ATHENS, Ga. (WRBL— On Tuesday, Georgia River Network presented its 2022 Water Trail Hero Award to Carolyn McKinley, president of the Meriwether County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, in recognition of Meriwether County establishing the first officially designated water trail on the Flint River.

McKinley said it felt “extremely humbling” to receive the award. Said she told the audience that it takes a team to do what Meriwether County achieved. She said about eight Meriwether County employees worked on the project.

“In the comments, as the award was being made, they further noted Meriwether County’s work as it relates to about 16, 17 other counties up and down the Flint regarding water trails,” she said.

McKinley said that to become an officially designated water trail, the Flint River Water Trail had to meet a list of best practice guidelines established by the Georgia River Network. One criterion is the project having strong support from local leadership.

She said Meriwether County established three access points along the trail and that the it anticipated citizens’ needs to decide what to do with the trail.

“The purpose of having a water trail is to make the user of that water more knowledgeable about the anticipated experience,” she said. “In other words, if I’m going to visit that section of the river and I’ve never been there before, I need to know some basic facts like where can I put my boat in, where can I take it out? Are there designated camp sites along the way in case we want to spend the night on the river? Are there places that I can rent a kayak or canoe along a section of the river? Are there places to stop and eat? Are there restaurants that are close to the river?”

The award was presented at Ciné, a theater in Athens, Georgia, where Georgia River Network also presented a documentary about the Okefenokee Wilderness Area Canoe Trails, according to GRN Executive Director Rena Ann Peck. There was good attendance at the movie screening and award ceremony, she said.

“I think we had, easily, 75 people, and it was a good mix of people from the tourism conference which are heads of the local tourism department or chambers,” Peck said.

Peck said the award has been given to someone every year since 2019.

“We’re lucky in Georgia to have such freshwater biodiversity and so many communities that are realizing that their river is one of their greatest assets for community development,” Peck said. “It’s an exciting thing.”