Riverkeepers float the Ocmulgee

Sunday afternoon’s warm weather served as a backdrop for residents of Middle Georgia and beyond to enjoy the Ocmulgee River and preview the upgraded Amerson River Park.

A crowd that was expected to clear 200 people hopped in kayaks, canoes, inner tubes and even paddle boards to float the river as part of the Riverkeeper Rally. The goal of the rally was to acquaint people with the work of the Altamaha Riverkeepers, board member Andrea Tice said.

“That’s the point of the event, is a friendraiser,” she said.

The group “advocates for the river” along the Altamaha Rivershed, which stretches from Atlanta all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. An individual membership costs $35 per year.

“The money goes toward to work of the Riverkeeper,” Tice said.

That post is held by Jenn Hilburn, whose main office is in Darien. She also works out of a law office in Macon, and her duties range from river testing to drawing up legislation to prevent industrial pollution, all with a goal of preserving “swimmable, fishable, drinkable waters.”

The Macon branch of the Riverkeepers works with a group from lower down the river after the Ocmulgee turns into the Altamaha south of Vidalia. Both groups aim to help Hilburn sustain the waterway for future use.

“We’re two groups that are achieving the same mission on two portions of the river,” said Mark Thompson, who works with the Riverkeepers as well as NewTown Macon.

Tom Boyle of Locust Grove made the drive to Macon to participate in the afternoon float. He wanted to support the effort to keep the Ocmulgee waterway clean.

“It’s beautiful, pristine,” he said.

While many of the participants were adult outdoor enthusiasts, some were still school-age. Andrew Schieber brought his 6-year-old son, Elliot Wooley, to “experience nature” and build an appreciation for such opportunities.

“I think it’s very important to get the kids out because, otherwise, they just stay inside and stare at their iPads,” Schieber said.

Canoes and kayaks were available for rent to participants that did not bring their own.

After the completion of the float, the Riverkeepers provided barbecue and a performance by the musical group Gringo Grande. Events like Sunday’s rally serve to remind residents about a readily available natural resource, Hilburn said.

“I think it’s absolutely critical,” she said. “That water right there belongs to you and me.”

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.