Take one disgruntled trails supporter and point her toward a little town where a river runs through it, and you've got the makings of a whole new definition for the word "trail." Just call it a "blue trail," the wet equivalent of a multi-purpose trail. The disgruntled trails supporter is creative Covington resident Kimberly Brown; the little town is Porterdale, where the word "never" is never uttered; and the river is the Yellow River, for long a despoiled stretch of water that is now enjoying a blossoming re-birth.
Last Saturday, Kimberly invited us to meet her under the bridge in Porterdale just above the dam, and there we found Kimberly and husband Lamar with their kayaks. In a few minutes, we heard the drone of a small boat engine and there came blue trail proponents Cheryl Delk and husband Fred Franklin as pilot of well-used aluminum jon boat. They pulled the boat up at the muddy step-in, Cheryl disembarked and Bob and I hopped in for a 1-½ mile gentle journey up the river.
Just around the bend as we left the entry point, the river began to widen. Lush foliage and tall trees hovered right at the water's edge, reflecting a perfect mirror image on the green water's surface. The first thing we noticed was the quiet and stillness of being on a silent river, despite the small engine plugging away. It was heavenly, and we suddenly realized how much noise we're subjected to every day. Some distance away, a blue heron took flight at our approach. Soon there came up behind us Ryan Kelly-Burnett, carefully balanced on Fred's paddleboard, propelling himself with long sweeps of an elongated paddle and making not a discordant sound. Had there been more water in the river, we would have been able to make the entire seven-mile trip up to the bridge over I-20, Fred told us. He's on the river almost every day on his paddleboard for a stress-relieving workout.
The idea of a blue trail has been kicked around for some time by outdoor enthusiasts and the tourism community, according to Maurice Carter, chairman of Newton Trails, "but Kimberly has taken the bull by the horns and started an effort to actually do something," he said.
Blue trails, Kimberly explained to me, are created to facilitate recreation in and along rivers and other bodies of water and attract boaters, kayakers, paddle boarders, anglers, picnickers and anyone just looking for a little solitude. Until recently, the Yellow River would have been on nobody's list of destinations for watery recreation. It was a sick and polluted river due to activities north of Newton County, but today the river is so clean that fish pulled from the river can be eaten every day of the year. The cooperative effort to restore the river involved the Newton County Water Authority, Newton County Planning and Zoning, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Wildlife Division, among others. Populations of largemouth bass, hybrid and white bass, crappie, bluegill and redbreast bream, catfish, yellow perch, Great Blue Herons and other waterfowl now abound.
Emboldened by her passionate vision, Kimberly has met with Porterdale's mayor Bobby Hamby, city manager Bob Thompson and councilmembers Arline Chapman and Lowell Chambers and believes she will have the support of the city council to whom she will make a formal presentation after a meeting August 31 to organize supporters and volunteers behind the Yellow River Preservation and Conservation project. Other "extraordinarily supportive" backers of the proposed blue trail are David Waller, retired Georgia Wildlife Division Director; Walt and Kelly Davis, he being the developer of the Porterdale Lofts; Clara Deemer, Newton Chamber Tourism Director; and the Newton Trails-PATH Foundation, among others.
In the short term, Kimberly sees the creation of the Yellow River blue trail as a community-building effort. Volunteers will be needed on a regular schedule to keep the by-way clear of storm debris and human trash that pools along the shoreline. She speaks of the need for educational signage to inform users about the blue trail and the sensitive ecology of the river. Other entry points along the river will need to be identified, and permanent, not muddy, footings installed for ease of access. In the long term, the creation of the blue trail holds the promise of destination tourism, a revitalized local economy and enhanced quality of life, benefitting not only Porterdale but the entire county, as well.
What Kimberly found in Porterdale was already existing greenspace planning, a city comprehensive plan that included the development of a Yellow River Park along the riverbanks for which grants are now being sought, and local policymakers eager and enthusiastic about new ideas. How refreshing.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.