Middle Oconee Merengue - Seaboard Railroad to Whitehall Forest
Athens, Georgia’s “Classic City” is the Mecca for college football in Georgia. When people come to visit, they think the University, football, and the city’s lively downtown. They don’t think rivers, but sandwiching the city on the east and west are the Middle Oconee and North Oconee rivers. Day 1 of Paddle Georgia explores these little noticed environs that are gaining in popularity and accessibility.
The journey begins at Big Dogs on the River’s launch site. Big Dogs is a relatively new outfitter attempting to make a go helping people enjoy the Middle Oconee. They picked a good spot for their business. Within a mile of the launch is Ben Burton Park—site of a former hydropower facility and a lively set of shoals, the most challenging whitewater of our seven day trip.
The journey continues on mostly flatwater, as the river weaves through Athens western suburbs—giving you a taste of an urban river complete with bridges, riverfront homes, sewer lines (crossing the river) and the discharge from one of Athen’s wastewater treatment facilities.
The Oconee definitely has a “lived in-or-by” feel to it here. People have lived along its shores and harnessed its power for centuries. That will become obvious when we pass by the ruins of Princeton Mill and later at the Whitehall Forest dam where we’ll finish the day.
Along the 12-mile path, we’ll have the opportunity to visit the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia as a trail leads from the river to the 300-acre treasure trove of plants. Whitehall Forest, the day’s final destination is an 840-acre tract that serves as home to the University’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
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