Etowah River–E. Cherokee to Canton

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When I was in Boy Scouts, I remember a meeting at Lake Greenwood in South Carolina where we were to try out kayaks.  We received the expected safety lecture after which, gee, we had time each take the kayak about 100’ turn it around and head back so everyone could get a turn.  I remember being frustrated and fearful of flipping but liking it.  Later, we would have a canoe trip that due to heavy rainfall prior, resulted in us steering the canoes over every planned river portage, past our overnight camping site and to the end of our run in the first day.  Fun.

Since then, I’ve taken some rafting trips – which are exciting but essentially an amusement ride as the guides have the knowledge and do the work, and we’ve taken to renting kayaks, usually while on vacation.  And, probably like most people, I always have a curiosity about seeing a river when passing over a bridge.  It’s not a calling to nature, just a peaceful scene of far more interest and variation compared with, for example, pine trees along interstates and back roads.  Anyway, the interest led to desire which led to, finally the purchase of kayaks for my wife and I.  Idle conversation with other kayak owners consistently suggested that once bought, they’re frequently used.  We’ll see, but over three weekends, I’ve used mine three times.

The next step is figuring out where I might go, taking into consideration the logistics of reuniting the kayak and the car.  An iPhone App called “Launch Sites” is helpful, and there are many internet sites to review as well, to the point where it seems non-profit organizations are tripping over themselves to claim particular rivers as their enviro-causes.  The result is that by making it easier for people to use the rivers, the reach of their work and numbers of supporters expand.  For now, though proximity/convenience win, so the Coosa River Basin Initiative (CRBI) becomes of interest, an organization that among other things is helping the development of a 160-mile long Etowah River Water Trail.  And they hold monthly events through much of the year – aka guided tours.  First up for me was the trip from East Cherokee Drive, south of Ball Ground, GA to a new launch spot in Canton, GA.  Though perhaps 6 miles apart as a car drives, this was a 13 mile kayaking trip, about 5 miles further than I’ve kayaked or canoed.  It begins in the upper right of the picture below and finishes roughly midway between the two red stars in the lower left of the map below.

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The rain forecast having improved from unenticing to perfect, I left the house to reach the boat launch by 9:00 a.m… amid a rain storm.   CRBI encourages boat launch development wherever they can, including this site, which is a short dirt (mud when raining) road that quickly leads to an area where kayaks can be off-loaded from the vehicle, then dragged or carried down a 10’ incline to a serviceable landing area.  My first lesson learned was to always bring a rain jacket.  Fortunately, one of the other two people there had an extra poncho that I could borrow.  Then I drove my car to the newly established Etowah River Park in Canton (with a formal boat launch and paved ramp for which CRBI fought) for the return trip via a van ($10) with the other drivers at 9:30.   At 10:00 came the obligatory signature of a waiver, requirement to wear a life jacket, and a brief introduction to river hazards.

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The rain, which held off patiently during the briefing, returned to greet us in full as we hit the river.

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The river is a better indicator of how heavy the rain was… Very quickly, we passed Blankenship Sand Company, which has equipment to withdraw sand, presumably, from the river.  I would have taken pictures, but, hey, it was raining.  The picture above is fairly representative of the river – flat and tree lined.  The lack of development along the banks was surprising.

With nothing, therefore, of photo interest, I found a small creek just prior to where we stopped for lunch, at the third black circle in the diagram below.  Perhaps 80’ into this creek was a train trestle, which is an active line.  I have to wonder about the ongoing inspections.

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Another beam was lying on the ground, but the supports seemed in decent repair, regardless of the detached or fallen pieces.  In any case, the trip back out of the creek was more picturesque.  (That’s poison ivy on the left, kids).

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Around the corner we find people gathered for lunch.  There wasn’t much of a sandbar with the higher water, so I opted to park on a slanted rock with my new river buddies.

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First up is Tom, Lender of Ponchos in Raging Storms, and also the group “sweeper.”  His role is to stay at the back and make certain that no one gets lost or left behind.  This particular stretch of river didn’t have any significant detours, but for ~25 people, we stretched out quite a bit, each to his or her own pace.

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And then there was Jonathon, a retired machinist, I think, whose company my wife would enjoy.  He’s sporting his new hat which was not as waterproof as he had hoped.  He keeps a good pace, enjoys spotting invasive plant species, calling out the names of birds heard in the trees, detouring to remove trash where practical, and correcting me when I point to a couple of distant circling birds and say “buzzards” with “No, hawks.”   In any case, he’s taken many of the CRBI trips and is good river company.

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The group included very few people familiar with each other, though a good number knew the guide.  The group was roughly split between people older and younger than me.  It included couples, some with kids, women with and without friends (one who was particularly bored with the lack of rapids), and unaccompanied men like myself.  In short, people enjoy the outdoors and who were consistently approachable and friendly.  After a 20 minute break, we resume, eventually coming across this guy who had caught a couple catfish and was happy to show them off.

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Sound carries on the river, whether from conversation on a kayak far ahead or elsewhere.  So, we were greeted with river music well before we discovered this house, blasting out music over their lawn.  This was, I think, one of three houses that had observable views of the river, none very closely.  I suspect that the area floods regularly.

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My wife had another obligation and was otherwise not keen on such a lengthy trip.  Very reasonably, sitting in a kayak for hours does become stifling.  So this trip served to observe and report back for future trips.  This section of the river had surprisingly little “action.”  The biggest was a large sandbar on a turn of the river with an accompanying tree overhand.  This is where our guide decided to stop for our final pit stop, thus pulling aside at the only spot where the river narrowed and had an observably fun current.  A few of the kids swam the spot repeatedly, of course.  Still, the lengths between breaks were appropriate to stretch legs and grab a snack.  Aside from the sandwiches I ate for lunch, this last minute purchase hit the spot:

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Joe Cook was our guide and also the author of “Etowah River User’s Guide.”  He’s as conversant about the river as he is area High School sports rivalries.  He had judged correctly that we would miss the Cherokee fishing weirs which are wedge shaped stone formations in the river, that were used to gather and trap fish.  These were marked by the black spirals on the map earlier.  I saw one as I quickly passed over it, the water level being too high to see them outright.

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At our break area, he pulled out a seine, had people kick at the rocks and caught various insect nymphs that were then swept into the screen. 

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Aside from any academic learning from discerning a dragonfly nymph from another invertebrate, the point is that if you’re fishing, here’s your bait:

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There may have been five rental kayaks which Joe provided, but otherwise people brought a wide variety (sit on top, cockpit), whether intended for quick turns (whitewater) or faster glides through lakes, .  Mine isn’t perfect for any specific end use, but it’s serviceable at most – light rapids, slow moving water or lakes.  It’s aptly termed “recreational” rather than “touring” or something more specific.  It has a flatter bottom than many (great stability at the cost of speed – which means more paddling as well) and has a retractable “skag” at the rear which would be a rudder if could turn.  When deployed, it helps keep the kayak straight by resisting the kayak’s tendency to turn left or right against the force created when one paddles.  This isn’t an issue for boats longer than 10.5’.  The trip helped get me get comfortable with turning the boat in a current without the skag to avoid obstacles should there be a need later.  The endurance test also confirmed it has a very comfortable seat.

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From this point, it was only a couple miles to the end.  The “paddle” was scheduled from 10-5.  We hit the water around 10:15 and pulled out at 3:45, somewhat faster than planned.  The current helped, but no one was paddling fast.  Sometimes, it’s okay just to float and enjoy. 

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I’ll be booking more of these.

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