ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Organizers expect about 100 people in Athens on Saturday for a day-long float on the North Oconee River.
The leisurely 6.3-mile trip is the latest in a series of "Hidden Gems" paddling events organized by the Georgia River Network to highlight Georgia rivers and streams.
The nonprofit organization has already taken big groups of canoeists and kayakers on trips down the Altamaha, Savannah, Ogeechee, Yellow and other rivers, said Gwyneth Moody, the group's community programs coordinator.
The group will paddle right through the middle of Athens, but they'll be mostly unseen; getting on the North Oconee is a hidden world starkly different from city streets that might be just yards away.
"When you're on that river you're in a different world. It's a beautiful corridor, mostly forested, because much of the time it's flowing through undeveloped land owned by the University of Georgia," she said.
"The purpose is to bring attention to these hidden gems that are literally in people's back yards, but that they're not aware of or even think of as a negative thing," she said. "It's also meant to bring economic development in the form of water trails."
Water trails are sort of like hiking trails, except they're on the water, with established public put-in and take-out points for canoeists and kayakers. So far, there are 13 established water trails, including ones on the Augusta Canal, Broad, Savannah, Etowah, Ocmulgee and other rivers, Moody said.
Others are planned, including a trail on Athens' Middle and North Oconee rivers, she said.
Saturday's trip will begin near downtown Athens and the UGA campus, winding up at Whitehall Road.
It will include educational presentations along the trip, a lunch stop with music, and an optional dinner at Weaver D's in downtown Athens.
Paddlers on past trips have ranged in age from 10 up past Social Security age, and this particular stretch will be welcoming for kids as well as adults.
"It's easy for beginners to paddle," said Gary Crider, who frequently kayaks on Athens-area rivers and helped scout out this trip for the River Network and local organizations sponsoring the trip.
"You feel like you're in a wild and scenic river for a long way, I'd say 4 miles of undeveloped river. You've got great trees overhanging, little shoals to break up the monotony, and it's quiet," he said.
Prices ranges from $50 for adult boat rental and lunch down to $15 for participants who bring their own boats and lunch, with discounts for students.
Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com
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