Five days after the storm, snow remains in shady spots, like this swamp in the Altamaha floodplain.
South Georgia Snowstorm, 2018
As part of the Altamaha Riverkeeper’s ongoing efforts to monitor pollution, I was honored to be able to make an aerial survey of its lower reaches in 2012, culminating in one of my photographs being featured on the front page of the Savannah Morning News. It was a great opportunity that allowed me to really understand the size of the river and its complex ecosystem.
Though it is a beautiful wilderness, especially when seen from the air, it’s among Georgia’s most polluted rivers. Georgia Power’s Plant Hatch on the Upper Altamaha in Appling County and Rayonier in Wayne County are the main culprits, but hopefully they will soon work harder to balance jobs and the environment. The jury is still out, but with legal actions being sought by Altamaha Riverkeeper, a cleaner river could be on the horizon.
The wildest stretches of the river can be found in McIntosh County as the river reaches its delta and finally the Atlantic Ocean.
Altamaha River Delta, McIntosh County
As paddle sports gain popularity, it’s not an uncommon sight to see folks out early on South Georgia’s many rivers.
These photos were made during the 2012 Paddle Georgia Altamaha River trip. Kayaks and canoes seem to be getting more popular every year.
These images were made at the Upper Wayne County Landing, a beautiful area of the Atlamaha.
When the fog cleared, this was the view.
In 1982, Dr. Delma Presley, a professor at Georgia Southern organized Project R.A.F.T. as a way to honor the memories of the men who floated timber down the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers in the early part of the 20th century. R.A.F.T. was an acronym for Restore Altamaha Folklife Traditions. The project, which was centered here at McRae’s Landing, was a huge success and was coordinated with folklife festivals along the river. Author Brainard Cheney, a native of Fitzgerald who had written several popular novels about life on the river was also active in the project and spoke at numerous locations along the route. I wrote to Dr. Presley about his book Okefinokee Album (still in print!)and his work with Project R.A.F.T. when I was still in high school and he sent me a video tape and souvenir program of the project, which was my first exposure to local documentary work. I finally got to meet Dr. Presley in 2011 at a presentation to the Long County Chamber of Commerce and he still has fond memories of this project, especially of the last raft pilot, the late Bill Deen. Dr. Presley himself is quite an accomplished scholar and was one of Georgia Southern’s most popular professors, combining his passion for literature with a passion to preserve and document the rapidly vanishing folk culture of Southeast Georgia. In fact, he’s been compiling research on the human history of the Altamaha River for over thirty years. He was also instrumental in establishing the Georgia Southern University Museum.
Text on Monument: On April 3, 1982, Piloted by Captain Bill Deen, Age 90, the Last Raft of Georgia Pine Timber Began a Journey of 140 Miles Down the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers to the Coastal City of Darien, Georgia. Smaller than the Great Rafts of the 1880s, the Raft of 1982 was 85 by 30 Feet and Weighed Almost 50 Tons. Oar Sweeps of 35 Feet Were at Each End. After Stopping for Folk Festivals Near Baxley and Jesup, the Raft and a Crew of 8 Arrived in Darien on April 20. The Rafthands of 1982 and Today Honor All Who Know and Love Our Rivers, Land, and People.
I’m pictured here with Dr. Del Presley (Front) and the late Long County Sheriff Cecil Nobles (Rear) at a 2011 Long County Chamber of Commerce event. Sheriff Nobles was very supportive of Dr. Presley’s research on the river.
Thanks to Constance Riggins and Deborah Sheppard at Altamaha Riverkeeper, I recently made a flight over the Altamaha River on a mission to photograph Paddle Georgia participants kayaking the stretch of the river near the Rayonier mill in Jesup. Rayonier is a vital part of the economy of the entire Wayne County area, but regardless of their protection by DNR and EPD, state agencies charged with enforcement of established standards, they continue to pollute the air and the river.
Relaxed enforcement due in part to politics and in part to economic woes has begun to show on our rivers and waterways. Look no further than King America in Screven County for evidence of this trend: discharge from their facility into the Ogeechee River culminated in the deaths of over 35,000 fish last year.
Paddle Georgia, the Georgia River Network, and Altamaha Riverkeeper aren’t a bunch of fringe environmentalists hellbent on shutting down facilities and interfering with good businesses, but rather they’re normal people who care more about the earth’s future than they do about minimization of profits. They come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and their politics run the spectrum. They all love rivers. It’s strange to me how when I was growing up, Southerners made fun of the Rust Belt cities up north for not caring about their resources and for being such bad stewards of God’s earth. I saw the South as being above that sort of irresponsibility but the bad economy has forced businesses and government agencies charged with protection of natural resources into a “deal with the devil”. It’s clear that the powers that be are choosing jobs and the immediate economy over the long-term health of the environment and how that will effect the lives and well-being of future generations.
I was hesitant to post these photographs, as I’m not on some sort of mission to smear Rayonier or the government, but I think it’s time everyday people made their voices heard. When someone accuses you of caring more about rivers than you care about the ability of people to make a living, just say it’s not about choosing one over the other. It’s about balancing the two in a way that gives a damn about this messy world we’re leaving behind.
The image above, showing Paddle Georgia participants making their way through the Rayonier discharge near Doctortown in Wayne County, was published on the front page of the Savannah Morning News, 23 June 2012.
McNatt Falls is an area along the Altamaha featuring numerous fishing cabins, mostly second homes, characterized by their elevation on stilts to protect from flooding. While many of the structures are recycled mobile homes, many newer, more modern cabins are being built.
Water is usually at dock level here, but the 2011 drought has had a major impact on water levels on the Altamaha and nearly all rivers in Georgia.