Category: Education Blog

Paddle Georgia – Back to Augusta

Paddle Georgia – Back to Augusta

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

PGF-1June 25, 2016 – Paddle Georgia was over and most everyone gone. A dozen of us were scheduled to catch the 8:30 a.m. Journey’s End shuttle back to our cars at Murray County High School. I tried to sleep in till 7 but was up at 6:30. The Camp Horizon students had a bus picking them up at 7:30, so they were up and ready. For them it meant back to their cell phones and re-plugged into the world they knew.

Jeanne, one of the teachers on scholarship, and I walked into town for breakfast at the Harvest Moon. Their display of cakes was incredible, but I settled for the oatmeal raisin cookies. Back at 8:20 but no bus. We were told it was 45 minutes late, so Jeanne and I took a walk down to the river and enjoyed a bench in the shade. Back at 9, but still no bus. Another 45 minutes. So I headed into town and went window shopping till I found an antique market.

PGF-3The bus finally made it at 10:40. A big leisure bus with comfy seats and air conditioning! It was a peaceful relaxing ride to Murray County High School.

We arrived and quickly unloaded the gear truck. We were loading our cars when Debra of Georgia River Network arrived with pizza since our bus was so late – Thanks Debra! A pizza party in the parking lot, final hugs and good byes and we were all on our way – until next year – or at least we all hope to be back.

Did you miss my blog for the first day on the river? Go to the Paddle Georgia Blog – I was the guest writer for day 1.

Join a paddle. Georgia River Network has a Fall Float in October on the Flint, a Spring Paddle in April and Paddle Georgia – June 2017 – on the Etowah – I heard!

Respectfully submitted by Ruth Mead – Happy Paddling!

Paddle Georgia – Day 7

Paddle Georgia Day 7

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

PG7-1Paddle Georgia day seven – 15 miles to Rome! The day started early with everyone busy breaking down camp and preparing for the final day on the river. My tent was not the last down, but close to it. I loaded my stuff onto the gear truck and headed to meet my paddling partners. Seira and I were paddling together and hoping to not get too far behind the group with our 4 monitoring sites. I grabbed a quick breakfast, filled the water bottles, grabbed our stuff and headed to the bus. Seira was right behind me, having stopped for coffee.

We climbed on the bus only to find all but one seat filled. The bus driver allowed us to sit on the floor, so I happily joined the bus driver sitting on the motor box by the steps. I had a front seat view of the countryside as we headed to the river and an entertaining talk with the bus driver who had been canning peaches for the past two weeks.

PG7-4We thought we were on the last bus but were happily surprised to find out otherwise. That gave us the jump start we needed from the sweep boat. Our first monitoring site was Armuchee Creek. We paddled up to the first sandbar on the creek and were greeted by a couple of other paddlers. Before our monitoring was complete, 15 to 20 boats had joined us and they were enjoying the cool waters, seining for fish and studying the foot prints on the sandbar. Bobcat prints were among the mix! The usual fish, dragonflies and crayfish were caught in the nets, so off we went.

On route to our next site, which was at mile 9, we rounded Jones Bend to find a party at Jones Bend Island. No one was in a hurry today. We all just wanted to relax and enjoy the last day with new and old friends before the normal routine of life kicks back in (work on Monday). We splashed and floated in the water and relaxed on the inviting shores of the island. Then off we went –

PG7-5To the next party site – Dozier Creek & Whitmore Island. More water fights, floating ,and for some, it was lunch time. Seira and I opted to hold out on lunch till after our next monitoring site which was at Coker’s Farm. The day was gorgeous, and we found ourselves out of view of other boats for a quiet stretch. And then we saw it – the city of Rome off in the distance. We had two more monitoring sites – Rome water intake and the takeout site for the day – Heritage Park.

Passing under the last bridge over the Oostanaula, the Etowah River came in sight, and we were soon on the Coosa River that forms at the confluence of the Oostanaula and the Etowah. The end was in sight, and we had yet to see the sweep boat. We made it – 103 miles!

The afternoon was filled with packing up boats, congratulating paddlers, enjoying the bluegrass band, and waiting for the duck race. At 5 o’clock, 500 some yellow rubber duckies were dumped in the water from the Oostanaula foot bridge and the race was on. Every duck had been purchased as a fund raiser for Georgia River Network, and there was a $250 prize for the winning duck. It was amazing how spread out the ducks got but 20 minutes later, we had a winner. No worries, all the duck were collected and taken off the river.

PG7-14For most, the event ended with a fish fry provided by the Coosa River Basic Initiative – catfish, hushpuppies, coleslaw, watermelon and cold ice tea! Awards would follow – the volunteer of the paddle award, best foot tan line award and age award – the youngest to the oldest. Aviva at one-year-old (although she did not paddle, she rode in her playpen most of the way), the oldest at 83 and everyone else in-between!

PG7-12A handful of us were camping at Heritage Park and catching the morning shuttle back to Murry County High School. When the festivities were over, we headed into town in search of The Dark Side of the Moon where the bluegrass band that entertained us earlier was playing. The local IPA made for a rewarding finish to the day. Respectfully submitted by Ruth Mead – Happy Paddling!

Five Ways to De-stress at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park

Five Ways to De-stress at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park

By Aaliyah Ross, Environmental Educator

destress at Phinizy

Recent research has supported the idea that spending time in nature comes with a host of mental and physiological benefits. In addition to improved attention and mental clarity, being in a natural setting is associated with a noticeable reduction in stress. Here are 5 great ways to de-stress in nature at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park.

IMG_65871. Take a hike

The Park features 14 miles of hiking trails through several different landscapes. Come out and explore on your own, or register for a guided 2.5- mile Swamp Saturday hike (held 9:30 – 11:30 on the 1st Saturday of each month). If you have a child 8 or under, join us for a Children’s Hike with Story Time 9:30 – 11:00 on the 2nd Saturday of each month.

2. Get creative

Plein Air Class Fall 2015, photo Leroy RobertsCreating art has also been shown to relieve stress and improve attitudes, so double your stress-reduction potential by getting artsy at the Nature Park! There are many opportunities to bring out your inner artist this summer, including:
• Drawing Patterns from Nature – a 2-session workshop with local artist Jay Jacobs
• Nature Printing on Fabric – led by Master Nature Printer and teacher John Doughty
• Plein Air Oil Painting – a 4-week class with well-known teacher and painter Dick Dunlap

Learn more about Nature and Art classes offered at Phinizy here.

3. Find your balance

YogaPhysical activity in any form has long been known to have mental and psychological benefits. Yoga in particular, with its focus on breath, balance, and stability, is a great way to ease the mind while getting the blood flowing. After a brief break, group yoga classes are back at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park! A free 4-H Yoga class is held at 9:00 a.m. on the 3rd Saturday of each month.

4. Walk our new labyrinth

labyrinthLabyrinths have been used for thousands of years as meditation tools to provide spiritual and mental clarity. The act of walking a labyrinth is thought to help bring inner peace by focusing the mind on the path ahead. This spring, a wonderful group of volunteers from Starbucks helped build a labyrinth at the front of the Park, near the new Pollinator Garden. Take some time to walk the labyrinth and increase your inner peace.

5. Bike the constructed wetlands

Bike Tour with grassIf you prefer to de-stress with more vigorous physical activity, a bike ride through the constructed wetlands is a great choice. Although any of the Park’s 14 miles of trails can be navigated by bicycle, the gravel berms crisscrossing the 360-acre wetlands complex offer endless possibilities for both long and short biking routes. Remember to bring your helmet!

Paddle Georgia – Day 6

Paddle Georgia – Day 6

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

PG6-4Paddle Georgia day six down the Oostanaula – a day for ships, floats and horses. Bob was my Adopt-A-Stream partner for the day as I needed to arrive by 3 p.m. for an activity with the scholarship teachers. Bob is a paddling machine, and he could make sure we got there in time. My entire bottle of spray-on sunscreen had dispensed inside my gear bag the day before, but now my gloves had dried and I was ready for serious paddling.

Our first monitoring sight was downstream from a small discharge site. We had a few setbacks getting started, but pretty quickly we were into a rhythm and zipped through the next two sites. Bob was hoping to learn some bird calls paddling with me. The loudest and most frequent singer of the day was the Carolina Wren – a good one for Bob as they rule his backyard. We were all watching a Great Blue Heron gracefully flying downstream when a large bird on river left caught our attention but quickly disappeared. It would be the only sighting of a Bald Eagle all week.

Paddling on, we heard the beats of drums up ahead. It sounded like a call for a battle, so we loaded our water guns and answered with our own drumming – hitting our paddles on the side of the canoe. When we caught the group – Camp Horizon, a metro-Atlanta student group on scholarship for the paddle – we realized they were just singing a song about a farmer’s dog named “Bingo”. Every time they repeated the song they would tap the canoe instead of spelling out B-I-N-G-O, so it sounded like tap tap tap/tap/tap -our call to battle. We had to laugh.

PG6-8Further downstream, we did run into the battle. All of the pirates were lined up in the water off Ship Island. We prepared to get soaked as we approached the island. Bob manned the water gun while I paddled us through. We beached the canoe, grabbed our guns and joined the battle. It was such a perfect spot that most everyone on the paddle was stopping – for lunch, floating down the shoals, water battles, and just relaxing. I took several floats in the shoals all the way down the island before breaking for lunch.

PG6-6While we were enjoying lunch, 4 horses on the bank across the river decided to wander down to the water’s edge to see what all the noise was about. Some of the group went over to greet them with apples and carrots. The horses hung out for a while before wandering back to their field.

We ended the day’s paddle with an exciting run through a quick flowing shoal –a little white water for the trip. And Bob had me off the river by 2:30 – well ahead of my meeting time with the teachers. Another great day on the river had come to an end!

(More photos below!)

Respectfully submitted by Ruth Mead

Happy Paddling!

Paddle Georgia 2016 – Day 5

Paddle Georgia 2016 – Day 5

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

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Paddle Georgia day five down the Oostanaula – a day for cows and chicks. After the wait in the bus line yesterday, everyone was up early to catch the first bus. The bus problems had been solved and there was no wait, but the line for breakfast would be another story. I got my lunch and thought about grabbing a quick bowl of cereal when Gwyneth solved the line issue. I was very happy for the eggs and grits.

pg5-2It was a 22-mile paddle on June 22nd. Chelsea was my Adopt-A-Stream partner. We were in for a long day as we had 4 monitoring sites. It was easy on the river and easy paddling, so we were at our first monitoring site (a main stem) in no time. The Eastern Towhee was the bird of the site.

Our next site was up Camp Creek – a beautiful site where the Yellow-billed Cuckoo called away. Several kayakers came up to investigate, but we quickly found ourselves alone. Jeremy and Matt (EPD monitoring team) came up after us for their monitor and informed us that the sweep had already passed. This marked the first time of 3 that we defected from Paddle GA paddle during the day.

pg5-3.2We set out at a fast pace trying to catch the rest of the group. We quickly came on them – hanging out at a cliff where youngsters were climbing and jumping in the inviting waters. It was a little more than I wanted to try, so down the river to our next site – just below the wastewater discharge. We were greeted by a Canada Goose, so made it the site mascot. Paula – one of the teachers – joined us for this monitor.

Once again we were on our way – this time in search of a good lunch spot. Success! We found Bob, Seira, Jeremy and Matt on a shading gravel bar. Jeremy had a fresh avocado, which made for a wonderful addition to my pimento cheese sandwich. We were close to our last monitoring site, so we headed out.

Bow Creek was blocked by fallen trees but had good flow, so we monitored near the mouth. Lots of birds were singing and flying about, but the Yellow-breasted Chat caught our attention, so we named the site for the Chat.

Once again we got behind the sweep. The river was peaceful and the paddlers had gotten spread out. You could almost feel like you were the only one on the river, and just about when we thought we were – there were boats up ahead. Throughout the day, cows could be seen close to the river and the smell of chickens reminded us that we were in agricultural land. Four miles from the takeout we got hot and found a shallow spot to just sit on the bottom holding our canoe. The sweep came by, making the final time we would defect. Back with the group again, we challenged others with short races to the takeout – never serious but got us there a little quicker. Once again, we found ourselves on the last bus.

Today was the annual street party for Paddle GA, so on arriving at camp, we headed into downtown Calhoun – 2 blocks away. Our Adopt-A-Stream group put a team together for the canoe tug of war competition. Harold, Bob and Chelsea worked hard but fell short of winning, so we headed to the local deli where cold beer and the best ever deviled eggs awaited us.

Respectfully submitted by Ruth Mead

Happy Paddling!

Paddle Georgia – Day 4 on the Conasauga

Paddle Georgia – Day 4 on the Conasauga

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

pg4-1

Paddle Georgia day four – Southern Pocketbook and a Flash of Gold – was a move day. The camp was buzzing by 6 a.m. with everyone taking down tents and loading gear into the moving truck. It seemed to go pretty smoothly, and we found ourselves in line for the bus by 7:30 a.m. We were proud of ourselves for getting there that early, but somehow we still ended up in the last set of boats on the river.

pg4-2Bob helped Seira and I with the first monitoring site of the day. Dale the beaver (Beaverdale) – Bob’s left over mascot from Bike Ride Across GA (BRAGs) looked on from the front of Bob’s boat. Our team of three was quick, and we were on our way.

As we paddled along, we noticed Silver Maple joining the species mix along the banks and bringing welcomed shade to our paddle. Carefully studying our map, we proudly found our second monitoring site on an unnamed tributary. Walking in, we were rewarded with a beautiful, gravel bed, soft flowing stream. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo sang right over our heads and we changed the name from unnamed to Cuckoo Creek.

pg4-8The birds graced our journey with their songs. In the mix, we heard White-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Yellow-throat, and more. A flock of Goldfinch were seen bathing at river’s edge and added a flash of gold to the mix.  At one sandbar – or actually gravel bed – a team of paddlers was busy netting fish and collecting mussels. I pulled a Southern Pocketbook from the bottom and Black-tailed Shiners and an Alabama Hogsucker – one cool fish! -filled the net.

pg4-7The last leg of the day was a paddle up the Oostanaula River where we arrived in the worst position possible – first boat for the last bus – but we took the opportunity to help the other arriving boaters carry their boats up the hill. Arriving at our new camp – Calhoun High School – we quickly set up on the football practice field. Our Adopt-A-Stream group made a circle of tents with a middle area for the kids to run. Will serenaded me with his newly composed song.

pg4-5The day ended with a birthday celebration for Aviva who was born during Paddle Georgia 2015. She somehow managed to put the entire cake on her face and front of her shirt – too cute!

Respectfully submitted by Ruth Mead

Happy Paddling!

Paddle Georgia – Third Day on the Conasauga

Paddle Georgia – Third Day on the Conasauga

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

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pd3-1 paddle georgia

AAS Workshop on the River

Paddle Georgia day three – June 20 – Tranquility, turtles and cats were the words of the day. After 2 incredible full days on the river, we welcomed a relaxing 10 mile journey. I started the day early getting my teacher group to meet at 7 a.m. to catch the second bus. We needed an early start to complete our on river Adopt-A-Stream training. Success, and we were on our way. Once on the river, we pulled over to a gravel bar to start the training. The weather was perfect and a beautiful setting. Every paddler passing gave words of encouragement. Once the last paddler passed, we finished up and were on our way.

pd3-2The river was gentle, and the current carried us quickly downstream. Our teacher team paddled for a while together sharing the morning before continuing on at our own pace. Meredith (my Adopt-A-Stream canoe partner for the day) and I quickly caught up to some of the other paddlers who had stopped at a tributary. They noticed a large snapping turtle moving up the small stream, and we followed him for a while then back to the main stem where Amos Tucker netted a rather large catfish. He said he first discovered fish at 6 years old, and it was love at first sight. Check out this photo of him kissing the cat.

pd3-6It was trash pickup day, and kayaks could be seen loaded down with odd looking finds from bicycles to highway traffic cones and trash bins to wagon wheels. Most were put together in interesting arrays. In all, 800 pounds were removed throughout the day.

After relaxing at the last tributary of the day where one of our monitoring teams was finishing up, we were on our way to the take out – well before the last bus left. This put us back to camp in time for a relaxing afternoon and plenty of time for a much needed shower. Many of us ditched the camp dinner and headed to Fiesta Mexican – two blocks from the high school – for a fun dinner. The parasails decorating our beverages were put to use. Check out the photos.

pd3-4A beautiful relaxing day on the Conasauga!

Respectfully submitted by Ruth Mead

Happy Paddling!

 

Paddle Georgia – Second Day on the Conasauga

Paddle Georgia – Second Day on the Conasauga

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

14Paddle Georgia day two – June 19 – was a day for portages, mussels and cliff jumping. A little sore from the first day’s paddle, we all braced our selfies for another slow paced day of traffic jams on the water. Not the ones you might face in rush hour Atlanta traffic, but slow twists and turns single file through a passage cut through fallen trees in the water. Single file might sound ok, but when you put 400 boats – it makes for a party. Everyone was there to help – especially when we faced 3 obstructions that required carrying the boats around. New friends were met and stories were shared.

11-2Once through the strainers, we were rewarded with a beautiful cloud covered afternoon, filled with a welcomed breeze here and there. On one stretch of river, we ran into a couple of mussel enthusiasts who had gathered 64 washboard mussels in a mere 200 feet. Not just your average mussel – these things were bigger than grapefruits and quite hefty in weight too. I found myself looking down into the water the rest of the afternoon and was impressed with the number of mussels I could see. The Conasauga is home to 42 species of freshwater mussels, many of which are threatened or endangered.

My Adopt-A-Stream team’s last monitoring site was up a tributary. We arrived at the site and found a group gathering on the sandbar and observing the abundant fish. As we started our monitoring, the joyful songs of the Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Red-eyed Vireo, plus a handful more wonderful birds, filled the air. Before we finished, the Sweep (the last boat who keeps everyone moving) had caught up to us, so we quickly headed on.

Jumping - and Holding Onto that Hat!

Jumping – and Holding Onto that Hat!

We soon caught up to the other paddlers who had stopped at an impressive cliff. I was told it was mandatory to jump off. The water was deep at the cliff’s base so I couldn’t pass it up. I quickly jumped out of the canoe, swam to the cliff, climbed up the steps, held my breath for a minute and jumped to the river holding onto my hat the whole way. A perfect experience!

It was once again another wonderfully beautiful day!

Respectfully submitted by Ruth Mead

Happy Paddling!

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Paddle Georgia – One Day Out

Paddle Georgia – One Day Out

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

I began my day 14 miles from Murray County High School where the excitement of our upcoming journey would escalate throughout the day.  It was a peaceful morning and I was finally able to take it slow. I arrived at the high school at 9:18am, fifteen minutes later than I had planned, but Google Maps took me across the street to where the high school once was – I was not the only one to make that mistake. No worries, though – there was still plenty of time.

Registration does not open till 1:00p.m., but the teacher workshop was scheduled to start at 10. I really enjoy getting there early to watch the chaos of the morning develop into a well-organized registration event – hats off to the Georgia River Network folks!

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pH Activity

All but one of the teachers arrived early, so we were off to a great start with both Project WET and Healthy Water Healthy People activities. One of the first activities was making our own pH scale from purple cabbage juice. Check out the photos – it always reminds me of dying Easter eggs. I get thrilled every IMG_20160617_114849742time as I hold my breath and hope it will work, but it has never failed for me. Meet the scholarship teacher, all first time Paddle Georgia participants: Lee Ann Robins, Paula Jeffers, Briana Smith and Jeanne Thon. They have already formed a team and are delightful to work with.

AAS Team

AAS Team

After the workshop, it was an afternoon of reunion. I reconnected with the teachers from the Altamaha paddle, teachers from last year – Ogeechee paddle, my Adopt-A-Stream family, Beverly Snyder who grow up in my hometown church a few grade levels ahead of me, many Paddle Georgia friends and my hat that I left on the trip last year – reunited with my hat – one happy moment!

Reunion with Hat

Reunion with Hat

It’s a beautiful evening after a hot day. Tent city has unfolded! Follow my Paddle Georgia 2016. For more information on Paddle Georgia, go to the Georgia River Network website.

Happy Paddling! – From Ruth Mead

Paddle Georgia – Two Days Out

Paddle Georgia – Two Days Out

By Ruth Mead, Senior Environmental Educator

Ruth Paddle GA water quality monitoringMy Paddle Georgia 2016 journey began in January when I got an email from Joe Cook asking if I was willing to be the Project WET facilitator on the Paddle this summer. Of course my answer was yes, and I put it on the calendar. Little did I know how the spring would unfold – the busiest field trip spring Phinizy Education has ever had. Spring break – we caught our breath and went running again. May graduation – we caught our breath and went running again – not stopping. So here it is, two days before the 103-mile journey down the Conasauga, Oostanaula and Coosa Rivers begins.

As the Project WET facilitator, my job is to meet the teachers the day before the paddle starts and take them through a WET (Water Education for Teachers) curriculum training (about 6 or 7 hours). I then work with them throughout the week, introducing them to all the wonderful WET activities. I also provide training in Georgia Adopt-A-Stream chemical monitoring. It’s a full, fun, wonderful week!

I would travel to Dalton, GA today (June 16) to be ready to start the journey. My dog Scarlette woke me at 4:30 a.m. – something in the backyard. At 7:20 a.m., I had stepped in a fire ant bed loading the field trip gear – multiple bites. I met my field trip of 11 teachers in a summer Augusta University program at 8:00 a.m. – a rewarding relief after having spent the past 7 days with 193 Youth Challenge Academy students (although in their own way, they were rewarding too, but exhausting).

Paddle GA IMG_2851My niece Izabelle was down at summer camp acting as Jr. Camp Counselor. I had to get her to my sister Debbi’s house in Atlanta in route to Dalton. I arrived at Debbi’s at 4:45 p.m., just before Atlanta traffic became insane. While waiting out a break in the rush hour traffic, we went for a walk at Powers Island – Chattahoochee National Recreation Area. It was easy to forget the hectic traffic as we lost ourselves in the beauty of the riparian river zone – its magical canopy of Tulip Poplar, Black Walnut, River Birch, American Beech and more. For relief from the hot afternoon, I had everyone chew on a Sourwood leaf. My favorite flower – Jewel’s Weed – had a couple of blooms.

A delightful walk, but back on the interstate. The traffic was still stop and go, but I made good time to Dalton. I now am preparing for a week unplugged – no traffic, no red lights, no cars! Just lots of wonderful paddlers and maybe a water fight or two. Follow my Paddle Georgia 2016 Blog.

Happy Paddling!

Respectfully,
Ruth Mead