ABOUT THE UPPER OCONEE
The Upper Oconee Water Trail (UOWT) will include 98 river miles on the North Oconee and Middle Oconee rivers (Jackson and Athens-Clarke counties) which converge to create the Oconee river (Oconee county), and then continue into Lake Oconee (Greene and Putnam counties), formed by Wallace Dam. There are currently 6 existing public access points and a portion of the UOWT flows alongside the Oconee River Greenway and the Oconee National Forest. The scenic UOWT passes along beginner Class I and II shoals, beautiful rocky bluffs, historic textile mill ruins, wide sandbars perfect for a picnic, and miles of secluded forest. A plethora of wildlife reside here, such as kingfisher, river otter, osprey, blue heron, bald eagle, and soft shell turtle...just to name a few. The UOWT is in the development phase with support from various stakeholders including Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, Oconee Rivers Greenway Commission, Georgia River Network, Upper Oconee Watershed Network, University of Georgia - Office of Sustainability, and more.
HISTORY OF THE WATER TRAIL
The idea of developing recreational access along the North Oconee River formally began with the North Oconee River Blueway Design Charrette in 2011 involving the following partners: The University of Georgia’s (UGA) Center for Community Design and Preservation, Georgia River Network (GRN), Upper Oconee Watershed Network (UOWN), Athens‐Clarke County (ACC) Greenway Commission, Oconee River Project of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, and Students from the Paddle Georgia (a project of GRN) Summer Studio (2011).
The mission of the charrette was to determine how to better involve the public in the use, access and decision‐making process related to the North Oconee River; how to better use the river by the public, the constituent landowners and the indigenous residents (nature); how to better protect the river from institutional, governmental, residential and industrial encroachment; and how to improve and enhance use of the river while decreasing or mitigating its abuse. Over the next 2 years a few key players who were the primary energy behind increasing access (notably Ben Emanuel) relocated out of Athens, and the project lost steam. However, in 2013 Georgia River Network rekindled the fire by coordinating and facilitating meetings that brought together various stakeholders interested in both the Middle and the North Oconee rivers. List stakeholders.
In addition GRN coordinated a Hidden Gem Paddle Event in 2014 on the North Oconee and 2015 on the Middle Oconee, partnering with stakeholders as a way to generate public interest and provide an opportunity for the community to explore these resources. In addition, GRN provided intensive technical assistance for the development of the water trail for the year of 2015. This was part of GRN's Georgia Water Trail Program which provides resources, guidance, a framework and facilitation of monthly meetings. The water trail is technically housed under the recreation committee of UOWN. Recreation being a key pillar to its mission statement. UOWT’s overarching goal is to create, maintain, and promote Athens-Clarke County’s first public water trail.
The first public boat launch was constructed in 2016 at Ben Burton Park on the Middle Oconee River with $4,500 seed money from the Georgia River Network passed through UOWN to the Athens Clarke County, a generous $35,000 from the Riverview Foundation, and $2500 from the Oconee Rivers Greenway Commission for the survey. Our next goal is to locate and build a second launch point on the Middle Oconee that can then be used as a takeout point for boats. We are also working on a TSPLOST project for access along the Greenway on the North Oconee River.
The North Oconee River Blueway Design Charrette
"How to better involve the public in the use, access and decision-making process related to the North Oconee River; How to better use the river by the public, the constituent landowners and the indigenous residents (nature); and how to better protect the river from institutional/governmental, residential and industrial encroachment"
On October 27‐30th, 2011, a team of students and faculty from the College of Environment and Design partnered with Georgia River Network, local non‐profits and community participants for a charrette to generate ideas for a water trail, or “Blueway” along the North Oconee River. River advocacy groups, Greenway Commissioners, local residents and paddlers were involved in the design from the beginning to hear people’s points of view and to pursue ideas that will increase the usability of and awareness about the Oconee River. The charrette team looked at best management practices and appropriate locations for boat launches/take‐outs and a trailhead educational center that will lead the North Oconee River to be more accessible and enjoyable by the public. The recommendations and concepts developed during the design charrette are being taken into consideration by the Athens‐Clarke County Greenway Commission and local non‐ profit river advocacy groups for future planning.