Liz and I were inspired to take this trip by (and with) Georgia river fan Gerry Cowart. Most in Savannah are familiar with the Ogeechee, but how many know it’s cousin, the Canoochee? We were off to find out.
The Canoochee River is formed by the merging of Canoochee Creek and Taylor’s Creek near Swainsboro, Ga in Emanuel County. It flows some 85 miles until it meets the Ogeechee River just north of I-95. The merged rivers continue east to the Atlantic as the Ogeechee. We launched from King’s Ferry (just off Hwy 17) at the break of dawn on Saturday, Feb 4. We got an early start in order to take advantage of the incoming tide for our upriver trip, planning to use the outgoing tide on our way home.
We launched onto the Ogeechee and paddled under Hwy 17 and the thunderous I-95. In about a mile, we came to where Canoochee empties into the Ogeechee. We headed north and soon entered the Fort Stewart Military Reservation, which the river divides.
Liz and I were quickly distracted by the old rice canals and huge grasses beginning to catch the peekaboo morning sun. The grasses (Zizaniopsis miliacea, Giant Cutgrass or Southern Wild Rice, a dominant grass in the freshwater tidal area) are over 6 feet tall, and line much of the banks. Gerry wisely advised us to take advantage of the incoming tide and get as much upstream distance as possible – then dawdle/explore on the way back.
Gerry saw a buck swim across the river (mostly tail and antlers visible). We saw kingfishers, osprey, buzzards, a heron, and some wood ducks. We took advantage of a creek cut-through to get up close and personal with the river banks. A smell like wet grass and growing things hung in the air – it turned out to be the bank mud, which had a lighter, brighter smell than the pluff mud we paddle by so often on the coast.
We saw sycamore, cypress, river birch, maple, gum, and plenty of Ogeechee-Lime (Nyssa ogeche). As we got further upriver, the water became less tea-colored and clearer, and we saw more stands of pine and palms.
We stopped at a couple of different landings where the signs had been helpfully ventilated.
The main archeological evidence of human occupation along the Canoochee prior to the 1700’s is an important prehistoric Native American site known as the Lewis Mound. Pottery from the site just east of Fort Stewart – believed to be a burial ground – dates as early as 2200-1700 BC, with extended settlement from 1000 to 1500 AD.
When General Oglethorpe established the city of Savannah in 1733, part of its function was to act as a buffer between the rich Carolinas to the north and the Spanish to the south. He established Fort Argyle on the West bank of the Ogeechee near the Canoochee. The fort was abandoned and resurrected several times until 1767 when it was abandoned for the last time.
In modern times, the river became highly polluted due to runoff from the Claxton Poultry plant. In 2001 three sisters from Claxton – Linda Smith, Claudelle Smith Moinar and Sylvia Smith Reynolds – had had enough of the toxic green swamp that the river they grew up on had become. The sisters successfully sued the Claxton Poultry plant under the Clean Water Act, part of the settlement dictating that the company set aside money to establish a riverkeeper organization. Around this same time, four men from Louisville, GA (nicknamed the “sludge brothers”) started fighting to keep the Ogeechee River free of waste that was contaminating ground water. Their organization became known as the Friends of the Ogeechee River. The two organizations merged in 2005 to form the Ogeechee Riverkeeper Organization.
Although the pollution is gone and the wildlife plentiful, there is a great deal of evidence of current human occupation. We picked up lots of trash, Gerry filling his entire day hatch with what we charitably called jetsam. (Look it up. We did.)
We paddled back on an outgoing tide, but the wind had picked up enough to make it hard work. We stopped to document a few more unknown plants, which were again kindly identified by John Crawford of UGA.
This bamboo-like plant is Arundinaria gigantea which John calls “‘switch cane’, a name well deserved from my coastal Georgia childhood.” It is sometimes called ‘giant cane’ or ‘wild cane.’
We kept seeing a bright green hanging plant that was not Spanish moss. John identified it for us as a hanging lichen in the Genus Usnea, called ‘Old Man’s Beard’.
We spent 7 hours on the river, covering 14-15 miles of Georgia river.
Mary and Liz