Water Trails


Access and Liability

Check out the following documents Liabilityfor a better understading of this complicated issue:
  • 'Understanding Private Property Issues and Working with your Community to Avoid Conflict'
    By Dan MacIntyre - Page Perry LLC, Georgia Canoeing Association.
    Presented at Georgia River Network's 'Water Trails that Work' workshop, 2012.  Dan MacIntyre also unfolded some of the mysteries of ownership and liability at the GRN Weekend for Rivers Conference in 2011.
  • Keith Parsons's Permitting Presentation from Weekend for Rivers can also provide information about what permits you will need to gain access.

We Need Your Help to Identify Best Bridge Candidates for Improving Recreational Access at Scheduled Construction/Maintenance Sites

In 2015, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation changing the state’s gasoline tax to increase the amount of funding available for transportation. This change increased the Georgia Department of Transportation’s budget by approximately 50%. GDOT is using this new money to pursue an expansive slate of transportation projects intended to improve mobility and repair roads and bridges across the state.

One key area of focus will be the replacement of aging bridges. According to the Federal Highway Administration, Georgia has approximately 700 structurally deficient bridges. Many of these bridges need routine maintenance, need to be replaced, or were not designed to accommodate larger vehicles like school buses and tractor trailers.  Over the next several years, GDOT will double the amount of money it spends every year maintaining, rebuilding, or replacing bridges. 

These bridge projects also provide an opportunity to rethink the public access to the waterbodies these bridges span.  Across Georgia, bridges often provide formal or informal recreational access points to rivers, lakes, and streams. In the course of these construction projects across the state, GDOT should consider whether a bridge project could also present an opportunity to improve the public’s recreational access to the water at that location.  Although adding a recreational component to these projects may add new challenges (like cost, property ownership, liability, safety, and environmental review), these are not insurmountable obstacles.

We need your help to identify the best candidates for improving recreation access at bridges and your help in supporting these changes.  Using maintenance projects as an opportunity to also improve recreational access for the surrounding community is a potential win-win. A list of bridges scheduled for improvement can be found here. If a bridge in your community is slated for improvement in the coming years and you believe that location is a strong candidate for improved recreational access, please contact Gwyneth Moody with Georgia River Network at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and/or Brian Gist with the Southern Environmental Law Center at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  


Economic Benefits of Water Trails

There are a variety of economic benefits to local and state economies by developing water trails including:
  • Financial investment in developing recreational water trails is relatively inexpensive compared to other forms of recreational facilities due to the limited amount of land needed, fewer structures needed, and minimal river access infrastructure needed.
  • Many communities can create a water trail by using existing public boat ramps and on existing public lands building new river access points.
  • Water trails create significant new opportunities for local revenue generation through tourism; patronage of local businesses including retail, dining, and lodging; new business development; gear and equipment sales and rentals; and development of new festivals and events related to local rivers and water trails. 
  • “Eco-Tourism” such as water trails and outdoor recreation are clean, environmentally friendly and sustainable economic development activities.
Measure the Economic Impact of Your Paddling Events!

Data demonstrating the economic benefits of Water Trails is hard to come by, especially here is Georgia...and these numbers are very important when convincing the powers that be of the importance and positive impact a water trail can have on a community and its river.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development has created an Event Impact Calculator that you can use to determine the amount of dollars your event has brought in to your community. The tool is designed to be simple and flexible. Basic parameters of an event are translated into a full economic impact analysis including:

■ Business sales by industry and source
■ Impacts of sales on jobs, wages, and local taxes
■ ROI of the event against hosting costs and incentives

A report is then generated for the event that can be saved or printed and users can save, recall, or aggregate events.

Read the EIC User Manual when completing the Event Impact Calculator. You can also access these resources HERE.
Reports with specific examples of economic benefits of Water Trails, Paddle Sports and/or Outdoor Recreation
Interested in quick National and Statewide Statistics on Water Sports? Return to the GA Water Trail Homepage.

Resolutions of Support

Create a Resolution of County or City Support for your Water Trail.
Check out the signed Resolutions below and use this template to create your own.
Signed Resolutions of Support in Georgia


Alapaha River Water Trail
Broad River Water Trail
Etowah River Water Trail
Flint River Water Trail
(Whitwater Creek Paddling Trail)
 Ocmulgee River Water Trail
          Withlacoochee River Water Trail               



Partnerships and Stakeholders 

An excellent way to expand your network and resources is to build strong partnerships. Working with partners and stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds can help pool resources.  Most successful water trails were completed thanks to a strong partnership. 

  • Land management agenciesGA Water Trails Logo

  • Private property owners

  • Local businesses

  • Outfitters and Guides

  • Watershed Organizations

  • Local economic development and tourism representatives

  • Paddling Clubs

  • Emergency Management Agencies

  • Government regulatory agencies: Create a Resolution of County or City Support for your Water Trail. Check out the signed Resolutions below and use this template to create your own.

River Etiquette & Paddling Safety


River Etiquette

     1. Practice ‘Leave No Trace’ Guidelines (www.lnt.org)

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors
  1. Control pets or leave them at home.
  2. Know and obey all rules and regulations.
  3. Use only established access and portage sites and minimize impacts to shore when launching, portaging, scouting, or taking out.
  4. Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  5. Respect other river users and riverfront property owners and do not trespass on private property.
  6. No glass (recommended for safety).
  7. Be courteous and polite when communicating with others.
  8. Avoid interfering with the recreational activities of others.
  9. Never engage in loud, lewd or inappropriate behavior.

Paddling Safety
  • Wear a PFD
  • Be Aware of Hazards
  • Obstacles
  • Respect Other Recreationalists
  • Tides
  • High Water Conditions
  • Strainers
  • Weather
  • Sun and Heat (Avoid Hyperthermia)
  • Water Temperature (Avoid Hypothermia)
  • Water Quality
  • Wildlife
  • Be Prepared
  • Checklist of Items to Take
  • What Do I Do if I Capsize?

One of the reasons we enjoy paddling is because we get to be closer to nature. While enjoying the beauty of nature, we must also be aware of its dangers. Being aware of potential dangers will help you prepare for them and have a safe and enjoyable trip.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs):

Georgia law requires that each person in your group have an approved PFD (Type I, II, III, or V) that fits properly and is in good working condition. Please review the information on the Georgia DNR website on current boating and personal watercraft regulations (link: https://www.georgiawildlife.com/boating/regulations).   According to regulations, any child under 10 years of age is required to wear a PFD while in any moving boat, except when in an enclosed cabin. Wearing a PFD is the easiest way to prevent fatal accidents while out on the river.


While part of the beauty of the river, certain features can become obstacles and hazardous when paddling. For example, rocks/bedrock ledges, rapids/shoals, bridges, and overhanging trees/branches can create obstacles or tip you over. Look ahead so that you will be prepared to maneuver around any obstacles. In areas of bedrock ledges and rapids, look for the area with the smoothest water that is shaped like a “V” pointing downstream. The smoothest water is likely your clearest path through rapids and over bedrock ledges. Canoes and kayaks can also be pinned between the current and a hazard if caught sideways between the two. When looking ahead, if a certain section looks too difficult for your group, stop a distance upstream and plan a route through or around the obstacle, perhaps even portaging around it. When travelling in groups, keep an eye on other group members; this will allow you to quickly help others if they do run into a potentially dangerous situation. Provide a safe distance between yourself and the paddler in front of you so they can safely navigate an obstacle. Watch other members of your group until they have safely passed obstacles. In a group with diverse paddling experience, it is helpful to have your most experienced paddlers watch out for the less experienced members of your group.

Respect Other Recreationalists—
Swimmers and people doing other recreational activities also use the river. Provide plenty of room between yourself and other river enthusiasts. In open water sections, stay out of the main lane of traffic. Canoes and kayaks require less draft and will not compete for space in the shallower areas of water. Allow motorized boats to pass you instead of crossing in front of a vessel that is likely less maneuverable than you. Also wear bright-colored clothing to make yourself more visible if you become separated from your vessel.

If you are paddling on a river influenced by tides make sure to look at the tide chart when planning your trip so as to avoid having to paddle against a fast moving current (link: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/map).

High Water Conditions
To avoid paddling in dangerous high water conditions make sure to check the water level on the section you plan to paddle (link: https://waterwatch.usgs.gov/index.php?m=flood&r=ga&w=map). If there is a dam located on the river you are paddling make sure to find out any information about water release schedules or the presence of dangerous low head dams (link: https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.americancanoe.org/resource/resmgr/sei-educational_resources/brochure_low_head_dam.pdf).

Strainers are places where water can pass but you cannot, such as submerged trees, bridge pilings, and some rock ledges. In some rivers, utility pipes may cross the river and become a strainer depending on the water depth. Be on the lookout for strainers; getting caught in a strainer can be deadly. It is best to approach submerged trees or logs along the river bank from the downstream side to avoid having the current pin your boat against the obstacle or flipped by the force of the water. You should also avoid grabbing on to low hanging branches of partially submerged vegetation as this action can often cause your boat to capsize. To avoid a multi-boat pile up, leave enough room between boats to allow each boat to safely navigate around these obstacles.  Low-head dams: Even a very short low-head dam creates dangerous hydraulics that can become deadly. Beware of paddling near low-head dams. Water Visibility: After a rain, Georgia rivers get muddy and seeing obstacles and avoiding them can be more difficult. So exercise caution and be sure to wear your PFDs when the river is muddy.

Strong thunderstorms and high winds are not uncommon on summer afternoons in Georgia. In the event of inclement weather that includes the risk of lightning, paddle to shore, secure your boat and find cover under a dense stand of small trees. Avoid open areas, especially open areas with solitary trees, and avoid gathering in large groups. By dispersing yourselves over a large area, you reduce the risk of lightning striking numerous individuals at one time. Squatting, with your feet on a personal flotation devise or seat cushion, is a good idea when in the midst of a thunderstorm (while on solid ground—not in your boat!).

Sun and Heat—
Hats and appropriate sun screen are recommended. If you get too hot, the river comes with built in air conditioning – get in and cool off. Each individual should carry at least three quarts of water to avoid dehydration which can lead to hyperthermia. Hyperthermia, is when a person has an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body to deal with the heat coming from the environment. Heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are commonly known forms of hyperthermia (link: https://www.nih.gov/news/health/jun2012/nia-27.htm). Sports drinks with electrolytes are also recommended.

Water Temperature—
The combination of cold water and a cold afternoon thunderstorm raises the risk of dangerous changes in body temperature which can lead to Hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition in which the body's core temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and body functions. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making a person unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it. Warnings signs of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, memory loss, slurred speech, confusion, fumbling hands, and/or drowsiness. Be prepared with rain gear and layered clothing that stays warm even when wet (avoid cotton). Find more information HERE.

Water Quality—
Due to a variety of conditions, water quality can vary throughout the State and organisms that cause illness may be present. Swimming and submersion in the water increase the risk of contracting water-borne illnesses. Ingesting river water should be avoided and cuts and sores should be kept out of the water and treated if exposed.

We all enjoy seeing wildlife and must remember that we are sharing its environment. For example, there are several species of venomous snakes within Georgia, so be observant when making stops along the river. If you encounter any snakes, simply leave them alone. Should you have the misfortune of being bitten, remain calm and get medical assistance as quickly as possible. Bites from these venomous snakes are rarely fatal, given proper medical attention.  


Check the weather before you leave. When the weather is cooler, wear quick drying clothes and take layers. Avoid wearing cotton. Staying dry and warm makes a trip a lot more fun when it is cold outside. Check the water levels within the river before you head out.  Higher water typically means the river will be muddy and flows might make paddling difficult. Low water can create more obstacles to maneuver within the river.

Let someone know where you are going and when you will likely be home. Be prepared to stay out longer than you expect. Unexpected water conditions or taking a more leisurely float might make your trip longer than you thought. The following is a good list of items to have on any paddling trip.

Checklist of Items to Take:
• PFDs
• Sunscreen
• Sunglasses / hat
• Water
• Food
• Appropriate clothing
• First aid kit with matches
• Waterproof bag / pouch for cell phone and other items.
• Flashlight
• Bailer
• Small repair kit including duct tape
• Compass / GPS and map
• Spare paddle
• Safety whistle

What Do I Do if I Capsize?

On slow moving water, stay with your boat and swim it to shore or shallow water where you can dump the water and right your vessel. It floats even when full with water and can support you if you become tired. Make sure your belongings are secured to your boat to keep from losing them in the event of a capsize. Other boats should be around to assist in recovering any belongings and help you right your boat.

In fast-moving water or rapids, get away and upstream from your boat until you reach slower moving water. Float on your back, feet downstream.  Don't try to stand in fast-moving water.  Rocks or other objects can trap your feet and the force of the water can hold you under. Moving canoes filled with water can pin or crush paddlers against rocks or trees.