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Covington officials support Yellow River Trail

COVINGTON — The Covington City Council gave formal support via resolution to the Yellow River Water Trail Monday night.

Tonya Bechtler with the non-profit Yellow River Water Trail presented plans for a nearly 50-mile water trail system along the Yellow River running through Newton, Rockdale, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.

The Yellow River stretches from Gwinnett County south through portions of DeKalb, Rockdale and Newton counties before entering Lake Jackson.

A 47.5 mile water trail is being established in phases, breaking the river down into day-trip sections of 5 to 6 miles, Bechtler said. One such section runs from Access Road on I-20 in Almon to Porterdale and includes two access points.

The city of Porterdale has obtained funding for a canoe/kayak launch at Yellow River Park. The Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority has also allowed access via its property off Access Road at I-20 in the Almon area. In Conyers, an access point is planned on river frontage near the Georgia International Horse Park.

Bechtler said the non-profit is seeking resolutions of support from all cities and counties that include tributaries of the Yellow River. In Covington’s case, that’s Dried Indian Creek.

Bechtler said water trails bring economic benefits, such as increasing tourism and spending; increasing profits of existing businesses such as restaurants, outfitters and lodging; encouraging new business development to support the trail, as well as festivals and events; and improving the tax base.

According to a 2012 Georgia Visitor Information Center Survey of 6,500 tourists, nearly 21 percent said outdoor recreation was a main interest. More than 54 percent said visiting historic sites was a primary area of interest. Newton County could leverage its Civil War history with outdoor recreation opportunities for a huge tourism effort, Bechtler said.

Bechtler also presented data from Longwoods International Travel, which conducts the largest ongoing study of the nation’s business and leisure travel, stating that nearly 56 million people made overnight trips to Georgia in 2011.

The percentage of those participating in boating, fishing and rafting was about 23 percent, representing about $1.4 billion in spending. If camping is added to that, the percentage of participating overnight guests rises to 33 percent, and spending increases to nearly $2 billion.

Bechtler said Porterdale officials are looking to promote camping, adding yurts along the river. Teri Haler, Porterdale’s new downtown manager, has said she’s focusing on “glamping,” or camping done in a more luxurious setting versus pitching a tent in the woods. She envisions having replica box cars to serve as cabins for campers.

Bechtler said the Yellow River is clean and safe to swim in, but, “There is a litter problem. There is a human trash problem.” Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful holds the Great American Cleanup and Rivers Alive once a year, but that’s not enough, she said.

“We’ve got to do monthly cleanups,” she said, adding that on recent cleanups, volunteers pulled Styrofoam, drums, tires and lots of plastic from the water. Upstream from Newton, 5,000 tons of trash was pulled out of the Yellow River. So the Yellow River Water Trail group has education and volunteer programs to clean the waterway and prevent future littering.

The non-profit Yellow River Water Trail, founded in 2012, exists to preserve the Yellow River and support land uses that maintain water quality, rural scenic character, sensitive natural and historic areas and wildlife habitat. The group also conducts clean-up events and tests the water for contamination, as well as reaching out to the public through school partnerships and the Adopt-A-Stream program.