Lake Blackshear's Veterans Memorial State Park is a great family friendly destination for paddling. The primary focus of the trip is not distance, but wildlife viewing. This report outlines an area with minimal motorized boat traffic, easy launching, and clean facilities, covering an out-and-back exploration of the cove just as you enter the state park. Pretty much any floating craft is acceptable for this trip. We are able to get farther into the cove in short recreational kayaks, but any paddle craft are fine.
Launch from the picnic area to your left as you cross the bridge into the park on GA 230, or along the shore near the official day-use boat ramp to the right. The latter can be busy with motor boat traffic on summer weekends. After launching, head East (right) into the cove. Paddle back as far as you can in this area, hugging either the north or south shore, then return along the other. Total distance is probably a little over a mile, depending on how far you want to/are able to get back into the upper (eastern) end of the cove and where you launch. For best wildlife viewing, this should be a slow, leisurely paddle.
When the undergrowth is light, you can paddle all the way back to the primitive camping area at the far end of the cove. Getting in and out of your boat there can be tricky though; there is not an official launch spot.
Things to watch for: Just before you reach the railroad trestle bridge, there is a large tree sticking up in the water with an osprey's nest. In spring and summer, watch for the osprey babies in the nest, but dont get too close. You will likely see the parents coming and going with food for the babies.
On the other side of the RR bridge, watch for alligators (some rather large), nests of great blue and green herons in the trees on the south side of the cove, and various woodpeckers in holes throughout the area. Near dark, you'll hear a pair of great horned owls calling to each other.
In the heavy lily pads and grasses during spring through early fall, you will see Common Moorhens and occasionally even Purple Gallinules. Frogs and turtles are common sights.
On the north side are small hammocks of cypress with lily pad jungles behind them. In some areas, you are gliding through large mats of duckweed, and feel you're floating in a sea of green. Sunsets are spectacular on the lake, as you get the outlines of the cypress trees and a broad expanse of sky behind.
Deer and squirrels are common sights when you can see dry land, with an occasional beaver or even rarely an otter in the water.
There are other areas worth exploring in Lake Blackshear, especially the north end of the lake where there are many cypress covered islands and backwaters. Launching is possible for these areas from Turkey Creek Fish Camp (off Hwy 27 in Drayton) and other private ramps. The south end of the lake has many more houses and private docks, plus heavier boat traffic, making it less suitable for paddling.
Hazards: There are alligators and probably Cottonmouth snakes, along with biting/stinging insects in warmer months (watch for wasps' nests in the shrubs) - towards evening, you may want to spray down with mosquito repellent. Otherwise, learn to blow the gnats like a good south Georgia resident. Probably the biggest hazard is heading out to the more open area where there are motor boats; the typical weekend boater doesn't watch for paddlers.
Motels in Cordele and Americus, Camping at the state park, nice overnight facilities at the Lake Blackshear Resort (www.lakeblackshearresort.com).
Restrooms are available at many areas in the park.
Restaurants and fast food in Cordele and Americus, at the Resort (part of the park) or picnic with food from either Striplings Store or Arrowhead Grocery.
$2 Georgia Park day-use fee, or buy a yearly permit.
From Americus: East on US 280 approx. 22 miles, turn left onto Georgia 230 at the sign for Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park.
From Cordele (exit 101 on I-75): Drive east on US 280 for approximately 10 miles, turn left on GA 230 at the Georgia Veterans' Memorial State Park sign.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Veteran's Memorial State Park
Google Earth or Google Maps; Delorme Atlas; "Fishing and Boating Map for Lake Blackshear" (Available at Stripling's Store near the park entrance); Warwick USGS quad topo map