A transformative day trip awaits on the Ogeechee River

Special to The Bluffton PacketOctober 5, 2012 

I think it was Heraclitus who said something along the lines that no one steps into the same river twice, for it changes both the river and the man.

This can ring no truer than an experience on the nearby Ogeechee River. If you spend just one afternoon on this meandering coastal waterway, your life and the horizons of your world will be changed forever.

The Ogeechee River is a winding blackwater stream that stretches nearly 300 miles across eastern Georgia. From humble beginnings among the pines in the Piedmont it approaches the coast to become a swampy cypress-lined pathway and eventually crosses Interstate 95 just west of Savannah at Richmond Hill. This proximity to home -- just a short drive from Bluffton -- makes the Ogeechee River an excellent choice for a day of adventure.

For centuries people have fished and traveled along the Ogeechee River, from Native American tribes to plantation flatboats. Modern times finds us enjoying the Ogeechee in a much more laid back conveyance: the kayak.

There are many places to access the Ogeechee River, but as a general rule these various landings and boat ramps are fairly far apart. This means a well-planned day-long float downriver or a paddle upstream and a drift back to the start. Either way, you will be treated to the wonders of the river.

Tall cypress trees touch the humid air with soft needles, while their buttressed trunks form cathedral-like enclaves. Amber sandbars grace the curves of the river providing a million places to pull out and relax -- while the occasional rope swing beckons from a stout limb.

Recently a group of friends and I paddled the Ogeechee. Launching from "Steel Bridge" landing near Guyton, our plan was to paddle 13 miles down to the crossing of Highway 80 near Bloomingdale, exploring and enjoying the late summer day along the way.

Being from South Carolina and familiar with the salty May River or the summer playground of the Edisto, we were surprised at how remote this stretch of the Ogeechee was. Few houses were encountered along the way although a number of sandy bluffs and quiet landings spoke of fish camps and weekend getaways for locals.

Under a blue sky and around each bend we encountered not a soul -- but the quiet flow of the current and the mystery of the river were good for ours.

GETTING THERE

The closest launching points for the Ogeechee River are almost exactly an hour from Bluffton. Take Interstate 95 South to Exit 109 for GA 21N. At 10 miles, turn left onto GA 30W. At 9 miles merge onto GA 17 for a quick turn left in the town of Guyton onto GA 119.

Steel Bridge Landing is 4 miles farther on the left. The landing is public, and there is no fee for use. For this 13-mile paddle, you will need to take out at the Highway 80 Bridge landing near Bloomingdale. This landing is private, and a boat landing fee of $5 is required. This is a small price to pay for a good day on the water.

This stretch of the Ogeechee River is remote so bring food, water and have a float plan. If you want a day of enjoyment on one of the most scenic waterways in the south, you will not be disappointed. For more information about river conditions or questions about a visit, contact Georgia DNR at 404-656-3500.

OGEECHEE RIVER FISH KILLS ...TROUBLE IN PARADISE?

In May 2011 it was reported that thousands of fish had died en masse along the Ogeechee River. Industry along the river fell under blame and a lengthy legal battle was begun as environmental groups sought to curb the dumping of pollutants into the Ogeechee. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division reached a settlement with one Screven County business, and an effort was under way to clean the river and prevent future spills. While it is uncertain as to the exact cause of this incident, the condition of this pristine waterway is a major concern for residents and all who enjoy the Ogeechee River.

In preparation for our recent visit we contacted Georgia DNR and asked about river conditions. We were assured that all was well and safe for use. Nevertheless, in the delicate balance between business and the natural world we must never forget the requirements of stewardship for the resources we are given -- especially one as beautiful as the Ogeechee River.

Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at greenkayak73@yahoo.com.

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