said. “It’s very healthful. There’s a sense of adventure which I really relate to; the people you get to meet are both new friends and old friends.”

The Coopers are a retired couple in their 70s living in Cumming who “naturally fell into” kayaking when they moved here 13 years ago.

“All our friends think we’re crazy,” Phil Cooper said.

Sheliah Cooper added: “I think it’s the pitching the tents that gets them the most.”

Paddle Georgia invites any paddler with a kayak or canoe to sign up and spend a week paddling down river four to six hours a day, usually 10 to 22 miles. The participants pitch tents every night of the trip, usually on school property or campgrounds with showers and running water available. Meals are catered along the way.

The Coopers said the camping aspect of Paddle Georgia is what is insurmountable for many of their friends, but the simple lifestyle that camping engenders is the beauty of the trip for Bill and Leslie Avra.

The Avras, also residents of Cumming, have been on the trip eight times before. They said they enjoy being away from technology and taking a “primal” sort of trip.

“It’s a complete break from the everyday,” Leslie Avra said.

During the week, participants of all ages, from young children traveling with their parents to paddlers in college to retirees, mingle and form friendships that last far beyond that one week, Phil Cooper said.

“You paddle up alongside somebody, somebody you’ve never known before, and you wind up having a 30-minute conversation,” he said.

The Coopers have taken other paddling trips with friends they’ve made over the years on Paddle Georgia.

“It’s a great escape, it’s a great adventure. There are just absolutely wonderful people you’re around while you’re doing it,” Phil Cooper said.

During the days spent paddling, participants learn about the ecology of the river, including environmental issues and common species. They help biologists conduct research, and have picked up trash along rivers in the past.

“I’ve just learned a whole lot more about Georgia than I ever knew before,” said Bill Avra, a Georgia native.

Both the Coopers and the Avras said they keep coming back because it offers many rewards, and they have seen it grow in popularity over the years.

“It’s like summer camp for grown-ups,” Bill said.

As for securing spots for the paddling trip next year, Phil Cooper said he advises signing up as soon as registration opens for the next trip.

“He who hesitates won’t go,” he said.