A trio of kayakers pass under the Bob Moore Bridge on the Etowah River during the final leg of the 2017 Paddle Georgia trip.

Sonja and Ronald Fuquea, of Calhoun, will be among the more than 330 people participating in Georgia River Network’s Paddle Georgia 2019 set for June 15-21 on the Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers.

The Fuqueas are joining canoeists and kayakers from across Georgia and 13 other states for the 92-mile, seven-day journey from Valdosta to Mayo, Florida.

Though they will be on the river during the day, at night participants will camp at nearby facilities. The group will tent at Grassy Pond Recreation Area in Lake Park from June 14-18 as they explore the Withlacoochee River in Lowndes and Brooks counties in Georgia, and Madison and Hamilton counties in Florida. Following these days the group will then move downstream for four nights at Camp Suwannee in Dowling Park, Florida, where they will continue their journey on the Suwannee River.

The event includes educational programs on the river’s cultural and natural history, tours of historic sites located along the river and nightly games and entertainment. There will also be an opportunity to participate in a research program in which participants will help collect chemical and biological data with the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream program to understand the rivers’ current health.

This is the 15th anniversary of Paddle Georgia. In the event’s first 14 years, the Georgia River Network introduced more than 4,300 paddlers to water trails along 13 Georgia rivers and has also generated more than $430,000 for river protection. The WWALS Watershed Coalition and its projects — Suwannee Riverkeeper and the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail — will be the beneficiaries of this year’s journey.

Many participants will be embarking on their 15th Paddle Georgia, meaning they have journeyed more than 1,400 miles on Georgia rivers.

“We have many paddlers that return year after year,” said Paddle Georgia Coordinator Joe Cook. “That’s one of the special things about Paddle Georgia. There’s lots of camaraderie and paddlers support one another. Over the years, it has become something of a family reunion as much as a paddle trip.”

The Suwannee River, celebrated in Stephen Foster’s song “Old Folks at Home,” is a well-known water source in the South and is among Florida’s most popular paddling destinations. With its origins in the Okefenokee Swamp, the Suwannee sports blackwater, moss-draped tupelo and cypress tree-lined banks. Though lesser known, the Withlacoochee River serves up the same heavy dose of Deep South river vibe.

Paddle Georgia organizers are emphasizing that there will still be unexpected landscapes for participants to enjoy along these rivers. The Withlacoochee, despite flowing through flat terrain, is home to unexpected shoals, and both rivers are dotted with beautiful, cold, blue hole springs, some of which have been named among the best swimming holes in North America.

Information for the event, including a daily itinerary, directions to campsites, launch sites and take-out sites can be found on the Paddle Georgia website: www.garivers.org/paddle-georgia.

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