Oconee River Basin

The Oconee River's headwaters are in the Piedmont of Hall County in northeast Georgia. The Oconee itself is formed at the confluence of the Middle Oconee and North Oconee rivers just south of Athens.

Major tributaries of the the Oconee include the Mulberry River, the Apalachee River, the Little River (of Putnam County), Murder Creek, Commissioner's Creek and Buffalo Creek.

Between Athens and Milledgeville are two major reservoirs created by dams on the Oconee River: Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair. Running through Milledgeville just below Lake Sinclair, the Oconee crosses the Fall Line and enters a broad floodplain swamp in Georgia's Coastal Plain. Further south the river passes through Dublin, continuing southward to meet the Ocmulgee River and form the Altamaha River.

Natural History

The Oconee River system is home to...

...Altamaha Shiner...

...Oconee Burrowing Crayfish

...It was in the Oconee River near Ball's Ferry in 1991 that scientists re-discovered a species of sucker fish known as the Robust Redhorse....


River History

Like Georgia's other rivers, the Oconee is home to Native American mounds and the remains of settlements in its floodplain and along its banks. However, the Oconee River valley is also home to two unique rock effigy mounds in Putnam County: Rock Eagle near Eatonton and Rock Hawk near Lake Oconee.

In the late 18th century, Native Americans of the Creek Confederacy fought with white Georgia settlers over possession of the Oconee valley, and the river itself was for a time the border between the young state of Georgia -- and, in fact, the United States of America -- and Creek Indian land.

Ball's Ferry on the Oconee near Toomsboro was the site of a Civil War skirmish over control of the Central of Georgia railroad crossing of the river.

Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, water power in the Oconee River system drove grist mills and textile mills that helped drive the region's cotton-growing economy. With mill villages dotting the branches of the river in Athens, that city became known as "the Manchester of the South" for its intensive textile manufacturing. At the mill village of Scull Shoals, however, in what's now the Oconee National Forest, a town based on river power did not last: a combination of damaging floods and heavy siltation from cleared farmlands destroyed Scull Shoals' mill power and the town of Scull Shoals itself.

River Resources

The Oconee and its tributaries provide drinking water to (and receive wastewater from) cities and towns throughout the basin, with the largest municipal water withdrawals and discharges being in Athens.

Hydropower dams in the river basin are at Tallassee Shoals on the Middle Oconee River, High Shoals on the Apalachee River, Barnett Shoals on the main stem of the Oconee, and Wallace Dam and Sinclair Dam on the Oconee River at Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair, respectively. Georgia Power Co. has operated Plant Harllee Branch, a coal-fired electric power plant, on Lake Sinclair for many years.

Just below the Fall Line in Washington and Wilkinson counties, the Oconee runs through the heart of Georgia's kaolin clay-mining belt.

Threats Facing the River

The Oconee River system is one of many in Georgia under increased pressure for water supply both for drinking water and for energy generation. In the upper Oconee basin, rivers tend to be relatively small, while population density has grown significantly in recent decades. Proposals for new electric power generating stations could place high demands on the river system for water supply also.

In the summer of 2010, a tributary of the North Oconee River known as Trail Creek was severely polluted following a fire at a chemical plant in Athens. In one of the largest chemical spills in state history, life in Trail Creek was destroyed throughout the stream for more than 4 miles to its confluence with the North Oconee River. The incident revealed the need for better emergency response procedures at both the state and local level.

River Recreation

Throughout the Coastal Plain and in the Oconee National Forest area of the Piedmont, the Oconee is popular with fishermen and hunters of turkey, deer, hogs and waterfowl. Birdwatching hotspots include the State Botanical Garden of Georgia on the Middle Oconee River in Athens, Dyar's Pasture Waterfowl Area in the backwaters of Lake Oconee, and Beaverdam Wildlife Management Area in Laurens County north of Dublin. Paddling outfitters serve the Oconee in Athens, Milledgeville and the "Forks" area where the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers form the Altamaha.

Georgia River Network's Paddle Georgia trip journeyed down the Oconee River in June of 2011. Learn more about Paddle Georgia 2011 on the Oconee River here.

River Protection

Georgia River Network's directory shows the following organizations in the Oconee River basin (see below).

Learn more about Georgia river protection groups here. Click here for Georgia River Network's River Protection 101.


Altamaha Riverkeeper - Oconee River Project

Apalachee Monitoring and Education Alliance

Athens Grow Green Coalition

Central Georgia Rivers Partnership

Friends of the Apalachee

Friends of Barber Creek

Lake Oconee Water Watch

Save Lake Oconee's Waters

UGA Fisheries Society

Upper Oconee Watershed Network

Water Trail Sponsorships

About our Water Trails Project

Georgia River Network believes that getting people out on rivers is an effective way to introduce people to river issues and engage them in protecting local waterways. We view river recreation and water trails as an important gateway for additional conservation opportunities for Georgia’s rivers. We also believe that the relationships we build with communities around the development of water trails will strengthen our ability to effectively advocate for clean water protections.  Together we have accomplished a lot over the past year:

Your generous support is vital and makes such a big difference.  I hope you will consider a gift of $50 or more to support GRN and the Water Trails Project. You can give online or you can send a check to Georgia River Network at 126 South Milledge Avenue, Suite E3, Athens, GA 30605. If you give online, please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to alert us that the donation is for the water trails project. We will put your donation to good use - working with communities, river groups and businesses to develop more water trails throughout the state.

  • Georgia Water Trails Website– We officially launched the Georgia Water Trails website in February 2011 – and we are really excited!  You can look at what we created at www.gawatertrails.org.  The website is continuously updated with new information and includes a directory of all existing Georgia water trails. It also includes links to resources that allow visitors to plan a river trip and a clickable map where they can click on rivers of interest to learn where they can access the river, outfitters serving the river, and other details that they might need to plan their own trip. The site also compiles a list of resources for communities wanting to create a water trail, including economic benefits, how to plan a water trail, conservation options for water trails, design resources, funding sources and more. The Georgia Water Trails Website provides an avenue for families to plan excursions out on the river.

  • Weekend for Rivers Annual Conference– A water trails workshop and conference track were featured at the Weekend for Rivers in February, 2011 and were attended by over 40 water trail advocates.  Participants told us the sessions were really helpful for their efforts to build water trails in their communities. 

  • Water Trails Workshops- GRN has planned and organized several workshops with attendees from a variety of backgrounds.  Topics included water trails in Georgia, private property easements, river navigability laws, permitting for boat launches, launch design, and partnering with county governments. 

  • Georgia River Guide BooksGRN is partnering with the University of Georgia Press to develop a series of River Guide Books based on the information we’ve gathered on our many Paddle Georgia trips and the knowledge of our local river protection partners.  The first in the series will is the Etowah River User’s Guide, now available!  We will publish guide books for the Chattahoochee and Broad rivers next.

  • Water Trails Partnerships – GRN is working with the University of Georgia School of Environment and Design to develop partnerships for the design and development of water trails and connecting communities to their rivers in Georgia. GRN also works closely with the National Park Service to provide assistance to groups starting community water trails.

  • Water Trails Monthly E-Newsletter – GRN is now distributing monthly water trails e-newsletters to more than 500 members of Georgia’s growing water trails network.

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Let's face it: environmentalists work hard. Really hard. 

Putting heart and soul into the work is just part of the culture.  The stakes are high for people who do it because it involves something they actually care about. Plus, for a lot of people the work is made more difficult because it not only involves program work but fundraising, bookkeeping and personnel management, etc.  It leaves very little time for other things that are important and/or make life worth living:  time with family and friends, exercise, housecleaning, doing nothing, and time spent on the river you’re working so hard to protect!

Below are some resources that can help you identify burnout in yourself, your coworkers and even your friends and family members, if that's why you're here.


Discover Georgia’s Rivers -Paddle 12 Rivers in 2012

In 2012, Georgia River Network encouraged paddlers to celebrate Georgia’s rivers – from wild places to urban waterways – by visiting 12 rivers throughout the year.  Georgia’s rivers offer a variety of experiences including family friendly afternoon paddles, riverside hikes, exciting whitewater and blackwater experiences.  We want everyone to get out and enjoy them! Over 60 people took on the challenge. Although not everyone completed 12 rivers, everyone made a valiant effort and got out and enjoyed Georgia's rivers.

We are extremely proud of our finishers and especially those who went above and beyond. One of those 'overachievers' was Gerry Cowart who was not only the first to finish the challenge, but he went on to paddle 24 rivers in total by the end of 2012. Another avid paddler who ultimately paddled 20 rivers was Glen Smith, who went on a total of 50+ paddle trips during the year. 

Every paddler has their own unique experience when out on the water, which is why we asked challengers to submit their photos and stories. We loved following Mary Siceloff and Liz Williams' blog about two close friends doing the challenge together. It was a true delight to hear about Suzi Parron's strong passion for paddling that even a boot on her foot couldn't keep her off the river. Bobby Marie made us proud with the photos capturing the immense amount of trash he picked up, and it was inspiring to see the love bird couples Kyle & Andread Camp and Lonny & Rhonda Martin accomplishing the challenge together. Outdoor enthusiast, Patrick Phelps, persevered even when the temperatures started dropping and he was ready to move on to his other love - mountain biking. Photographer, Anne Ledbetter, captured some absolutely amazing photos on her paddling trips. We were also excited to see Aliison Hughes of GA Adopt-A-Stream share photos of her awesome adventure on both black and whitewater! And last but not least - our very own Joe Cook and April Ingle led by example and represented our Paddle GA/Georgia River Network team well when they paddled 12+ rivers each. 

So, kudos to each of the 12 in 2012 finishers! They are an inspiration to all of us here at Georiga River Network and beyond. We trust it was a fun challenge and look forward to seeing how our 13 in 2013 challenge unfolds.

To view all the participants' stories and photos, go here. To view a dedicated page consisting of the stories and photos of only the finishers, go here. They are very informative and great resources for your next paddle!

Board Notebooks

A board notebook is a tool that can ensure success for a new board member and help a seasoned board member along the way.  A board notebook incudes all the information about an organization that a a board member needs to know in order to share their enthusiasm about your organization with potential donors, public officials, their colleagues, family and friends.

What should go in a board book?

1.       Foundation Documents:  Mission/Vision of organization, Strategic Plan and any organizational history documents, if applicable.

2.       Bylaws of Organization

3.       Fundraising Documents--Fundraising Plan and list of foundations and major donors from the past 3 years or so.

4.       Board Information--can include Board Norms, information on regularity and location of board meetings, and the Board Work Plan, which includes how board can be involved in the activities of the organization--both internally and externally.

5.       Communications--sample language of how the board members can talk about the organization’s mission and the issues it is dealing with to their friends and colleagues, public officials, etc.

6.       Fundraising--basic information about how board members can fundraise, including the menu of fundraising opportunities for board members.

7.       Meeting Minutes from previous 2-3 board meetings as reference so new members can see how a meeting usually goes.

8.       Contact List of all staff and other board members.