Sept. 3 near Dalton, Georgia--Heavy thunderstorms threatened today’s paddle. After considering my options, I decided to leave the majority of my gear in my truck, swap the canoe for a kayak, and brave the impending storms for 14 miles. I could not be more pleased with the decision.
A light rain fell as I began the trip, and I thought I might escape serious downpours. I was wrong. Just 10 minutes into the paddle, the rain kicked up and stayed.
Initially, it was difficult to make my way while being pelted with cold rain, but the struggles came with rewards. In the midst of the storm, I encountered a great blue heron. They are among the river’s most common and--with wingspans of six feet--largest water birds. Usually, great blue herons are easily spooked, never allowing a boat to get too close, but this bird was peculiar. It always waited until I was right beside it before flying away. It had the choice of fleeing either upstream or downstream, but always chose downstream. If the giant bird didn’t mind the rain, I wasn’t going to let it bother me. So, I followed the bird into the storm, and I was grateful I did.
Paddling through the wet landscape was wonderful experience. The constant rain on open water was a feast for the senses. The moisture awakened smells of decaying logs and fresh rain. The dense fog forced me to adjust to low visibility. The noise of rain drops smacking the water and riverside trees blocked out the noise of the human world; it was just me and the river. Soaked and chilled to the bone, I found that my lackluster energy bars never tasted as good.
But paddling in this downpour also revealed in dramatic fashion the leading cause of pollution in our rivers. As I saw the water gushing into the river from creeks, ditches and drainage structures, I was reminded that with each storm event, pollutants are washed off our ever-urbanizing landscape. The water that rushes off roads, parking lots, sidewalks and buildings courses directly to our streams and rivers. It is not absorbed into the ground like rain that hits forests and grasslands. Instead, it speeds across these hard surfaces and carries with it everything from oil to plastic bottles.
As I paddled downstream, at that very moment upstream in Dalton street gutters and storm drains were gathering this polluted stew and sending it via creeks to my paddling path.
We can help prevent this storm water runoff with practices that slow the water down and allow it to soak into the ground or be utilized within our urban landscapes. For instant, porous pavements and alternative parking areas made of gravel or grass accomplish this. “Green roofs” in which plants and grasses are actually grown on roof tops also reduce stormwater run off and have the added benefit of providing additional insulation. Likewise, modern rain cisterns collect the runoff allowing the water to be stored for later use in irrigating lawns and gardens.
The rain ceased about a mile from my endpoint. Shortly after the rain stopped, my heron guide flew back upstream—its mission done.
Amos will speak at The Depot in Calhoun Thursday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. He’ll show off photos from his trip, including many not yet published. On Sept. 9, Amos will lead a 10-mile paddle on the Oostanaula River to discover some of the river’s freshwater mussel species. This free trip is open to the public and canoe and kayaks are available. Donations to support CRBI are accepted. Interested parties can learn more at www.coosa.org and make a donation to support Amos’ Odyssey and CRBI’s education efforts.