COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Patrick McGlon wrapped up his first raft ride down the Chattahoochee River, giving the course a rave review.
"It was fun. Get in, swim, rapids, boat flip - it was awesome, great experience," says McGlon.
Like McGlon, hundreds of paddlers completed their first-ever run on the course, along with their families and friends celebrating the 5th Annual Grand Whitewater Paddle in Columbus.
Will Chambliss, general manager of Whitewater Express, said it's a Saturday he looks forward to each year.
Chambliss says, "When people come in, it's their first time - that shared experience is, honestly, why I'm so passionate about what I do."
As thousands of riders flowed into their buses and down the river, groups like the Georgia Conservancy, have partnered with Whitewater Express to highlight just how important this body of water is to the city of Columbus.
"This is one of those examples of the kind of work we do all over the state," said Monica Thornton, vice president of Georgia Conservancy.
"Help our small towns and communities understand what resources they have," she said, "and how those enhance the quality of life, how they become economic drivers, and how they just create a sense of community."
As more families from across the Southeast discover what the river has to offer, Chambliss and Thornton hope to share their passion and advocacy to protect these ecosystems.
"They love it!" Chambliss said. "They have a great time on the river. I mean, we have a great resource in the Chattahoochee. People get excited about it, as we do daily, so we love it!"
"They're coming here because it's special," Thornton said. "We know they're having conversations both on the water and off the water; we're here to make sure we kind of 'stir some seeds' to make sure they're talking about it."
Organizers said over 1200 people have gone down the river and across the zip-lines Saturday.
Proceeds from today's paddle will help fund the Georgia Conservancy's preservation and education efforts.