As my kayak slipped smoothly through the water, the only sound was the soft, rhythmic dip, dip, dip of the feathered paddle blade.

The flotilla of 67 paddlers in colorful kayaks and canoes had spread out along the six-mile stretch of the South Fork of the Edisto River between Zig Zag Landing and our take-out point.

I was between groups on a wide-open stretch with no one in sight. It was just the river and me.

If you have ever paddled or rowed a boat of any sort along a river, you know that each river has its own personality; a personality that changes with the seasons, with the water level, with the passing of each storm that topples trees and may even alter the river’s course.

For me, being on the water is only part of the draw. To be in the midst of such a diversity of flora and fauna, floating with the lily pads, brushing by the cypress knees and being on the lookout for a great blue heron all add to the journey. You can’t help but be in the moment.

Signing up for the Bamberg County Chamber of Commerce’s first Edisto River Trip of the season was the perfect way to get on the river without having the hassle of shuttling two vehicles between the launch site and the takeout. By preregistering with BCCC’s Jerry Bell, paddlers like myself reserved a spot and were able to take advantage of the generosity of volunteers who provide a shuttle service.

You might think that traveling down a section of the longest free-flowing blackwater river in the United States with 66 other people would be loud, crowded and crazy, but the reverse was true. I think it had to do with respect – respect for nature, the possibility of sneaking up on wildlife, and respect for fellow paddlers who might want a little space to think.

I asked Bell to tell me a little bit about how the river trips began. This Sunday afternoon’s excursion was the first of the 2017 season, leaving six more before the year is out.

“Back in 2013, the South Fork was identified as an under-utilized tourist attraction in Bamberg County at the Chamber’s monthly Bamberg County Mayors Meeting,” Bell said. “A number of volunteers helped to clear trees from the river, from Bobcat Landing to Brabham Landing. We had our first trip in November 2013 with 10 paddlers showing up and paddling that six-mile section.”

In 2014, a total of 60 paddlers took advantage of five scheduled trips, and in 2015, a sixth trip was added and 140 paddled that season. The next year, 2016, saw the turnout nearly double.

“I also keep up with how many paddlers volunteered to clean up the river, and we had 31 last year,” Bell said. “The volunteers remove as many limbs and trees as possible, but just enough to get a canoe or kayak through. Many times, due to the size of the tree or depth of the water, we are unable to clear a passage, so a portage would be necessary.”

Bell said the chamber has a trash pickup before each monthly paddle at the put-in and take-out landings. These are usually on the Friday before the trip. Volunteers can contact Bell by email at info@bambergcountychamber.org or by phone at 803-245-4427 or 803-300-1972. There is also a need for local sponsors or more volunteers who can show up to shuttle.

Before you sign up to go on one of the chamber’s trips, you may want to learn a bit more about the Edisto River. The 250-mile-long river flows through 10 South Carolina counties until it empties into the ocean at Edisto Beach. The watershed area where the Edisto is joined by the Ashepoo and Combahee rivers is called the ACE Basin and is among the largest and most important natural areas remaining on the East Coast, according to www.sciway.net.

The Friends of the Edisto, or FRED, has been instrumental in bringing attention to the uniqueness of the Edisto River. The organization's mission is to protect and enhance the natural and cultural character and resources of the Edisto River Basin through conservation and responsible use. Its web page, http://www.edistofriends.org/, includes interesting information about the river, a map of river access sites, a calendar of events and other information and resources. FRED, a non-profit organization, is an educational and advocacy organization supporting the implementation of the recommendations from the Edisto River Basin Task Force, a public/private partnership.

The April 2 trip attracted a mix of experienced and novice paddlers. There were kids as young as 7 or 8 and folks in their 80s. While some toted their trusty ol’ aluminum canoes to the river’s edge, others like Anna Martin of Denmark slipped their lightweight kayaks out of their compact cars and into the water. Some came solo and others like Sharin Williams and her friends from Aiken County came as a group. All had their necessary gear (including a life jacket and whistle as required by law), and some were equipped with the little extras.

Lauren Bramblett of Cordova said at the end of the run that she thought she got some pretty good film with a waterproof camcorder she had mounted on her boat.

At the end of the trip, paddlers handed in their numbered poker chips (a check system to make sure everyone made it) to an Edisto River Adventures staff member, who was also helping pull boats ashore. Earl Johnston, owner of Edisto River Adventures, and his crew had volunteered for the day to help with shuttling as did several other individuals.

For those interested in joining FRED, a membership and info booth was set up. Members enjoyed FRED’s annual “Smoke on the Water,” which offered music, food and fellowship on the banks of the Edisto at the takeout.

Bell noted that each paddler accepts the fact that there is an assumption of risk when you go on the river. Several folks did take a spill on this trip, but it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

"Word-of-mouth" had already prompted several new paddlers to sign up for the next trip on May 20, Bell said.

As the season warms up, more and more people will be taking to the water. Joining one of the Chamber’s organized trips is the perfect way to enjoy the South Fork of the Edisto in good company. You’ll need to provide your own boat and gear, but you won’t have to worry about getting back to your vehicle at the end.

As the trip routes change, you’ll get to experience six different and unique sections of the river.

For more information and pictures of past South Fork of the Edisto River trips sponsored by the BCCC, go to https://www.facebook.com/Bamberg-County-Chamber-of-Commerce-101148289987507/?fref=ts. Anyone who would like to get email notifications for river events can email Bell and request to be placed on the Canoe/Kayak Email List. Requests may be sent to info@bambergcountychamber.org or lgbell@mindspring.com.

Dates for the upcoming trips are listed on the Thoroughbred Country’s Calendar at http://www.tbredcountry.org/common/content.asp?PAGE=137.

Contact the writer: 138 Nature's Trial, Bamberg, SC 29003.

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