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Gear up, Lake Country. It’s paddle time!

April 02, 2021 - 00:00
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    Paddlers travel down to the Middle Oconee River. CONTRIBUTED
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    Several customers of Joe’s posing for a picture during a paddle trip. CONTRIBUTED

Conservationist, historian and paddle enthusiast Oconee Joe is now leading paddle tours all over the Oconee River Watershed for the 2021 spring and summer seasons. Dates and bookings are going on now.

“We can do it from a reserve date, where you call us and we book it, and we work towards that date,” Oconee Joe told the Lake Oconee News. “If the weather is feasible and the river is good, then we’ll go on that trip on that date. So, you can reserve a date, that’s one way. The other way is, when I have a free day, I will throw out there what I call a ‘pop-up paddle’ on social media.”

Joe said a ‘pop-up paddle’ basically consists of a random date that fluctuates throughout the week. It could either be a weekday or a weekend, so he said to be on the lookout for the posts. His social media handle is @OconeeJoe on both Facebook and Instagram.

“Those trips are pretty fun because you get an eclectic group of people, who are kind of unfamiliar with each other in the very beginning, but are usually pretty good friends by the time they get off the water together,” he said. “So, it’s a fun way to get out and meet folks, but also bring one or two of your buddies.”

Those are the two primary days, but Joe and his crew do host special event days.

“This is when we have something and put it on the calendar,” he said. “We will have a guest, perhaps an ornithologist, but maybe an archaeologist.”

Joe said that he and his crew run about eight to 10 different sections of the Oconee River.

“Anywhere from around the town of Athens and all the way down the stream that runs into Lake Oconee,” he said. “We have about 60 different miles that we cover. We can do a half-day, which is usually four to five hours. We can do a full day, which is usually around eight hours. But we also do multi-day trips, which is where we would be camping and paddling along the way.”

On the multi-day trips, the river is cut into sections for the adventure. Usually, the trips consist of an estimated overall paddle of 25 miles, which is split up into two days and one night.

The prices vary per section depending on the trip you take. Half-days usually run for around $100 a person, while the full-day trips cost around $125-150 per person. A multi-day trip is around $150 per day and up, depending on the run.

All trips include full-gear, boats, paddle, professional guides and shuttles to the put-in. Snacks and beverages are also included.

Oconee Joe said the two things he focuses on during an excursion are the ecology of the Piedmont river system and the history.

“We have a rich, diverse ecology and there is a lot of migratory waterfowl that move throughout the seasons,” he said. “Birds are usually high on a lot of people’s lists, particularly around Lake Oconee. We have a lot of ducks that move through, there are also eagles and osprey. Shore gulls, seagulls and even different kinds of night herons.”

He also added there are a lot of different types of marsh birds that are found along the Georgia coast and they can be seen along the northern part of the lake. There is also abundant plant life to observe along the river.

“Obviously, depending on the season, different types of plants are blooming,” he said. “In the springtime, everything is starting to come out. From a blooming standpoint, we have the wild azaleas and many more.”

There is also a chance to see the different types of insects, reptiles and fish.

A brief history lesson is also given on whatever part of the river you travel. The most interesting seems to be the history behind Scull Shoals, which is located off Macedonia Rd. in Greene County’s Oconee National Forest.

“We really try to cover it all, depending on what we come across,” he said. “Every time we go out, nature is always changing. So, what you saw one day, you may not see the next day.”

The best way to get in touch with Oconee Joe is through his website at https://www.oconeejoe. com. You can also contact him by phone at (706) 614-8928. From either the phone number or website, he can set up a time or date to reserve for a scheduled trip.

To hear a brief history of the Oconee River System and Scull Shoals, find episode one of the podcast Hauntings of the South on SoundCloud.