Before Lake Oconee was a Lake

I found this cute article in the Athens Banner Herald about a paddling trip down the Oconee River gone awry back in the day!

Richardson: An unforgettable trip down Lake Oconee

Athens Banner-Herald

Published Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Alvin Richardson
Alvin Richardson

In 1971, Lake Oconee was just a gleam in the eye of the Georgia Power Company.
There were, however, rumors floating around that the river was on its way to semi-extinction and that a big dead lake would take its place.

The Greater Rutledge Sportsman’s Club, a loosely affiliated group of miscreants, scoundrels, reprobates and unconvicted felons (of which I was the junior member), took the news badly.

This band of brothers fancied themselves outdoorsmen, and so, for old times sake, voted to take one last rafting trip down the river.

The deciding factor in the balloting was that this was an excellent opportunity to go fishing and get drunk.

The organization and planning arm of the club was given responsibility for putting the expedition together. This assemblage of high school dropouts were renowned for their attention to detail and so it was decided five minutes after the voting was over to pile a small armada of boats, fishing equipment and sleeping bags into various vehicles and head for the river.

A mandatory stop at the local convenience store was necessary in order to procure enough beanie weenies and beer to ensure that the group would not get hungry or thirsty over the weekend.

The overall preparations were impressive (logistically speaking) and would have made a U.S. Army Quartermaster proud.

Enthusiasm was high and we were eager to begin, but we did have enough foresight to leave a car downriver.

In retrospect, that idea was not thoroughly considered because we left only my Ford Mustang at the landing and there were roughly a dozen people in our entourage, but as it turned out that didn’t really matter.

After a successful launching of the fleet, we started merrily down the serene river. I did notice that the water level was somewhat higher and muddier than normal, but thought no more about it until later.

Our objective was to reach Goat Island where we would beach our vessels and then disembark the fishing equipment, sleeping bags, food and beer in order to set up camp.

That went smoothly and fishing soon commenced along with thirst-quenching activities. Things couldn’t have been better, but there was something nagging me about our situation.

By midnight, it became obvious to me that Goat Island had shrunk. The water level of the Oconee River was rising at a brisk pace.

My cohorts were completely ignorant of this fact. They blissfully continued fishing (and drinking) and eventually fell into an alcohol-induced slumber, but I did not sleep well that night.

By morning, the river was raging and Goat Island was a pinpoint of land in a sea of white water. The members of the Greater Rutledge Sportsman’s Club awoke to this dire situation and immediately called a meeting of their emergency management branch.

That group of unflappable customers was charged with the job of formulating an evacuation plan. Two panicked minutes later, the meeting was adjourned after it was unanimously decided to begin an urgent departure procedure.

I think the words, “Let’s get the hell out of Dodge,” was the operative phrase and thus all the equipment was hastily loaded.

It became readily apparent that our small crafts were badly overloaded for this type of whitewater exercise and within moments of commencing our downriver run every boat was overturned.

Into the drink went fishing gear, sleeping bags, coolers (empty of course) and about a dozen hungover swimmers.

Significantly, all boat paddles were also lost in the maelstrom.

It was every man for himself and I vaguely recall grabbing onto an aluminum boat and hanging on for dear life. There was no reason to climb aboard because steering the vessel was impossible without paddles.

I just clung to the stern and kicked my feet in a feeble effort to control the direction, but mostly to keep my head above water.

We were several hours from the take-out point, but I can safely say that, based on the last sighting that our coolers, tackle boxes and sleeping apparel were nearly to the Atlantic Ocean.

The river rushed things along at a vigorous pace and we bounced roughly over rocks and around floating tree trunks.

Although we were half-drowned, cold and miserable there was a quiet confidence (after the initial screaming had stopped) among the Club members that we might actually make it home alive.

There were a couple more obstacles to overcome down the home stretch. A pair of oversized snakes crossed our path leading to some unseemly squealing by the brave outdoorsmen. We also had trouble identifying and getting to the landing area where my car was parked, but we fought our way through both problems.

I can honestly report to you that we did not have an experience like the guys in the movie “Deliverance.”

We did not encounter perverted hillbillies nor did anyone get shot by a stray arrow. There were no broken bones and we did not have to lie to the police once we returned to the bosom of civilization.

There was, however, one minor difficulty that arose after we waded to shore. My car keys were somewhere in the Oconee River and in 1971 there were no cell phones.

It was a long, embarrassing hike home.

The Greater Rutledge Sportsman’s Club was doomed in the aftermath of this debacle and never formally met again.

Goat Island is now covered by Lake Oconee, but the story lives on.

• Alvin Richardson, former head football coach at Morgan County High School, is retired and living in Buckhead. E-mail:


About Margie

Living back in my birthplace, the Lake Oconee/Greensboro area of Georgia after several years of traveling and sailing in the South Pacific. Blogging about life, business, real estate, and news. Feel free to contact me with any questions or just to say "hi!" This blog is the most popular online news source in the area reaching hundreds, sometimes thousands, of residents and visitors a day! Thanks! Margie aka Marge at Large, Coldwell Banker Lake Oconee Realty
This entry was posted in Activities, Boating, Historical, Lake Oconee. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Before Lake Oconee was a Lake

  1. Jamie says:

    The Club never met again? That’s tragic. I think an excellent follow-up article would be to gather up everyone and recreate the event (like those Civil War reenactments) on Lake Rutledge.

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