The Flint River begins in the bustling city of Atlanta where steel and concrete reign and ends in the wide open expanse of Lake Seminole where moss-draped cypress and alligators line the shore.
For Joe Cook, it is the changing array of natural features on this 344-mile river that sets it apart from any other water passage in Georgia.
“From top to bottom, I don’t think there is another river in the state that is as interesting as the Flint,” Cook said.
Cook, who works for the Coosa River Basin Initiative and coordinates the Georgia River Network’s annual Paddle Georgia events, has written the “Flint River User’s Guide” recently released by the University of Georgia Press. He has written three other river guides for the Broad, Etowah and Chattahoochee rivers.
Cook is a seasoned paddler with experience on Georgia’s major waterways.
“I haven’t traveled every river in Georgia, but I’ve paddled most of them,” said Cook, who explored the length of the Flint for his research.
Georgia has been embroiled at times in a controversy with Florida over the withdrawal of water from the river.
“So much of the Flint’s flow is diverted and used to irrigate crops. It creates some serious tension between the states,” he said. “The state has over allocated the Flint and gave too many permits to pump water from the Flint.”
Much of the river is scenic, including the view paddlers see in the Pine Mountain area.
“The river is wide and you have open vistas and a breathtaking view of Pine Mountain. There is nothing like it in Georgia,” he said.
When the river passes the Fall Line, which runs from Augusta to Columbus, and enters south Georgia many people have impressions that the river becomes slow moving and lined with cypress. But on the Flint there are still rocky shoals and the high limestone bluffs.
“Once you get below Lake Blackshear is where you really see it,” he said. “You’ll have these bluffs on either side of the river covered in these beautiful maidenhair ferns and other plants.” Often springs cascade down the bluff giving the view an exotic appeal.
“There are numerous springs between Albany and Bainbridge that are absolutely breathtaking,” he said.
Paddlers going south across the Fall Line may also chance a sighting of the river’s largest predator, the alligator.
“There are a lot in Lake Blackshear,” he said. The largest alligators ever harvested during a hunt in Georgia were in Blackshear and Lake Seminole — both were over 13-feet-long.
Fishing is popular on the river and especially in the middle section, where anglers cast for shoal bass, known for their willingness to fight the fishing line.
The User’s Guide is also filled with points of interests.
Besides it natural beauty, Cook includes reams of information on history. Along the route people will pass a spot where President Franklin Roosevelt fished, the birthplace of Malcom X’s father, a bridge named for Korean War hero Luther Story, and a former German prisoner of war camp, which is now the location of a beer brewery.
“I hope the book tells the story of the region and our state. I hope it’s more than just a guide to river,” said Cook, who is currently working on a guide for the Oconee River due for release in 2018.
For people who would like to view a southern section of the Flint River, Paddle Georgia is hosting a 56-mile float from Oct. 7-9. Registration will open soon, Cook said.
“It’s a good three-day float that is a great introduction to the lower Flint. It’s unlike any other coastal plain river in Georgia. It’s not at all what people expect when they go,” the river explorer said.
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