May 23–Richard Schwartz had nothing but open water around him as he paddled into New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam Park on a recent Saturday morning. The Paddlefest participant made the 10-mile trek down the Savannah River in 1 hour and 26 minutes.
Schwartz took part in the racing part of Paddlefest, but others participated for recreation, completing the event in approximately four hours. Even with his speed, Schwartz said he took time to admire the birds, turtles and fish as he kayaked.
“This is really a great way to get out on the river and get to enjoy this area,” he said. “It’s a beautiful stretch of river.”
May 12 marked the event’s 12th year, according to Savannah Riverkeeper Executive Director Tonya Bonitatibus.
“Its sole purpose is just to get people out on the water and explore new parts of the water that they don’t ordinarily spend time on,” she said.
Schwartz said he participated in previous Paddlefests, but this year’s event was a little different with a new route. Previously, participants started at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion and ended at the Savannah Riverkeeper office on Riverfront Drive. This year, 125 paddlers of all ages hopped on their paddleboards or into their canoes and kayaks and began their journey at the Savannah Riverkeeper office and made their way to the lock and dam, where lunch, drinks and music awaited them.
It’s no coincidence that the route changed as the possibility of a whitewater park looms. Savannah Riverkeeper wanted people to see the possibilities of the area.
“What would be incredible is if Paddlefest was happening and there was a whitewater center,” Bonitatibus said. “You would paddle all the way down there and you would have a really exciting ending.”
Bonitatibus said that is still a couple years away from possibly becoming a reality, but Savannah Riverkeeper communications director Elena Richards said the nonprofit wants to continue to build excitement about the entire river with events such as The Big Float on July 28. It will begin at Savannah Rapids Pavilion and will have canoeing, kayaking and tubing.