What do you do when you are in a one hundred year drought, most of your favorite whitewater rivers are dried up, but you just have to paddle? You take the stream less traveled, in this case a gem that former GCA members Dick and Barbara Turner told me about 25 years ago but I had never paddled, ‘til this day.
We had a warm, mostly sunny day for our trip on the Etowah in northeastern Cherokee County. We put in at Yellow Creek Rd., the first bridge in Cherokee County, just downstream of the confluence with Settingdown Creek (access point M in Northern Georgia Canoeing; between access points K & L in Suzanne Welander’s recent revision, A Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to Georgia). We had a rather gray-haired but most congenial crew of eleven: Jean Brown and Katie O’Neill in ayaks; tandem open teams of Dave Bolton & Rose Jordan and Buddy Goolsby and Lamar Phillips; and Will Gregory, Robert Harris, Larry Mauldin, Dan MacIntyre, and me in solo opens.
When we put in at 11:15 a.m. the USGS Etowah gauge near Canton registered 228 cfs, an all-time low for this date. (The previous low, in 1942, was 326 cfs.) I had poled and paddled the 12 miles of the river immediately upstream, downstream of Kelly Bridge, in November at 160 and 190 cfs and had no trouble getting through, other than having to haul over one low downed tree. These low flows enhanced the run for me. In addition to making poling upstream easier, the water was very clear and some fun Class I shoals which normally are washed out were exposed.
The same was true this day, though an inch of rain in the headwaters four days earlier had left the water just a little turbid. Nevertheless the river bed was usually clearly visible and we saw a large number of good-sized fish. And we had a tailwind!
The first half of our trip, down to Hwy. 372, was particularly scenic, as there were no houses along the river, the banks were heavily wooded and there were frequent small shoals, two of which extended for a quarter of a mile or more. In fact, this 5.7 mile stretch has more shoals than are found upstream between our put-in and the Tunnel, almost 35 miles. We enjoyed a leisurely and scenic lunch on some sunny rocks at the bottom of the second long shoal, which was rather challenging to navigate without getting hung up. Jean spoiled us with a large, scrumptious batch of freshly baked brownies, which disappeared quickly.
Jean, Buddy, Lamar, Robert and Larry decided to take out at Hwy. 372, where there is good access and some offroad parking for the McGraw Ford Wildlife Management Area, which extends along the river about two miles upstream and downstream of that point. The rest of us paddled 5.6 miles more to East Cherokee Drive bridge, where there is good access on river right but where we had to park along the shoulders of this fairly busy road.
This second section is mostly flat with occasional small Class I ripples, but we saw a lot of water birds and very little development until near the end, when we encountered three or four houses and two large industrial structures geared to pump water from the river. We took out at 4:00 p.m., paddling the 11.3 miles, plus lunch, in 4 hours and 45 minutes.
All and all we had a wonderful, serene trip, one particularly suited to the low water and our need to work off the turkey fat. Should I return to this section of the Etowah, and I certainly hope to, I would probably run the somewhat more scenic eleven miles from Old Federal Road to Hwy. 372 (Welander’s K to L).
by Roger Nott
From The Eddy Line, January 2008