A view from my kayak. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News
A view from my kayak. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Column: Paddling the Serene18 — The Dam Route

(Editor’s note: Columns often contain opinion.)

Although we don’t do it often, kayaking is something my husband and I enjoy doing together. Usually, we kayak outside of the Augusta area. On most weekends, I let work and he has home projects that get in the way of us getting outside to enjoy life.

I don’t like leaving things unfinished. I have six novels at various stages of completion on my computer that drive me nuts on a regular basis, but that’s another story for another day.

The official Serene18 Paddle Trail video

Two years ago, I set out to conquer the Serene18 Paddle Trail.

The Serene18 Paddle Trail features five different kayak routes in Columbia County, highlighting the 18 square miles of water trails at Clarks Hill Lake, the Augusta Canal and the Savannah River.

We launched at the Below Dam Recreation Area on July 5. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

There’s even a passport with information on each of the courses. After completing a route, people can get a stamp on the passport, and when they complete the passport, there’s a free T-shirt.

The Serene18 Paddle Trail concept is part of a tourism campaign by the folks at the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau to bring people to Columbia County. A 2020 commercial featuring Redford and Benny (played by Andy Colbert of Outdoor Augusta Riverside, who is also of the band, The Mason Jars, fame) as intrepid paddle trail scouts, won a national advertising award.

Two years ago, Andy was my tour guide to Stallings Island, where we met the donkeys and a goat that live there, as well as Betty’s Branch, where Outdoor Augusta Riverside is located.

A photo from my 2022 kayak trip to Stallings Island with Andy Colbert. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

I did those two paddles without my husband, but this time, Bret came along and got his own passport.

We headed to Outdoor Augusta on Friday, rented a tandem kayak, and Andy drove us over the Savannah River to Clarks Hill, South Carolina, where we put in at the Below Dam Recreation Area.

The instructions were simple enough. Paddle straight ahead. You’ll see Champions Retreat Golf Course on the right and pass under the railroad trestle. Before you reach the bridge at Furys Ferry, hang a right and you’ll be back at Betty’s Branch in a few minutes.

The passport said the route would take between two hours and 30 minutes and four hours. I had no idea how accurate that might be.

Once in the water, the reasons for the name of the paddle trail became evident.

A dragonfly joined us for part of the ride. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

It was peaceful and serene, and I felt the stress, along with the sunscreen that I’d liberally applied, melting away.

We paddled slowly; we weren’t in a race.

The only sounds were the light hum of the cicadas, the occasional screeches of the hawks flying above, and the gentle lapping of the water as the paddle’s blade cut across the glassy surface.

 We put down our paddles on several occasions. Mainly, so I could take photos. I love taking mirror image photos as the clouds reflected on the water’s surface. We watched a young deer come to the water’s edge for a drink; we also viewed the turtles sunning themselves and then slipping into the water when they realized we were there. Egrets flew low and skimmed the water’s surface. Dragonflies flitted and rested on the kayak.

 The water was much colder than I imagined it would be for 100 degrees in July. At times, a breeze would cut across giving a respite from the summer sun.

During most of the outing we saw few people – a lone kayaker once and a man in a motorboat heading toward the dam.

The second hour slipped by much faster than the first, and in no time, the railroad trestle was in view, signaling the approaching end.

We reached land in two hours and 45 minutes and got our passports stamped. Bret got the stamps for both Betty’s Branch and the dam route. Then, we sampled one of Andy’s kickin’ chicken sandwiches back at Outdoor Augusta. I got mine without the bun; the spicy chicken was wrapped in cheese and bacon.

Three stamps down; now, two to go. Augusta Canal and then the lake. But maybe we’ll wait until it gets a tad cooler to tackle the other two.

If you take the Serene18 challenge, you can get your passport stamped at Keg Creek Water Sports at Wildwood Park, Cole Watkins Kayak Tours, Outdoor Augusta at Riverside Park, Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental and the Columbia County Visitors Center. T-shirts are available at the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau office, 3300 Evans-To-Locks Rd.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for more than 35 years and is a Georgia Press Association award winner. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.

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