By Burt Kornegay
Georgia is one of the biggest and best-watered states in the East, with rivers that range from the whitewater of the Chattooga in its mountainous north to the blackwater of the Suwannee River flowing languidly across the sandy coastal plain in its south.
So it’s not surprising that a state blessed with such a variety of waterways has two paddling guidebooks. One, by Johnny Molloy, 2nd ed., 2009, titled Paddling Georgia: A Guide to the State's Best Paddling Routes, is part of the well-known Falcon series. It contains descriptions of 38 day trips in the state.
Molloy is an old hand at writing guidebooks, and he begins each entry in this one with a box of quick facts about the section of river it covers, including length, difficulty, and minimum runnable level. That's followed by access directions, a map, and a detailed description of the segment. One of the features of the book I particularly like is that every entry ends with a focus on some special trait of the river, such as a rare plant that grows along it, an unusual geologic feature, or an historical event that took place there.
Molloy's guide is clear and informative. It's also limited in scope, confining itself to descriptions of short outings. A more accurate title would be Paddling Select Day Trips in Georgia, because, though the book gives a taste of what the state has to offer, a taste is all it gives.
Molloy's book is a good choice for the paddler who wants to get out for a day of adventure on Georgia waterways a few times a year.
The second guidebook, Canoeing & Kayaking Georgia ($12.32 on Menasharidge.com), is by Suzanne Welander and Bob Sehlinger, 2015, in the Menasha Ridge guidebook series. About the only thing it has in common with Molloy's book is that both are 2nd editions. Whereas Molloy highlights three dozen short runs, Welander, the principal author of her book, gives a comprehensive view of Georgia in all its watery glory.
A comparison of the contents of the two books is telling. Welander's includes 84 rivers, forks, creeks, swamps, and bays; Molloy's, 34. Welander covers over 3,000 miles of paddling; Molloy may crack 300. Here's what this means when we turn to specific examples. One of Georgia's longest free-flowing rivers is the Ogeechee: Molloy describes paddling 7.5 miles of it; Welander, 179.3 miles. Similarly, Molloy covers 7.4 miles of the beautiful coastal-plain river the Ohoopee; Welander, 58.8. And in the mountains, Molloy offers us Section II of the Chattooga, whereas Welander dishes up the whole enchilada: Sections 00, 0, I, II, III, and IV, plus the West Fork.
Welander starts each entry with an overview which gives the reader a sense of the entire river in its unique beauty. She then moves to specific descriptions of its various sections. She also provides a map, gives road directions to the topmost put-in and the bottommost take-out, along with GPS Coordinates for the accesses that are midway. Some of the entries end with a short essay written by others about that particular river or about some aspect of paddling in Georgia.
Though Welander's book covers 10 times as many river miles as Molloy's, this isn't to say that all is perfect in comprehensive heaven. Whereas a strength of Molloy's book is that its author has probably scouted and paddled every route he describes, Welander's book gives me the impression that she has not. Many of the entries include text taken from the original 1980 guidebooks by Sehlinger and Otey, Northern and Southern Georgia Canoeing, which Welander acknowledges, as well as information given her by other boaters she names and thanks.
As a result, some river details that I think would (and should) have found their way into her book, if the author had actually been there, are absent. To give one instance: Welander mentions a hazard on the Ohoopee by taking a sentence out of one of the 1980 guides—"a dam that must be portaged above the GA 56 bridge outside Reidsville." As someone planning to canoe the river, I'd like for her to tell me whether the dam is 5' tall or 25', which side to portage, if it's a simple pull-around or a half-mile carry with a cyclone fence to cross.
Here's another lack of specificity. Though her river maps are clearly drawn and informative, often the black dots on them that indicate accesses near bridges are simply placed smack dab in the middle of the river. When this happens, the dots do tell us if the access is upstream or downstream of the bridge. But they don't indicate if it's on river left or right. A small omission like this could be fixed easily and would be very helpful to the boater.
In short, when it comes to guidebooks, it's good to be comprehensive, as Welander strives to be, but it's better to be personally comprehensive. It may seem like a lot to ask of a guidebook writer, that she paddle all 3000+ river miles given in her book—but it's not too much. We only need look to the neighboring Carolinas to see that such coverage can be done. Paul Ferguson's Paddling Eastern North Carolina and Canoe Kayak South Carolina detail more than 5000 miles of waterways in the 2 states. And Ferguson has paddled them all.
I bring this up not to slam Welander but to encourage her. And I'm so glad to have her book. She comes across as a boater who is excited about flowing water. When she describes the Ochlockonee River, in the southwest corner of Georgia, she follows it until the river reaches the state boundary with Florida—but she doesn't stop there. Instead, she continues to tell us about the Ochlockonee to its natural end, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Welander is pointed in the right direction. She's got the right heart. And for the boater who wants to learn about the wealth of Georgia's waterways, hers is the book to buy.
—Read more about classic paddling rivers in Georgia on CanoeKayak.com
—Read about 2015 Paddle Georgia Week on CanoeKayak.com