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Kayaks on Yellow River


It may have been the Mississippi River that Creedence Clearwater Revival and Tina Turner were referring to when they sang about “rollin’…rollin’… rollin’ on the river.”  But it’s the Yellow River in Georgia that has one person singing its praises and encouraging folks to roll on down.

The 53-mile river runs through four counties—Newton, Gwinnett, Rockdale, and DeKalb—but Porterdale in Newton is the only river town.

“Most people have grown up in Porterdale never going to the river because of its reputation,” said Tonya Bechtler, the first director of the Yellow River Water Trail, which became a nonprofit organization in 2013.  “It is a dark red river when it rains because of the high sediment. Many of us over the years thought it was just nasty.”

The tide, however, is turning. Bechtler says water testing confirms that the river is safe to be on and around. So now she’s working to get the area cleaned up so people can enjoy its beauty and recreational activities.

“It’s been a dumping ground for 30 years,” she said. “What we’re doing is getting the water quality information out to the public, engaging the community in the clean-up, and getting them out on kayaks and paddle boarding to enjoy the river. That’s our biggest focus—to get people out and active.”

An avid kayaker herself, Bechtler is confident that once people change their opinion about the river, they, too, will become both fans and friends of the river. “Once you get on the river you fall in love with it, and can’t help but want to protect and clean it,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The Water Trail recently established a membership program to help fund the revitalization initiative. “The financial support since we started taking memberships has been amazing,” she said. “This allows us to invest in marketing materials and kiosks where we have legal access.”

To date, there are five access points on the river, all located in Newton County, and more are planned. The goal is to take what is being done along the river into the other three counties.

The Porterdale Yak Club has a fleet of 15 boats, and residents also can rent boats from a local outfitter. This summer the Water Trail is partnering with the Newton County Parks and Recreation Dept. to offer a kayaking summer camp and also is offering “Mellow on the Yellow Summer Paddle Series” that will be held one Saturday a month from May through August.

“If we could introduce 500 people to the river this summer…wow, that would be awesome,” Bechtler said.

Diana St. Lifer is a professional writer with more than 25 years’ experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, a post-B.A. certificate in child advocacy, and is a certified professional life coach who specializes in teen and adolescent issues.

Newton County has only a few recreational facilities, easy access to fast food, a high poverty rate, and most children there lead a sedentary lifestyle. The Georgia Family Connection Collaborative’s goal is to create a community where nutrition, health, and fitness are actively promoted and encouraged.
Read “Newton Focuses on Overall Health of Its Residence—and Local Economy.”

Low birthweight, childhood obesity, and a literacy gap are serious threats to the well-being of Georgia’s families and children. Recognizing the impact these pressing issues have on the state’s health, safety, and ability to prosper, Georgia Family Connection Partnership has launched three initiatives dedicated to developing and implementing strategies that address these key indicators.
“Eleven Family Connection Collaboratives Team Up to Tackle Key Indicators of Child and Family Well-Being.”