Known as Georgia’s “Little Amazon,” the Altamaha River flows 137 miles from the confluence of the Ocmulgee River near Macon eastward to the Atlantic Ocean in Darien.
The river has spawned settlements, bred industry and at times has incited men to flashes of violence over its control. The dark waters meander through spartina-covered marshlands, flowing deliberately and solemnly to the sea.
Later this month, an Atlanta-based environmental nonprofit will invite outdoor enthusiasts to explore this vast wilderness.
The Georgia Conservancy is set to host a three-day paddle trip down the Altamaha March 24-26, beginning at Altamaha Regional Campground and finishing in downtown Darien.
“It’s roughly a 17-mile paddle with the tide,” said Brian Foster, a spokesman for the Georgia Conservancy. “We will paddle both the main body of the Altamaha, as well as delta creeks like Rifle Cut, Lewis Creek, Stud Horse Creek and Darien River.”
As part of the trip, the conservancy will also celebrate its 50th anniversary March 25 evening with a “Tent Revival” barbecue at Altamaha Regional Campground. Foster said the event is a commemoration of the nonprofit’s extensive work advocating for wild Georgia.
“Our mission is to protect and conserve Georgia’s natural resources through advocacy, engagement and collaboration,” Foster said. “For us to successfully forward this mission, we must expose people to the places that we have worked or are working to protect.”
The cost for the entire weekend paddle trip is $150. That includes two nights of camping at Altamaha Regional Campground, paddle trips on March 25 and 26, and the March 25 Tent Revival. The Georgia Conservancy offers rental of a limited supply of REI tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads for $5. For those who wish to attend the Tent Revival, but are unable to make the paddle trip, dinner and Saturday’s program for Tent Revival is $5. Registration is available at www.georgiaconservancy.org.
“The Tent Revival is an opportunity to renew, reframe and explore what it means to love Georgia’s wonderful outdoors,” Foster said.
During the Tent Revival, local author Taylor Brown, photographer Benjamin Galland and Grassroot Farms’ Brandon Chonko will speak on how the Altamaha River has impacted their lives.
During the paddling excursions, Foster said attendees will have the chance to experience the river first hand.
“Of all our paddle trips, our Altamaha Paddle really highlights the breadth of one of the east coast’s largest watersheds and the vast delta that emerges in the lower Altamaha,” he said. “It is a chance to paddle a massive river, as well as small tidal influenced creeks and canals.”
Because of the length of the paddle, Foster recommends boaters have some experience paddling. There is potential for downed trees along the river, and tidal influence may challenge inexperienced boaters, he said.
Still, he said the trip should be relaxing and enjoyable for most paddlers.
“Aside from the great exercise, paddling — at least on flatwater — allows for one to travel at the pace of the river itself, and feel the movement and power of the water,” he said. “For me, this is what makes it exciting. It also allows one to easily socialize with fellow paddlers.”
While the trip is for enjoyment, Foster also hopes people will learn about the ecosystem the river sustains — and the threats it faces.
“The biggest threat at this time is irresponsible land use within the watershed that can have unforeseen impacts on the river,” Foster said. “This can range from industries along the river to landfills miles away, poor timber harvesting practices to upstream runoff from overdevelopment.
“Though the lower Altamaha River corridor is becoming increasingly conserved by the efforts of the Georgia Conservancy, the state, landowners and a host of conservation partners, such as the Nature Conservancy and the Altamaha Riverkeeper, there continues to be a strong focus on making sure that all users of the river, and those in the watershed, respect the river and all the life that it provides,” he said.