Newton couple to participate in Paddle Georgia

COVINGTON - Newton County couple Tommy and Connie Hollis are getting back to nature this summer, eschewing the typical rest and relaxation vacation spots to participate in the Georgia River Network's Paddle Georgia 2009.

The Hollises will paddle 92 miles in kayaks over the course of seven days along North Georgia's Coosawattee and Oostanaula rivers.

They'll launch from Ellijay on Saturday and complete their trip on June 26 in downtown Rome.

By day, the Hollises will paddle along scenic river routes. They'll set up camp at night, sleeping in tents, sometimes at local high schools and sometimes at more primitive sites.

About 300 people are participating in the kayak and canoe trip, which is fashioned after the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia.

In addition to taking in beautiful scenery and escaping from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the couple will learn about the rivers' cultural and natural histories, tour facilities and historic sites along the rivers, enjoy nightly games and entertainment, and participate in a research program to help collect chemical and biological data from the rivers.

This isn't the Hollises' first time participating in such an event: They have twice taken part in Paddle Florida.

Both are in their 60s and have long enjoyed camping and hiking.

Connie Hollis learned of Paddle Florida while researching fun and affordable activities on the Internet.

This will be the couple's first time participating in Paddle Georgia, and Connie Hollis said they're looking forward to a change in scenery and getting to know new people.

"It's really a lot of fun and it's relaxing and the rivers are gorgeous," she said.

Plus, at about $250 per person, including meals, "In this economy, it's affordable," she added.

The couple purchased kayaks with a feature that allows them to pedal or paddle, which makes the work a little easier, she said.

During Paddle Florida, they paddled up to 26 miles per day, their belongings hauled by truck to the next campsite while they were on the river.

They saw snakes, alligators, egrets, eagles and farm animals. With no cell phone coverage in many spots, they were free from distraction and could sit back and take it all in.

In addition to serving as both a relaxing and fun-filled adventure for participants, Paddle Georgia is also a fundraiser for Georgia River Network and local watershed groups, including the Coosawattee Watershed Alliance in Ellijay and the New Echota Rivers Alliance in Calhoun. The Hollises have asked family and friends to donate money for every mile they paddle.

Joe Cook, coordinator for the event, said the couple will be joined by people of all ages - in the past, the age gap has been as wide as 70 years, with toddlers and senior citizens taking part.

"We've had people come on this trip that have never paddled before and now they are lifelong paddlers," Cook said. "This is an adventure that changes people's lives."

Georgia Rivers Network is a nonprofit organization that works to ensure a clean water legacy by engaging and empowering Georgians to protect and restore rivers. For more information, visit www.garivers.org.