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LARSON: Canoe enthusiast brings water safety to mainstream

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

For David Bolton, when it came to canoeing, one thing just seemed to flow into another.

“I first paddled at summer camp when I was a Boy Scout,” Bolton said.

For the next three decades, however, even with all the time he spent on the water during his service in the Navy, canoeing just wasn’t something he could work into his life.

“I picked it back up in about 2003. I went looking for boat and a friend gave me a canoe,” Bolton said.

But he did more than just paddle along. It didn’t take long for him to get involved with Paddle Georgia, Georgia Canoeing Association, Georgia River Network, Rivers Alive and Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeepers, all volunteer organizations that help keep our rivers safe and clean.

“In my third year with Paddle Georgia, they needed safety boaters. There was enough white water they needed someone to point out the way so you don’t run over a rock or get carried away with an eddy.”

Bolton watched paddlers who had experience paddling in a lake but were clueless about paddling on a river. He even witnessed someone standing up in a canoe and climbing over her partner to escape a spider that had fallen from a tree, causing the craft to capsize. He soon got involved educating the public about water safety with guidelines.

A state law requires that personal flotation devices be on the boat, but UCR and GCA strongly suggest the PFD be worn. Other guidelines include wearing a helmet, keeping a rudimentary first aid kit on board, having a whistle attached to your PFD to blow three times if you are in trouble, and a knife on the outside of your PFD to cut yourself free if you get tangled on a tree or a rope. And of course, never paddle alone.

This longtime Gwinnett resident has also put his paddling skills to use by cleaning up rivers with UCR.

“We find pool floats, shoes, clothes, coolers, truck tires, car tires, and you’d be surprised how many tennis balls.”

If you think any of these activities might float your boat, opportunities abound for both experienced paddlers and beginners. Next Saturday, you can join in on the Summer Splash, sponsored by the National Parks Service.

The six-mile float from Morgan Falls to Power Island is a free event including live music, wildlife programs, exhibits, crafts for kids, and self-guided hikes. On Aug. 6 and 13 UCR is conducting paddle cleanups and on Aug. 20 and 27, UCR and NPS have scheduled trips for beginners and advanced paddlers to get to know the Chattahoochee River and how to paddle it in a fun and safe environment. For more information visit www.chattahoochee.org

Susan Larson is a writer who lives in Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.