Try kayaking on Lake Rutledge
story and photos by SHELLIE SMITLEY
There is an experience waiting to happen at Hard Labor Creek State Park’s tucked-away lake.
Lake Rutledge is a 275-acre lake that offers visitors a host of activities, including kayaking. David Guzman, interpretive ranger, is the naturalist of the park who creates, promotes and organizes the educational programs. There are single and tandem kayaks available for rent, but the park also offers organized kayaking group events.
I signed up for the Memorial Day Night Paddle with a vision of having to explain to my boss that the camera was destroyed when the kayak tipped over. I hoped someone would rescue me when I got stuck under the vessel, struggling to find the surface. Other than that, I had no real expectations.
Upon arrival, I was met by Guzman, a hospitable host. Right away, I became intrigued when he mentioned he earned a degree in tourism in his native country of Ecuador and a degree from the University of Georgia in natural resources but got his experience while working as a tour guide in the Amazon Rainforest.
I met the other members participating in the evening trek, a group of 10 adventurists, each having almost no previous kayaking experience. The three most polished kayakers boasted of approximately 20 hours of prior paddling practice. Guzman began the evening with a warm welcome and simple kayaking advice.
“When you are kayaking, you have to keep your back straight, right?” he said. “No sudden movements are recommended.” He then pointed out the best way to position feet and demonstrated how to safely board the kayak without tipping it over. All of us were successful.
Away from the shore, we turned right toward an island. On our way there, Guzman quizzed us on the history on the park. The park was built in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps to help combat the effects of The Great Depression. The CCC created jobs for young men and boosted tourism while tending to environmental issues like erosion, he said.
Next, Guzman guided us to a dirt dam covered in thick green vegetation and through a canal that led to a spillway. The sound of the rushing water created a vision of Niagara Falls. Guzman quickly put panic to rest. The spillway was small and posed no threat.
Turning back into the open lake area, the sky dazzled us with a brilliant sunset. Afterward, we were guided by the light of a three-quarter full moon.
Part of Guzman’s mission is to encourage people to spend time outdoors enjoying nature, something he feels is especially important in the age of technology. Since the national and state park systems are supported by taxes, he feels it is important for citizens to take advantage of the opportunities the parks present. He is eager to share his passion and pointed out animal sightings with excitement in his voice.
Along our journey, we saw bats, beavers, a large unidentified bird and fish. Guzman assured us it would not be unusual to catch a glimpse of deer, foxes and turkeys. The approximately 6 ½-foot deep lake houses large mouth and striped bass, catfish, crappie and brim, according to Guzman.
“Fishing is very popular,” he said of the lake, where no gas engines are allowed.
Although we did not see it, Guzman is hoping to see an alligator, rumored to be a pet turned loose, during one of his tours.
“We are wondering if he survived the winter,” he said.
As we paddled across the lake, Guzman also shared his knowledge of piranhas and the simpler way of life in the Amazon.
“We used to catch them and eat them,” he said. “The native people always say, ‘we are not afraid of the piranhas; we eat the piranhas.’”
The last part of our journey included camps Rutledge and Daniel Morgan, the filming sight of some famous movies, including “Friday the 13th part VI” and “Little Darlings.”
“This is the lake where Jason was supposedly killed in part V and was laying under the water, and he came back to life in part VI,” Guzman said, laughing and then proceeding to mention some of the “real” ghost stories attached to the park, especially at the two camps. The facilities were examined for spirits in 2012 by the TAPS Ghost Hunters team.
As we journeyed back to shore, there were moments of silence on the lake, except for the subtle splashing of the paddles and the songs of the whippoorwills. The surroundings, lighted only by the moon, were breath-taking, and my soul hungered to take it all in.
The 90-minute journey came to an end, and I found myself wanting to come back before I even left. I thought, “What a great experience this would be for couples, families and children during visitation.” There was a one-with-nature effect, and I left feeling relaxed and renewed.
Hard Labor Creek Park offers many ranger-led kayak tours, including full moon kayaking, introduction to kayaking, twilight paddles, glow-in-the-dark paddles, and a tour geared toward stargazing. Open kayaking is available until 8 p.m. Tandem kayaks are flat on the bottom and ideal for beginners. Life jackets are provided with kayak rental.
More information about kayaking on Lake Rutledge is available at gastateparks.org/HardLaborCreek. l