Bob Baurle can remember when the boat ramp on the lower Savannah River was little more than a muddy trail.
“When I was growing up, it was nothing but a pig path,” said the 86-year-old retiree, who operated nearby Lock and Dam Bait & Tackle for 53 years.
On Tuesday, the boat launch facility named in his honor in 1999 was rededicated after a two-year, $500,000 expansion designed to improve access to the river and stimulate a valuable recreational fishing industry.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver called the project an investment in “green infrastructure” that complements amenities such as the Augusta Canal and Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. “It will grow our local economy,” he said.
The project was funded in part with a grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ “Go Fish Georgia” initiative, natural resources Commissioner Mark Williams said.
“We really can’t wait to put this ramp to good use,” he said, noting that it is one of 17 such projects around the state.
Sportfishing, he added, yields a $2 billion annual impact in Georgia and creates 10,649 jobs. “There is great potential to grow this industry in Georgia.”
The addition of a second 100-foot ramp, courtesy docks, parking for 27 vehicles with trailers, and other amenities will make the site suitable for fishing tournaments and large events that will encourage more people to visit the lower river, said Tom Beck, the director of Augusta Recreation, Parks and Facilities.
Baurle, whose father was a fisherman, grew up in a cabin just a stone’s throw from New Savannah Bluff.
“We lived at the end of a hedgerow between a field and the swamp here,” he said.
As a child, he saw the construction of New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, completed in 1937, and can remember the commercial fishermen who camped at the bluff each spring to net migrating sturgeon for their valuable roe.
As a businessman, he created the bait and tackle store 53 years ago, using a tenant house he trucked to the site on a flatbead trailer. He retired this spring, selling his business to family friend Gene Kirkland, who also leases the Merry Brickyard Ponds.
Baurle has a lifetime of fond memories along a river where he has made many wonderful friends and caught countless coolers of redbreast, catfish and bass.
“I can tell you, it has been a pleasure to be here all these years,” he said.