5 Ways to Explore Georgia and Help the Georgia Conservancy

Paddling through the cypress groves on the Altamaha River.
Paddling through the cypress groves on the Altamaha River. Georgia Conservancy
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Since 1967, the Georgia Conservancy has worked to advocate land conservation, protect Georgia’s coastline, and improve the state’s environment to enhance residents’ quality of life. In the four years that Georgia Conservancy has had its Land Conservation program, it has protected more than 27,000 acres of critical habitats. This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Blueprints for Successful Communities program, an initiative that has created more than 30 sustainable growth plans for communities that would impact Georgia’s natural resources in a positive way.

The Georgia Conservancy knows that one of the best ways to connect the community is to get them involved, and perhaps the most hands-on and meaningful opportunities come through the Stewardship Trips. These trips take attendees across the state to highlight Georgia’s endangered natural resources. On every trip, active adventures and service are supplemented with tasty, local grub and beverages. Sweetwater Brewery beers show up on every trip, as well as appearances by Sweetgrass Dairy local cheeses (Thomasville, Georgia), Jake’s Ice Cream (Atlanta), and Café Campesino coffee (Atlanta).

Members and non-members can attend these trips, which are broken down into three categories: Heartland Rivers of Georgia, Bucket List Adventures, Service and Stewardship Weekends, Day Trips, and Cambium Member Trips. The 2016 schedule of events was released in mid-December and registration is open. These trips are small-scale and fill up fast. Want to get involved? See which trip would be a fit for you. In January 2016, the day trips and member-exclusive trips will be released.

1. Heartland Rivers of Georgia

A drone shot of the Altamaha River.
A drone shot of the Altamaha River. Georgia Conservancy

The Heartland Rivers hold a special place in Georgia Conservancy’s trips, as these weekend paddling trips take attendees to nine of South Georgia’s rivers: Altamaha, Chattahoochee, Flint, Ochlockonee, Ocmulgee, Ogeechee, Satilla, Savannah and Yellow rivers. These rivers are often underused by paddlers and Georgians, who seek the waters around Atlanta or beyond our state for recreational paddling. There are 12 trips in this series, including a few RootsRated highlighted.

An example of what many are surprised to see on a Heartland Rivers paddle is the Altamaha River, which is known as the Little Amazon because of its vast basin and biological diversity. The watershed is home to more than 135 endangered species and plants.

2. Bucket List Adventures

One of the Bucket List Adventures is snorkeling on the Conasauga River.
One of the Bucket List Adventures is snorkeling on the Conasauga River. Alexa Lampasona

One of the most important—yet often forgotten—areas in Georgia is the coastal region’s 100 miles of seashore. In addition to protecting 2,093 acres, Georgia Conservancy leads 12 coastal trips per year to many sections of land that are normally inaccessible to the public. Many of the Bucket List Adventures take place at these spots, like Sapelo Island, Cabretta Beach, and Blackbeard Island, where attendees kayak along coastal shores, frolic on beaches, and even indulge on Sapelo Island’s famed clams.

One of “grandest” trips is The Grand, a day trip to Columbus, Georgia, to whitewater on the southern section of the Chattahoochee River. In its first year in 2015, 1,150 people showed up for the event.

Up North are some undiscovered treasures too, like snorkeling (in the mountains,  yes!) in the Conasauga River. The river is one of the most geologically diverse watersheds in the entire country, with more than 70 species of fish alone.

3. Service and Stewardship Weekends

Cleaning trails at Cumberland Island.
Cleaning trails at Cumberland Island. Georgia Conservancy

Attendees perform service work, such as clearing trails, performing maintenance on structures or buildings on the land, landscaping, or restoration. The four trips go to Cumberland Island, Ossabaw Island, Sapelo Island, and the Len Foote Hike Inn.

These trips will keep you on your feet all day and provide useful chances for savvy outdoor enthusiasts to put their skills to the test. At the Cumberland Island service trip, Georgia Conservancy worked with Cumberland Island National Seashore to improve the backcountry trail systems through trail clearing, GPS mapping, and increasing signage, all while volunteers hiked more than 8 miles through the backcountry each day.

4. Day Trips

A walk down the Atlanta Beltline.
A walk down the Atlanta Beltline. muffinn

Day Trips are hosted in and around Atlanta, making it an easy excuse to get outside and explore the hidden natural resources in the city. Ecology, botany, and history play a role in these trips, and the conservancy brings in local experts as guides. One of the newest trips in 2015 was to Sweetwater Creek State Park for a hike on the trails to the Old Manchester Mill.

Another trip to share the wonders of Atlanta’s backyard: a bike ride led by a Fernbank Museum ecologist to highlight Candler Park’s Champion Trees, the Ironwoods—a handful of only 750 in the country. The Atlanta Beltline Arboretum Tour takes attendees on one of Atlanta’s favorite pedestrian byways to learn more about its native trees.

5. Cambium Member Trips

Little St. Simon Island's Avenue of the Oaks.
Little St. Simon Island's Avenue of the Oaks. Jud McCranie

First off, become a Cambium member of Georgia Conservancy, starting at $250. You’ll get access to a handful of exclusive trips, like a stay at The Lodge at Little St. Simon’s Island , a world-renowned destination. The trip includes fly-fishing on the island and picnicking outside Frick’s Cave (on the eastern edge of Lookout Mountain),which is known as one of two gray bat caves in Georgia.

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