Five
days after running the Towaliga, I returned to the lower Piedmont, to
run the Little River. It arises south of Social Circle and joins the
Oconee in Lake Sinclair SW of Eatonton. Two descriptions of this
river had come to my eye, the sketchy 1980 rundown in Sehlinger and
Otey’s Northern Georgia Canoeing (improved recently in the Welander
revision), and a more detailed account done by Reece Turrentine for
the old Browns Guide, later collected by Cherokee Publishing in 1986.

There
is also a brief account by Will Reeves of the final three miles of
the Little on the American Whitewater website. I’m describing a
different section, about 8 miles, from the USFS put-in at the “296”
bridge (AKA Glades Road) near the Big Indian Creek junction, down to
the Hwy 16 bridge west of Eatonton.

Weather
was breezy and cool when we found the putin, a drive-down at the NE
corner of the bridge. The Little here has just emerged from miles of
swampy land which help to stabilize the flow. I slid the Synergy down
the bank and pushed off, while Ellie drove to Eatonton to hunt for
signs of Alice Walker, Flannery O’Connor, and Uncle Remus.

Though
the area was hilly, the brown current cut smoothly between high clay
banks and river bottom forest. Big Indian Creek came in from the
left, not quite runnable but adding a good deal of water. The Little
was still narrow enough to be blocked by deadfalls. One required a
short portage, the current being too brisk for parking against the
log for a lift over.

The
river bottom lasted for about a mile, until a low ridge appeared on
the right, marked by a buried oil pipeline. The river zigzagged
sharply, and spilled south over a fast, wavy chute. There were rock
outcrops on the right, and signs of camping. Both sides of the river
in this section, down to the next bridge, are owned by the USFS.

Though
the hills drew closer, the Little resumed its river bottom character
for another mile. Then there was another zigzag kink, the stream
shoaling over a broken ledge with a twisting chute near the right
bank. River bottom resumed for half a mile, ending in a sharp turn
east, another kink SW, and another rapid. Three rapids in three
miles, signs of old faults, par for the Piedmont. The river ran
south, the forested hills close on both sides.

Martins
Mill Road crosses at about the five mile mark. This is the end of the
USFS canoe trail marked on the Oconee National Forest map. There I
found two shoals which were easy to slip through at the day’s
generous water level. Beyond this point, the USFS no longer owns the
right bank. However, after a couple of private cabins, I saw no more
cabins, and not even any recent logging, for the next couple of
miles.

There
were no rapids for a while, either. The Little was broad and smooth,
the hills drew back, and the forest tended to river bottom again. The
winds had noticed me, and were wheeling to make problems. I chugged
steadily down the flats, enjoying the isolation.

The
Little turned SE for a mile, ran into the end of a ridge, and hinted
at a riffle. Rocks were appearing again, and pines on the upslope.
Weyerhauser triangles marked trees near the right bank. The north
side remained in USFS hands. Weyerhauser will probably cut once more,
and then sell their river land for development, unless the USFS can
trade an outlying tract for it.

I
knew from the map that I was nearing some more concentrated rapids.
The stream turned south between the hills, and a broad, sloping
series of broken ledges appeared. The water spread so thin that I
stuck in one place; the best route might have been tending right of
center where the chutes were deepest.

The
Little smoothed and approached a striking series of granite outcrops
on the right bank that forced the river aside. When it turned back
SE, I saw the county pumping station on the left bank, and facing me,
one of those big, wide, piedmont mill-dam rapids.

The
day’s good water was still not much when spread across almost an
eighth of a mile of granite. With the “helpful” wind
urging me on, I paddled across the top of the rapid to choose a
course. The chutes at the top were shallow, not well aligned, and
cluttered by the remains of the old mill dam. In the distance, the
rapids necked down into better-defined chutes.

I
picked a spot near the center and started zigzagging down, using
small eddies along the way. The best choices tended right. After
skootching down over trash rocks, I got a brief respite before the
next drop. Then came another short break, and a rough sloping ledge
with the best chute near the right bank.

A
dog, from a house opposite the pumping station, had been running down
the bank, barking and inviting me to just try and land to bail, but I
had not taken much water. I peered back upstream behind a large
island which had split away about a quarter of the stream on the left
side. No run there. The river narrowed, the rapids got small, and
Glady Creek entered on the left. Like Big Indian Creek, Glady is a
large tributary, but it looked too trashy to be runnable.

Turrentine
wrote that the pumping station can remove a significant amount of
water here. He made his run at a painfully low level, when pumping
might have made a difference. I had a much better water level, and
could not detect any diminution.

In
the final mile, I passed giant brick columns which once supported a
railroad trestle. Turrentine wrote that a portage could be needed
over the remains of the trestle, but at this water level, I did not
see any ironwork at all. Maybe it has been cleared out by the river
since Turrentine’s run back in 1981.

The
take-out is on a sand and gravel bar on the left bank just upstream
of the Hwy 16 bridge. There is a rough car track beginning at the
SE end of the bridge grade. We
were able to drive most of the way
down in our Outback, though not under the bridge due to a patch of
rocks past our ground clearance.

What
about downstream? Turrentine refers to “somewhat flat and
cluttered water for the next 2.5 miles” from the Hwy 16 bridge
down to the Glenwood Springs Road bridge. Just below that bridge is a
broken-out dam which can be run, a run out rapid, and then a mile to
Hwy 129 with a lot of sand shallows and no more rapids. Sounds like
the 8 miles I ran is the best of it.

Let’s
discuss the Little River and the Murder Creek gauges, which are
listed right next to one another on the USGS site. The Little River
gauge is 356 feet above sea level, with a 262 square mile watershed.
Murder Creek’s gauge is at 380 feet above sea level, with a 190
square mile watershed. This might give the impression that one
could
expect more water on any given day for the Little River run
I have described. But note: this is very misleading because the
Murder Creek gauge is right at the usual put-in, while the Little
River gauge is near Hwy 16, at the take-out below the mill dam
rapids. For Murder Creek, what you see (on the gauge) is what you
get, while on the Little River, one of the biggest creek tributaries,
Glady Creek, does not enter until after the steepest rapids. This
means that you should not regard the Little River as being “bigger”
than Murder Creek.

So,
if you go after either of these runs, I recommend at least 200 for a
Murder Creek run, with 250 better; and at least 250 for the Little
River, about what I had that March day. Or you could just go to
Eatonton and dig Uncle Remus.

by
Gary DeBacher
March
18, 2005.

From
The Eddy Line, Sept. 2006