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

Water trails provide a variety of economic benefits at the state and local level.
  • Compared to other forms of recreational amenities, water trails are inexpensive to develop due to their limited needs for land and significant infrastructure.
  • Many communities can create a water trail simply by using existing public boat ramps and by building new river access points on existing public land.
  • Water trails create significant new opportunities for local revenue generation through tourism, patronage of local businesses including retail, dining & 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”, promoted by amenities such as water trails, is clean, environmentally friendly, and boosts economic development.
Measure the Economic Impact of Your Paddling Events:
To measure the economic impact of a paddling event, river advocates can use the Georgia Department of Economic Development's Event Impact Calculator. The tool is designed to be simple and flexible. Basic parameters of an event are translated into a full economic impact analysis, which includes:

■ 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 generated for the event, and users can save, recall, or aggregate events.

For more information, check out the EIC User Manual when using the Event Impact Calculator. You can also access these resources HERE.
Resources Highlighting the Economic Benefits of Water Trails, Paddle Sports and Outdoor Recreation:
Data demonstrating the economic benefits of water trails are extremely important when working to gain the support of the community and local officials. Find helpful resources below or check out the GA Water Trails homepage for quick national and statewide statistics on outdoor recreation and watersports.
Budget for the Consolidated Government of Columbus, GA that includes the impact of the city's whitewater park on the Chattahoochee River.
Finance Department of Columbus, GA Consolidated Government. (2018). "Columbus, Georgia Fiscal Year 2018 Operating Budget." Web. Retrieved from https://www.columbusga.org/finance/Financial_Planning/Budget-Book-FY18.pdf
Impact of National Park visitors on local economies that includes the impact of Cumberland Island National Seashore and Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Cullinane Thomas, C. & Koontz, L. (2017). "2016 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States, and the Nation." Fort Collins Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey, Envrionmental Quality Division of the National Park Service. Web. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/nature/customcf/NPS_Data_Visualization/docs/2016_VSE.pdf
Article about 2016 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects Report with a focus on the Chattahoochee River NRA and an interview with Bill Cox.
National Park Service. (2017). "Tourism to Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Creates $166.6 Million In Economic Benefits." Web. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/chat/learn/news/tourism-impact-2017.htm
Regional and national overview of the impact of outdoor recreation on the economy, including water sports.
Outdoor Industry Association. (2017). "The Outdoor Recreation Economy." Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/OIA_RecEconomy_FINAL_Single.pdf
Statewide overview of the impact of outdoor recreation on the economy, including water sports.
Outdoor Industry Association. (2017). "The Outdoor Recreation Economy - Georgia." Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/OIA_RecEcoState_GA.pdf
Outline of a framework of opportunity for the Chattahoochee River Corridor from Peachtree Creak downstream to Chattahoochee Bend State Park.
Report detailing the economic impact of establishing a whitewater park on the Kennebec River in Skowhegan, Maine.
O'Hara, F., Young, K., & Cannon, K. (2016). "Economic Impact of the Proposed Run of River Whitewater Park in Skowhegan, Maine." Planning Decisions, Inc., Hallowell, & Main Street Skowhegan. Web. Retrieved from http://visitskowhegan.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ROR_Economic-Impact-Study_Sept.22_v2_KMC_Proofed.pdf
A compilation report of a vast number of environmental studies combined into a concise interpretation of the future of Outdoor Recreation.
Lee-Ashley, M., Moser, C., & Madowitz, M. (2015). "The Government Should Begin to Measure America's Powerful Outdoor Economy." Center for American Progress. Web. Retrieved from https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/OutdoorRec-brief2.pdf
A detailed look at participation in kayaking, canoeing, rafting and stand-up paddling based on 2014 data collected annually by the Outdoor Foundation.
Outdoor Foundation & The Coleman Company, Inc. (2015). "2015 Special Report on Paddlesports." Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2015-Paddlesports-Research.pdf
Report summarizies findings from existing studies, which provide examples of the economic impact of water trails in their respective communities, in order to provide a resource for communities considering developing a water trail.
Warren, N. (2015). "An Economic Argument for Water Trails." River Management Society. Web. Retrieved from http://www.river-management.org/assets/WaterTrails/economic%20argument%20for%20water%20trails.pdf
A collection of various studies conducted over the years that vary in goal; the results of these studies are laid out in easy to read charts.
American Whitewater. (2014). "The Economic Impacts of River Recreation." Web. Retrieved from http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Wiki/stewardship:recreation_economics:recreation_economics
Presentation of the plan for the Chattahoochee Valley Blueway given by Debra Edelson at the Water Economics Conference at Troy University Sept. 23, 2014. Good overview for a community interested in what the process looks like for developing a water trail.
Edelson, D. A. (2014). "Chattahoochee Valley Blueway." PowerPoint. The Trust for Public Land. Web. Retrieved from https://www.troy.edu/phenixcity/assets/documents/cwre/2014-presentations/Edelson-Debra.pdf
Report of outdoor recreation participation based on an online survey of more than 40,000 Americans ages 6 and older and covers 114 different outdoor activities.
Outdoor Foundation. (2014). "Outdoor Participation Report 2014." Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2014-OutdoorRecreationParticipationReport1.pdf
A compilation of fishing and hunting data collected by the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation.
Congressional Sportsmen Foundation. (2012). "America's Sporting Heritage: Fueling the American Economy." Web. Retrieved from http://congressionalsportsmen.org/uploads/page/EIR%20final%20low-res.pdf
A study on the economic impact of 4 water trails located in the same region of Pennsylvania.
ICF Macro, Inc. (2012). "2012 Pennsylvania Recreational Water Trails Economic Impact Study: A Four-Trail Case Study." Web. Retrieved from http://pecpa.org/wp-content/uploads/Water-Trails-Economic-Impact-Study.pdf
Regional and national overview of the impact of outdoor recreation on the economy, including water sports.
Outdoor Industry Association. (2012). "The Outdoor Recreation Economy." Web. Retrieved from https://outdoorindustry.org/pdf/OIA_OutdoorRecEconomyReport2012.pdf
An economic impact estimation of the Chattahoochee Valley Blueway.
Blair, B. F. (2012). "The Economic Impact of the Proposed Chattahoochee Valley Blueway Project." For the Trust for Public Land by the Butler Center for Business and Economic Research, Turner College of Business, Columbus State University. Web. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/WaterTrails/Toolbox/DownloadFile/190
A summarization and collection of various water economic studies
Edmonds, K. (2011). "Economic Benefits of Water Trails." Georgia River Network.
A follow-up study on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, this study examined very narrow and specific stretches of the trail to monitor their impact on the area.
Pollock, N., Backler, P., Williams, K., & Mack, K. (2011). "Northern Forest Canoe Trail: Trails and Economic Development Report." Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Web. Retrieved from http://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org/media/NFCT_Trail_and_Economic_Development_Report_Final_For_Web.pdf
A study to determine the economic impact of the Savannah River, in a 5 county wide section, during the 2010 fiscal year.
Noah, J. C., Porca, S., Grewal, H. S., Edington, K., Medcalfe, S., & Millies, M. C. (2011). "The Economic Impact of the Savannah River Site on Five Adjacent Counties in South Carolina and Georgia." The O'Connell Center at the University of South Carolina - Aiken. Web. Retrieved from http://www.srscro.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/SRS-Economic-Impact-Study-Tech-Report-5-2011-2.pdf
Comprehensive profile of Iowa's outdoor recreational resources, the current levels of participation, and the economic impact associated with those outdoor recreation activities.
Otto, D.,Tylka, K., & Erickson, S. (2011). "Economic Value of Outdoor Recreation Activities in Iowa." Department of Economics, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Center for Agriculatural and Rural Development, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University. Commissioned by the Nature Conservancy with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Web. Retrieved from https://www.card.iastate.edu/research/resource-and-environmental/items/DNR-AmenityRevised_9-25-12.pdf
Guide for professionals to do economic impact studies that measure the economic return residents receive on park and recreation department investments.
Crompton, J. L. (2010). "Measuring the Economic Impact of Park and Recreation Services." National Recreation and Park Association. Web. Retrieved from https://www.nrpa.org/uploadedFiles/nrpa.org/Publications_and_Research/Research/Papers/Crompton-Research-Paper.pdf
An examination of paddling trends by participation from 2006-2008; this includes regional, economic, age, ethnicity, and education trends.
Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Foundation. (2009). "A Special Report on Paddle Sports."
The results and implications of an economic questionnaire presented to North Carolina paddlers.
Beedle, J. (2008). "2008 Paddle Tourism Study." North Carolina State Trails Program. Web. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/WaterTrails/Toolbox/DownloadFile/129

1. The Outdoor Industry Association. (2017). “The Outdoor Recreation Economy.” pg1; pg 18.https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/OIA_RecEconomy_FINAL_Single.pdf 

2. The Outdoor Industry Association. (2012). “The Outdoor Recreation Economy Report.”pg 1; pg 17. https://outdoorindustry.org/pdf/OIA_OutdoorRecEconomyReport2012.pdf 

3. Discover Georgia Outdoors - Tourism Impact Brochure. Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

4. Outdoor Industry Association. (2002). “Outdoor Recreation Participation & Spending Study: A State-by-State Perspective.” pg. 14. https://www.outdoorindustry.org

5. Outdoor Foundation, “Special Report on Fishing and Boating.” (2012). pg 44. https://www.outdoorfoundation.org/pdf/ResearchFishing2012.pdf

6. The Outdoor Industry Association. (2017). "The Outdoor Recreation Economy - Georgia." https://outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/OIA_RecEcoState_GA.pdf 

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)
Ochlockonee River Water 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.