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Local residents paddle through Georgia
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Paddle Georgia participant Tonya Bechtler paddles with her grandson.

For 12 years and counting, Paddle Georgia has given residents a chance to see Georgia in a way they never have before.

Every summer, participants of Paddle Georgia travel approximately 100 miles by boat in a week-long paddling trip through some of Georgia’s most beautiful rivers. From June 18-24, local Newton County residents will paddle through the Oostanaula, Conasauga and Coosa rivers with their friends and family.

During the week-long event, participants take daily paddling trips, averaging 15 miles, camp during the night, eat meals, enjoy entertainment and educational programs, take tours of historic sites and more.

“The purpose of the event is to encourage people to protect our rivers, raise funds to help protect these rivers and promote recreational use of our rivers,” said Paddle Georgia Coordinator Joe Cook in a statement.

Tonya Bechtler, who works in Public Outreach for the Yellow River Trail in Porterdale, has been participating in Paddle Georgia since 2009. She started out with her then 12-year-old daughter who is now a college freshman.
Bechtler began bringing her grandson on the trail last summer, calling it a “summer camp for families.”

“It is fun and adventure that can be enjoyed together, and it is complete immersion into nature that is really, truly eye-opening,” she said.

Much like the Bike Ride Around Georgia, or BRAG, Paddle Georgia requires physical endurance to travel the long distances.

“You can either go a short weekend or a full week paddle,” said Bechtler. “You’re gonna do approximately 100 miles in a week. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a wonderful time to spend disconnected away from the hectic life, to be completely immersed in a different habit and enjoy time with your kids, and also to experience wonderful educational programs also a wonderful educational experience.”

At the campsites, participants learn about various programs, including Adopt-a-Stream, water quality, and River Habitat.
These programs were very beneficial for Troy Davis, a teacher for the Newton County School System who will be participating in Paddle Georgia for the second time June 18-20.

“I was able to become certified in a water quality survey called Adopt a Stream,” Davis said. “That certification was something they taught me while I was there, and it’s something that I’ll be able to use in water monitoring here in Covington.”

In addition to the trails and the educational opportunities, paddles can find entertainment from the various comedy shows, talent shows like “Paddle Idol” and dancing in the streets.

The event serves as a fundraiser for the Coosa River Basin Initiative and the Georgia River Network, which sponsors the event and has trained the local citizens in Newton County to start a water trail on Yellow River.

“Not only have we participated in Paddle Georgia during summer camp time, but we’ve taken it back to our communities and it’s started some cool local programs and led to 53 miles of the Yellow River not only being enjoyed and shared, but also protected,” Bechtler said.

Other Newton County residents participating include the Swift family, Tripp and Aaron Davis and Bill and Ann Couch.

“You get to see some parts of the state you probably never would see otherwise,” Davis said. “Because when you’re taking it on a canoe in a river, it’s always sort of backcountry and much more scenic than it would be if it was any other way.”