By: Bill Sapp (Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center, Atlanta)
Growing up in the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York, where canoe and kayak races are held almost every weekend during the paddling season, I was surprised to find when I moved to Georgia that despite over 71,000 miles of lakes, rivers, and streams, Georgia had few flatwater races. In fact, when my
initial search for races came up completely dry, I resolved to try to start a race.
I called the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and found that to my delight they had been kicking around the idea of having an event on the river themselves. Together we started planning the race.
It was not long before we had partners in our planning. The City of Roswell and the National Park Service both liked the idea and were willing to support the effort. Eight months later, on June 7, 2003, we had the first Back to the Chattahoochee Race and Festival. Despite the pouring rain at the race start and some “technical difficulties” during the event, the race was billed a success.
In helping to organize the Back to the Chattahoochee Race, I also learned of other existing races in Georgia–the Canoochee River Race and the Coosa River Basin Initiative Canoe-a-thon and Race. These races were organized by environmental groups with the purpose of getting people out on the water, much like the Back to the Chattahoochee Race.
Once, we had “discovered” each other, Chandra Brown of the Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper and Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative agreed that it made sense to combine our publicity efforts and issue a joint flier announcing the races. It also made sense to provide an incentive for racers to race in all the races.
And so, the Georgia Flatwater Point Series was born. The more races a paddler participated in, the more points they could earn towards the series title. All the races benefited by the joint promotion and the added points incentive. We awarded the first series trophies at the Back to the Chattahoochee Race in June of 2004.
The following year, 2005, we added the Suwannee River Challenge, the Hooch Crawl on the Chattahoochee, the Lula Bridge Trophy Race at Lake Lanier, and the Chattahoochee Challenge. Although all the races went well, two of the races did not survive to the following year and one pulled out of the series. The series had experienced its first growing pains.
In 2006, the Georgia Flatwater Series included the original three races plus the Lula Bridge Trophy Race. Again the races all increased in size with the Back to the Chattahoochee attracting over 300 paddlers.
It was then that I realized that it was time to turn over the reigns to someone with more time and energy to dedicate to the running the series. Larry Castillo, a GCA member and long time C1 racer, stepped forward to accept the responsibility of helping the series grow.
Larry has also picked up the mantle of the race director of the Back to the Chattahoochee Race and thereby will be in a good position to add some consistency to series overall. Already he has done a great job in getting the word out about all the races.
Over the next few years, it is my hope that Larry and others can increase the size of the series to about ten races. It is also my hope that the series itself can attract a corporate sponsor that can provide seed money for new races and awards for the overall series. And, it is my hope that both seasoned paddlers and recreational paddlers will continue to be drawn to these races not only for the spirit of competition, but also to enjoy the wonderful waters we have in Georgia.
The reason I went to the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper with the idea of putting on the first race was that I knew that if the UCR organized the race, it would have an environmental protection aspect to it. And sure enough it does. At the end of the race there is a festival about protection of the river. Many of the other races have such elements. I hope that future races will be able to support environmental festivals as well.