Kayaking Little River

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Who wouldn't want to kayak this?  It's right in the heart of suburban Atlanta, and you wouldn't know it.  And better, it's right in my backyard.

John, my neighbor, and I are one of the very few with houses with proximity to Little River.  The above shows a wide creek, perhaps.  And in a summer drought, it's a much slimmer one.  But when it rains, thanks in part to upstream development, Little River rages, exceeding it's 4'-5' banks up to another 10'.  So, development is limited because it's a flood plain, except the few of us with a significant elevation.  

But flooding isn't that frequent, and the river is just there to be enjoyed.  And go where?  Well, west to Rope Mill Park, where many launch their kayaks, canoes, paddle boards to continue west, at that point, in a much wider and deeper Little River, helpfully maintained by the government and flood controlled as it empties into Lake Allatoona. It's perfect for those who want a safe, predictable paddle.  From where we live, though it's a 6.5 mile trip through relatively undiscovered river, a distance that in good conditions should be a pleasant 2.5 hour paddle...

...if the river was clear.  It's not, so, with County permission, my neighbor and a friend canoed a portion with a chainsaw, freeing some obstructions before wedging a saw and exhausting themselves removing it.  Still, progress was made, and my neighbor's determined spirit hadn't yielded.

He and I went a week or so afterwards and finished the job, which took about 7 hours.  Understand that no one, to our knowledge, has used this river, so the natural obstacles have been in place many, many years.  And in two trips, plus another trimming run he made, it was passable for kayaks and canoes - not clear, because we didn't remove much, but just opened up holes.

Why isn't Little River at least attempted regularly?  Well, it could be, and we might not be aware.  But given the blockages, there was no indication anyone has tried, at least without porting around.  Also, the river is not particularly accessible. There are three bridges that cross over it, but there is no parking or launch facility, and the inclines to the river are steep and overgrown.  As mentioned, there's only several houses with lots that touch the river, though there are some subdivisions where people could make their way - and they do, as evidenced by occasional home made steps for swimming holes. 

Below is the only picture I have from our first trip.  John is waist deep on the right side just after we liberated an opening.  Prior to that, it was a dense blockage, further made into a "yucky" job by about 20' of upstream creek "foam," which included sticks, boards, plastic bottles, basketballs, beach balls, and other waste.   You'll note to the left that it's not just one tree - it's a bunch of them, plus whatever else found its way into the clutches, such as ladders and bamboo that someone cuts upstream.  Further, water doesn't just flow over or around a blockage; it flows underneath, so a quite workable depth of 1' - 2' of water tends to drop off to 5' deep as you approach the log.  With a chainsaw.  With ample caution, we did it.

You can click on any picture to expand it.

And then the summer drought hit, and it was almost too shallow to paddle.  My neighbor took his family successfully shortly after we completed it, and I tried with my wife a couple weeks later only to get grounded regularly.  We packed her back to the house, and I carried on, determined to enjoy the hard work put into it.   That turned into a four hour trip, with additional work as the lower water brought obstacles that we were able to pass over previously.  My neighbor had discovered the KatanaBoy saw (which I refer to as a Ginsu knife), and it had worked so well above and below water that I had bought one and brought it with me.  Good thing. 

Some of the work we completed:

Why chainsaws are a big help

Before:  A zigzag that was likely to push us against a tree if we didn't zag correctly.

After:  Clear sailing straight through.  An easy job compared to most.
Why we keep at it.  Clear stretches that promise much, including future work based on tree angles.

No before picture, but we got this.

Again:  Why we do it.

Before: A tree pretty well lodged in at and below the water line.  You can see a floating ball in the distance - we had to clear a lot of accumulated sticks, plastics, and limbs to even get to work on the tree.

After: Much better.  Not hard work, but it takes time.

Before:  The kind of stuff that environmentalists complain about.  Point conceded.

After:  A major rehab.
A word about bamboo.  At the heart of several of the blockages lie one or two bamboo poles.  I think they grow at a golf course upstream and get trimmed to prevent a scourge upon the land.  Still, bamboo is fairly incredible.  Hard and somewhat flexible, it's the perfect beaver tool to start building a dam.  They just stick and begin to catch stuff.  That said, they're also helpful for leveraging other logs or limbs that are stuck into the river as well as punching openings for accumulated debris to pass through the initial blockage.  I'd rather it not be there.

KatanaBoy and bamboo - a killer combo

You can see where we tried to cut through the log to the left with the Katanaboy saws.  This was surprisingly hard pine.  John came around with a chainsaw to top off the right side of it on his trimming trip.

You can see how shallow the river became.  KatanaBoy came to the rescue shortly after this. 
All of that was 2018.  So, with low water levels, the river laid in wait for 2019.  It was an extremely wet winter, with the river flooding far beyond its banks on four occasions - this usually happens once a year if at all.  What does that mean for our project?

That's a lot of water.  Still, in early April, a friend of friend was said to have put in a little downstream at a water treatment easement and completed the trip to the end in 2.5 hours.  Perfect!

John wanted to try a kayak instead of his canoe, so he used my wife's, and off we went a couple of weeks later. 

Beautiful isn't it?
Until suddenly it isn't.  That's a wall of tree stuff.  We're motivated, though, with our KatanaBoy saws handy.  We park the kayaks and off to work we go.

Before:  Ugh.  But it's a fun kind of Ugh.  We've been here before and can do it again.

Problem solved
It's not a perfect solution, because clearly new stuff will come down the river and get caught, but we make a mental note for a future chain saw clear out project.  This took a good bit of time, but it wasn't a big deal.  

We're on our way again.  Sunny.  Looking good!

Well, (**** censored)!!!!  And this isn't that far from the last one.  No way some dude made this trip in 2.5 hours.  Of course, the rumor didn't mention whether it was smooth sailing or porting over or around things.  You'll note the trees on the left have more than a little lean.  They're propped up by trees on the right side.  We pushed the kayaks over, noting this as another chain saw project, likely including significantly more work if the other two trees fall, as they surely will. 

We press on.  One thing has held true.  If you see floating balls in the distance, there's a blockage.  In this case... just wow.  This isn't at a curve in the river.  That's just a wall of trouble.  Frankly, it's discouraging.  This will be chain saw project #3 and a major one at that.    

We ended up cutting a tunnel on the rights.    

So, how much does it flood?  Well,  here's a good indication on the back side of the above.  See the horizontal trunk?  There you go. Imagine the force of the water against the exposed roots along the river banks, and you get an idea of why this will continue to be a work in progress.

Well, whatever. We're making progress. Right?  Oh.  What's that?  There were smaller blockages that were still too much to work with our hand saws, with added bonuses of poison ivy vines.  We're flummoxed at this point, because the number of obstacles and the time it will take exceed what we did the past year.   We also hadn't really planned for a lengthy trip, and brought only one bottle of water each.  Never again on this river.  In any case, we're frustrated.  But we're nearing the end, we think, because we've been counting bridges, and we're tired.  

Hey, what's that ahead?  Just awesome.  Another flipping problem.    

The water is flowing pretty well here, so we draw up short to explore before finding ourselves pinned against the tree, and there doesn't appear to be a good place to park closer than the below.  

At this point, we pulled out, and for the first time had to hike our kayaks and gear a few hundred yards, as there was actually another major blockage after this one.  Joyous!  In any case, we're about done, physically and spiritually.  

And then there's this.  This is from the downstream side - we pushed our kayaks over the top and took a chilly dip underneath.  "Whatever."  Again, too big for our handsaws.  The bridge, by the way, is no longer used by trains and isn't even walkable at this point.  It's just one of those scenic things that surprise you on rivers.  

We're technically in Rope Mill Park at this point, and we didn't encounter any other issues the remainder of the way, thankfully.  At this point, we're resigned that the challenges are too difficult for now.  Some of the cuts appear hazardous for the way logs etc. may shift, and it's hampered because there are very few places to do a day's work and then pull out for a helper to pick us and our gear up.  The banks generally are very steep, and wherever a road crosses, poison ivy seems to have taken firm hold.  

That said, things are not hopeless.  The blue square below marks acreage recently purchased by the City of Woodstock, and they've publicly commented on citizen input for a kayak/canoe launch from that point... which would be marvelous.

We're optimistic, because over half of the river to the west has a parallel "rough" access trail from which the City could deploy equipment to cut the logs and even pull large sections out - where the worst of our problems lie.  The first two miles from where we began certainly were not trouble free, but if the City steps in, that opens up a real possibility where we can not just "do the trip" but be fairly confident taking our families and others without a fear of taking them outside their comfort zones, and significant chores for us. 

Until then, though... it's still a pretty river to view from the deck, or to sit in with a beer.

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