A boatload of fun!
By Wesley Hendley
From the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the salt marshes of the coastal region, we Georgians are fortunate to have forty-nine state parks from which to choose for a visit. With such geographic diversity, there’s something for every outdoor enthusiast to enjoy. But there’s no other park quite like the one we in Emanuel County have right in our back yard, George L. Smith II State Park. Much like many other parks, this one has facilities for camping or cabin stays, a group shelter for special events, picnicking, a playground, hiking trails, and fishing. But just ask your favorite internet search engine, “Where are the best places in Georgia for kayaking?” and you’ll find its 412-acre cypress-filled mill pond listed among the top paddling venues in the state. Often described as a “hidden jewel,” the park is considered a bucket-list-worthy destination for this growing pastime. Thanks to Google and the reach of social media, visitors from around the country and all over the world are finding their way to what was once our own little secret treasure.
Kayaking is a wonderful mixture of exercise and relaxation. While you work just about every muscle in your upper body, your mind forgets about all the worries of daily life as you soak in the beautiful scenery and discover a variety of wildlife. It may require a bit of skill and physicality to paddle in the moving water of a river or ocean current, but the calm water of the mill pond is suitable for novice kayakers young and old. And those with physical limitations can still participate and enjoy by sharing a tandem two-seat kayak with another paddler.
If you already have your own kayak, bring it to the park and explore some of the ten miles of marked paddling trails. All you’ll need is a $5 daily park pass. Or if you’re a frequent visitor, consider purchasing an annual pass or Friends of Georgia State Parks membership. If you don’t have a kayak, another option would be to rent one from the state park. Better yet, schedule a guided tour with Mill Pond Kayak. Founded in 2009 by Twin City resident Wesley Hendley, Mill Pond Kayak provides you with the kayaks, paddles, and PFD life vests and takes you on a three-hour tour through the cypress trees. He’ll offer basic instructions for first-time paddlers, and he even takes photographs which are sent to you afterward at no extra cost! You’ll learn about the history and ecology of the pond and park as well as points of interest about the animal and plant life you’ll see along the way. Have you ever tasted an Ogeechee Lime?
Every season on the mill pond has its own distinctive look. In the spring, pond cypress trees don their fresh green needles which then turn orange in the fall. Late October through mid-November is the most popular time of year for the many shutterbugs who come to capture its photogenic splendor. But the needles eventually shed for the winter and their tannin stains the water dark brown, resulting in beautiful reflections on the mirror-like surface. Other variables such as water level, weather conditions, and lighting depending on the time of day make every visit different. Plus, you never know what sort of wildlife you’ll encounter, including many species of birds and reptiles. In the treetops, there’s a heron rookery and a couple of osprey nests, and you may even find yourself sitting up in a cypress tree posing for a unique photo. You’ll also get to try your hand at “pinball paddling” through a particularly challenging group of trees. And on a warm day, two words: water fight!
With ten single kayaks and five tandems, Mill Pond Kayak conducts tours for small groups or large. As the group size increases, the individual cost goes down. Youth group discounts are offered for schools or churches, ball teams, 4-H clubs, and scout troops. It’s also great for company or church picnics, birthday parties, mystery dates, pre-wedding outings, and team-building exercises. Reservations are required, and tours are conducted Monday through Saturday any time during daylight hours and Sundays after lunch. You can check for availability and pricing by visiting the website, www.millpondkayak.com, or send a message to Mill Pond Kayak’s Facebook page or Instagram account. Or just call or text (478) 299-6616. Give it a try, make some memories… it’s a boatload of fun!