RiverTrek Wrap Up, notes from the Riverkeeper

November 6, 2022

By Georgia Ackerman

This year’s 100+ mile RiverTrek kayaking trip started and ended in Bristol. You may be wondering, “How could that be?” The short answer is lightning storms. We launched our trip a day later than the planned October 12, due to severe weather warnings. Lightning, strong wind, and tents on sandbars are an unwise mix. As such, on October 13 the RiverTrek team got underway in high spirits at Bristol with some light rain and breezy conditions. We paddled strong (low flows with little current) for four glorious days from Bristol into Apalachicola. A few weeks later we returned to cover the segment from Chattahoochee to Bristol, camping across from Alum Bluff, a highlight for all. Here’s a photo album.

Thank you again to the support crew that showed up to see us off and the kind people that fed and supported us along the way. The trip simply wouldn’t happen without the reliable support crew volunteers, like David and Renea Hilton, who shuttled the boat trailer to Apalachicola. Rick Zelznak and trusty canine companion Janeway ran the safety support boat. And Harry Smith shuttled the Tallahassee area crew to the launch. We often joke, the 100+ mile paddling is the easy part. The many moving parts of logistics planning for a group is much trickier. This reminds me, thank you Doug Alderson for the loaner sunglasses, a critical piece of kayaking gear. Except for me and the misplaced eye protection, the paddlers were well packed and prepared, including newbie Angie Riviere, who leads the North Florida Outdoor Afro chapter. An experienced backpacker, Angie embraced the new challenge of kayak camping.

The paddling team of eight women and three men included John Alber, Cameron Barton, Cameron Baxley, Deb Burr, Shirley Kasser Creech, Tom Herzog, Greg Krivonak, Angie Riviere, Kim Miller, Kai Rains and me. Kai’s spouse Mark Rains, a hydrologist, joined us for the November segment and provided a geology refresher. There was also much cheer and silliness at the campfire that night with a near full moon. This makes for amusing moon-in-your-palm photo taking. Just ask Kim Miller and Shirley Kasser Creech, team photographers.

All paddlers were from Florida this year. RiverTrek alum included Ackerman, Barton, Herzog and Miller. Kim Miller and Cameron Barton paddled with the 2021 team and tag teamed on leading this year. Both did an outstanding job. RiverTrek sometimes feels like an outdoorsy reunion. For instance, I first met Tom and Katie Herzog in 2011 on my first RiverTrek, long before I was on staff at Riverkeeper. Tom’s loud laughter is infectious and puts all at ease. It also helps to wake up any late sleepers on camping trips. Though, this team proved lickety-split ready at departure time each morning, so long as they had that fresh cup of camp coffee.

Many milestones were experienced on this RiverTrek. As you know, the actual RiverTrek awareness and fundraising campaign starts many months prior to the physical journey down the Apalachicola River. For starters, our team was 80 percent female this year, a first. (We’ve had 50/50 split in past years). The RiverTrek campaign broke all previous fundraising records with over $100,000 raised to directly support Apalachicola Rivekeeper’s outreach, education, and advocacy programs. John Alber was especially skillful in his fundraising efforts, breaking all individual fundraising of a RiverTrek alum. John served as support crew in past years and was first to apply for the 2022 team. Dodie Alber, board president, has also joined the Trek for multiple years. John explained, the center point of his efforts was his passion for protecting the Apalachicola River. John compiled a list of friends and business colleagues, and then emailed them, trying his best to convey his passion. It proved positively.

Cameron Baxley and John Alber were both successful in approaching local businesses who responded favorably to the call. Cameron Baxley and Greg Krivonak hosted multiple Apalachicola events, including a superb concert and silent auction. And thank you Jenny Odom for your enthusiasm and endless creativity in this arena.

Another first this year was Greg Krivonak in his rowboat. Both from Apalachicola, you can frequently see Greg or John rowing near Scipio Creek in the morning.

New guest speakers, like historian Dale Cox, jumped in for RiverTrek 2022.  At camp in Wewahitcha, paddler Deb Burr, an administrator at DEP State Lands provided an update on future conservation land along the river corridor. And “veteran” RiverTrek biologists Pierson Hill and Michael Hill (unrelated, but a cool coincidence) again wow’ed the team at Estiffanulga with big nuggets of information on reptiles, amphibians, and fish species of the Apalachicola River. Yes, per tradition, Pierson brought several live species for interactive learning, including a pygmy rattlesnake.

There is a long and growing list of people to thank. The RiverTrek campaign has grown tremendously over the past decade and we are sincerely grateful. Each year, a fresh crew of RiverTrek volunteers rises to the challenge of getting out into their respective communities to compel friends, family and colleagues to join in the work of protection of the Apalachicola River, Floodplain, and Bay by supporting the campaign. Staff and other volunteers, especially our board of directors and RiverTrek alum, support and grow existing events each year. Businesses host and promote events. Repeat donors and new donors give generously each year. There are so many people working together to protect the connected Apalachicola River system. Again, we are grateful. Thank you!

Lastly, if you are interested in joining the 2023 RiverTrek team, watch the website for applications in February. Want to volunteer for the support team or other program? Contact RiverTrek alum and Director of Outreach and Advocacy, Cameron Baxley.  [email protected]

Georgia Ackerman is Riverkeeper and Executive Director. She began volunteering at Apalachicola Riverkeeper in 2011 and  joined the staff in 2017. She can be reached at [email protected] .

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