Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Headed up the River – the Path of the Salzburgers: by Michael Neal

Captain Michael Neal has been operating boats on Savannah's rivers, creeks, and sounds for decades. He owns Bull River Cruises based at Hogan's Marina, and wrote this account of a trip up the Savannah River. We share it here with his permission.

"We start today’s journey in the tidal rivers and creeks but the islands and marshes aren’t my destination. Soon, we leave the tidal waters and enter into the waters of the Savannah. The Savannah is wide and deep, it is also the home of one of the busiest container ports in the nation. Being a busy port means that there are a great number of large ships using the river. When sharing the waters with these giants it is wise to remember both the Rules of the Road and the Rule of the Might Makes Right.

As downtown comes into view the golden dome of city hall shines brightly in the morning light. Greeting me downtown is a statue that represents a woman that greeted vessels from around the world for over 40 years. The woman was Florence Martus known as “The Waving Girl”. After passing the tourist filled streets, we enter into the largest economic drivers of the area, the Port of Savannah, filled with ships that ply the world carrying cargo to and from far away nations.

We push further up the river, past the industry and into the waters less traveled, the waters of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. It is always amazing to me the contrast of industry next to nature. The salinity of the water has slowly declined as I have journeyed up the Savannah and now the water is fresh, still tidal though, the effects of the tides are felt as far up the river as 45 miles. Traveling past Mulberry Grove and the sites of other long abandoned rice plantations makes me think of the the people that toiled in this area so long ago. Onward, we push up the river past I95, the super highway of today, as we travel up the highway of yesteryear.

The river twists and turns, as we work upstream mile after mile. Years ago a number of the twists were taken out of the river. The river was straightened for barge traffic carrying cargo to and from the city of Augusta. Unfortunately, by the time the work was completed the barge traffic had died. The removal of these twists and turns also unfortunately was not beneficial to the health of the river basin. So the results of this hard work and money spent were a net loss.

A bluff comes into view; we are now 45 miles up the Savannah. This is the site of New Ebenezer, a town that is rich in history. Established in 1736, the town was the home of the Salzburgers, Protestant refugees from Austria. It is home of the Jerusalem Lutheran Church which is the first church in Georgia and the oldest surviving intact building in Georgia.

Today, as we pick up a group of school children at Ebenezer Landing, we have come not to explore the land but a creek that empties into the Savannah. This creek is unique in that it is a blackwater creek. It is so beautiful and significant that it has the designation of Georgia Scenic River and is a National Natural Landmark. At the entrance of the creek, the water stained black with the tannins from the cypress and tupelo trees, mixes and swirls with the lighter colored water of the Savannah. As we work our way into this waterway majestic cypress trees rise out of the water. Some of these trees are said to be over 1000 years old. The water is glassy and reflects the images of this enchanted forest. It is like we have entered into another world.

We can’t travel too far in the creek with the power boat. The best way to explore this creek is either by canoe or kayak. If you don’t have your own, there are a number of companies that run guided trips and a few that might rent them."

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