By Hannah E. Jones
With the start of the new year, the Georgia River Network (GRN) launched its 2023 Paddle-A-Thon to get folks outside and onto Georgia’s many waterways. The initiative — running until Sept. 6 — includes over a dozen challenges and 220 miles of paddling adventures throughout the state’s water trail system.
The GRN is an Athens-based nonprofit that empowers residents to connect with and advocate for the protection of the state’s rivers. The 2023 Paddle-A-Thon also coincides with GRN’s 25th anniversary this fall.
Through the several-month-long initiative, GRN hopes to get folks — novices and experts alike — better acquainted with the rivers that run through their backyards, while also raising funds to support the nonprofit’s advocacy efforts around the state.
“Our belief is that people aren’t going to take action to protect things that they don’t have a relationship with,” said Joe Cook, GRN Paddle Georgia coordinator and Guidebook author. “[The Paddle-A-Thon] encourages people to establish relationships with a river near them.”
The Paddle-A-Thon works like a traditional walk-a-thon, with folks asking prospective donors to sponsor miles traveled on the water. To join, paddlers must register and pay a $35 fee.
In addition to the fundraising efforts, participants can also hit the water to join a variety of challenges — most miles paddled, most miles with a pet and the strangest piece of trash removed from the waterways. The prizes also run the gamut, including a Chattooga River Rafting Trip with Wildwater Outfitters or a stay at The Hike Inn.
The GRN team expects to see a lot of miles in the logbook. For example, one avid kayaker posted that he’d paddled over 900 miles on his own accord in 2022.
“I suspect there will be a lot of people that paddle well over 1,000 miles this year,” Cook added.
Paddlers hitting the waterways solo can refer to the Georgia River Guide app which features over 30 designated water trails across the state. Folks can also choose from the 17 on-water trips scheduled for the year, including Paddle Georgia 2023 — a week-long, 100-mile journey on the Savannah River.
Through this state-wide challenge, the GRN team aims to raise $50,000. The funds will be used to support the organization’s advocacy work around the state, like their efforts to oppose proposed mining near the Okefenokee Swamp, which is top-of-mind for the team, according to Cook.
By getting out in nature and onto local waterways, GRN hopes the Paddle-A-Thon will be a catalyst to strengthen Georgians’ relationships with local waterways — the first, critical step in the path to conservation.
“It’s about getting people on the water and establishing that relationship,” Cook said.
Click here to register for the 2023 Paddle-A-Thon.