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Posted: June 14, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Yellow River kayak launch takes off

Porterdale’s Yellow River kayak launch allows easy access for beginners and enthusiasts

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Tonya Bechtler, chair of Yellow River Water Trails, flaots with her dog, River.

Two Porterdale residents were searching for something new to do for their anniversary that would not take the entire day because they had a nephew’s birthday party to attend.

Blake and Mindy Alexander had never kayaked before, but they celebrated their sixth anniversary on May 17 by paddling down Yellow River in Porterdale. They were hooked.

“We wanted to do something quick and easy,” Blake Alexander said. “(The Porterdale Yak Club) had everything ready for us. We were there and on the water in 30 minutes. She dropped us in at Almon Road. She drove us and told us how to get in and what to do.”

Alexander said he and his wife kayaked 6.5 miles to the Porterdale Yellow River Park.

“That day, I was on the internet all day long, trying to look up kayaks and kayaking. That was Saturday. We bought a kayak the next Thursday, and we’ve now gone five or six times since then,” Alexander said.

The Alexanders have a one-year-old son, Grayson, who they take on trips now, too.

“He just sits in our lap, and he really enjoys it,” Alexander said. “It’s so easy to go right down there at Porterdale. You just park your car and get in.”

They each bought their own single-person kayak at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Finding two on sale from $350 to $199, getting 10 percent off for paying with a credit card, adding paddles for $30 and buying basic life jackets, Alexander said they left with two kayaks, two paddles and three life jackets for less than $500.

And, theoretically, that’s all they’ll have to pay.

“It’s a hobby that once you spend your initial money on the kayak, it’s free,” Alexander said. “I used to be a big golfer, and I would come home grumpy because I’d spend all that money on a bad day.”

He said they like kayaking so much now that they are trying to get their families involved to make it a social event. Last Saturday, he said, about 11 people from both sides of their family floated down the river with them.

People with any type of physical ability can find this hobby fun, Alexander said, especially on the slow-flowing Yellow River.

“There’s just not much you can do with a child who’s 1,” Alexander said. “Water sports are not something you’d think you could do. (Grayson) loves it. He reaches over and touches the water and just sits there smiling."

When they take Grayson, Alexander said he and his wife spend an hour to an hour and a half on the river, floating to the shallow parts where they swim with their son. When it’s just the two of them, he said, they go farther and “make a day of it.”

“The hardest part is getting on and off the boat,” Alexander said.

But that may be easier now that a launch site was constructed at the Porterdale Yellow River Park, the official opening and ribbon cutting for which was celebrated on Saturday with paddlers, food and plenty of room for dogs to jump in.
“The long, wide, textured concrete steps will certainly make river entrance and exit much easier for everyone,” said Debra Griffith, Yellow River Water Trail (YRWT) vice-chair. “I will no longer require a second person to assist me in climbing up a steep, wet, slippery bank to exit the river while trying not to lose my kayak.”

“Mellow on the Yellow” Summer Series

Porterdale’s kayak launch grand opening coincided with the second of four paddle dates for the Mellow on the Yellow Summer Series.

Tonya Bechtler, YRWT chair, said 62 people registered and about 10 showed up with their own boats.

The 2014 Summer Series focuses only on the Newton County portion of the trail, which is from the Mt. Tabor Bridge access to the Porterdale Mill Village access. It is “a great day to enjoy the river, learn more about the habitat and fall in love with a beautiful paddle destination,” according to the YRWT website.

Each paddle series goes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for approximately 6.5 miles. Kayakers can choose between three paddling options:

- Option 1 ($40): Boat rental with shuttle service to put-in point, sack lunch and t-shirt; Meet at Porterdale Yak Club

- Option 2 ($20): Shuttle service to put-in point, sack lunch and t-shirt; Bring your own boat; Meet at Porterdale Yak Club

- Option 3 (free): Bring your own boat, lunch and transportation; Meet at Mt. Tabor Bridge put-in point

Newton County river access points

The YRWT spans 53 miles through four counties (Newton, Rockdale, Dekalb and Gwinnett). While there are 13 potential launch sites in Newton County on the YRWT website, Mellow on the Yellow includes two established put-ins:

- Mt. Tabor Bridge: Mt. Tabor Rd., Covington

- Porterdale Yellow River Park: Broad St., Porterdale

Griffith said the trip from Mt. Tabor Bridge can take anywhere from one and a half to five hours, depending on water level. Low water levels make it easier to paddle upstream, while higher levels allow little to no paddling to float downstream.

“High water trips are particularly fun,” Griffith said. “I can rear back in my seat, feet up with the paddles across my lap, hands on the back of my head and just float.

“Being on the river is one of the only places where I am truly unplugged from electronic life, where I am not on my iPad or laptop constantly checking my work email box. I am an outdoor person to the core and find the river to be one of my favorite places to get free entertainment ... The river is such a peaceful, beautiful, relaxing place to be. One of the goals of our paddle series is to introduce more people to this natural resource in hopes of getting more people involved and out of the mall, off the sofa, away from electronics. I encourage more people to step outside of their comfort zone and explore the outdoors like we did as kids when we had no other entertainment. It just might change their lives.”

Just as it changed the lives of Blake and Mindy Alexander and their one-year-old son, Grayson.

Grayson is not growing up in front of a TV or learning coordination from a touch screen. He is experiencing the outdoors, its wildlife and its beauty.

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