Lake Olmstead residents excited about dredging

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Cary and Madeline Rivers are relative newcomers to one of Augusta's oldest parks.

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Cary Rivers (left) and his wife Madeline Rivers speak about Lake Olmstead from their dock.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Cary Rivers (left) and his wife Madeline Rivers speak about Lake Olmstead from their dock.

"We love Lake Olmstead," said Cary Rivers, who bought a house in Lakemont and moved in in September. "We'd been looking in this area for years."

Their home offers panoramic views of a waterway that is showing both its age and its potential.

"It's a shame how it's been let go," he said, surveying a shoreline choked by weeds and litter.

He and other residents hope a planned $4 million dredging project could herald the beginning of a new era for the 138-year-old landmark.

"They used to have ski contests and lots of other things out here," Cary Rivers said. "We'd like to see some of that come back again."

Much of the litter -- along with tons of silt -- originates in nearby Rae's Creek, which meanders through 12 miles of Augusta's most urbanized areas.

"The biggest complaint I always hear is the silt," said Augusta Commissioner Jerry Brigham, whose district includes part of the lake. "A lot of the area above Broad Street, going back toward Augusta National, is filled in. You can basically walk across some parts of it."

The dredging, to be funded by the special purpose local option sales tax, is geared more toward improving the lake's role as a stormwater abatement channel than for aesthetics or recreation, said Tom Robertson, an Augusta engineer and historian.

"The Rae's Creek watershed is a very urbanized area, probably 18 or 20 square miles," he said. "When water hits that developed area, it runs off fast -- and takes along the dirt and litter with it."

The litter problem in Lake Olmstead has been complicated by the composition of today's refuse.

"We have more floating things now," Robertson said. "Back in the day, glass bottles and tin cans sank to the bottom and paper cups deteriorated. Now we have Styrofoam that lasts 400 years and plastic bottles that float."

The litter is also trapped on mats of exotic weeds whose spread has been fueled by the fertilizer-rich runoff from thousands of landscaped yards.

"The main weed is water hyacinth," Robertson said. "It's everywhere. It grows from a tennis ball-like nodule, and it floats. It is prolific, too. You can spray it and kill it, but it comes back regularly."

The dredging planned by the city, he said, would create the most benefit upstream, where Rae's Creek empties into the lake.

"The bulk of the dredging would be in the upper end, above Broad Street," he said. "That was dredged out before, along with some main parts of the lake, but the shallow areas have filled in again."

Dredging would improve water flow and also reduce flood hazards.

"As that lake silts up, it wants to back more water upstream," Robertson said. "So it would raise the water level in floods."

Augusta Recreation Director Tom Beck said better water flow might improve the litter situation.

"It's an ongoing battle with trash," he said. "We could have gone in there yesterday and cleaned the entire shoreline, but if we got a good rain that brings all that water down Rae's Creek, tomorrow it would look like we never touched it."

The dredging is a vital part of an ongoing revitalization that has been under way since 1997, when a long-term master plan was developed.

"It includes lots of improvements that we've already done -- parking and landscaping, renovations to Julian Smith, an amphitheater, gazebo improvements, lots of things," Beck said. The recent penny tax includes $600,000 for new heating and air at the casino, he said.

Efforts remain under way to provide even more amenities for the park, including a broader network of trails.

"One thing we're going to try to get done is to complete the trail from Julian Smith Casino all the way around the lake, across the bridge and down Lakemont," Beck said. "We're working to possibly get some sidewalk money, but it is all private property there along the lake where homeowners also own down to the water, so putting a sidewalk there has always been a muddy issue."

Robertson said such a trail expansion would create a popular loop and would likely benefit nearby neighborhoods.

"Walking trails would be one of the greatest amenities people want in real estate these days," he said. "Homebuilder associations usually say that is the No. 1 amenity, over golf courses and anything else. But people usually like to walk somewhere and come back a different way. A dead end is not the most desirable."

Cary Rivers said he would be proud to relinquish right of way for such a trail.

"The privilege of living here goes along with helping to keep it maintained," he said. "I'd gladly give up six feet of right of way for something like that."

Residents have come up with other ideas, such as decorative lighting, landscaping on the Lakemont side of the lake, and the eventual acquisition of vacant land nearby that could be incorporated into the city park and used for a canoe and kayak rental site.

The History of Lake Olmstead

- The lake is the legacy of an 1870 project to enlarge nearby Augusta Canal, which in 1845 was routed over Rae's Creek with an ornate aqueduct.

- The expansion, which cost $371,000, was engineered by Charles Olmstead, who worked on the Erie Canal linking Buffalo, N.Y., and Lake Erie with the Hudson River.

- After Olmstead transformed the aqueduct into a new dam, the resulting 113-acre lake was named for him sometime after 1872.

- The area was also known as Lake View Park and was first purchased by the city for $9,150.

- In 1924, an amusement park owned by the Augusta-Aiken Railway was donated to Augusta, which acquired 15 more acres to house the attraction.

- Pre-1900 accounts include references to two large islands in Lake Olmstead, but both are absent today.

- A common misconception is that the lake is named for Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of New York City's Central Park.

-- Rob Pavey, staff writer

Comments (18) Add comment
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Ole School
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Ole School 02/15/10 - 06:02 am
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My father used to take me

My father used to take me fishing in that mud hole ..... its been a mud hole for 35 years I know ! Oh and yes they are dumping trash , until you move the projects it will continue to be a mud hole ! and any funds you waste on it is just that A WASTE . I thank God I moved to Columbia County, born and raised on the Hill listening to the city goverment go to heck in a hand basket right after the consolidation, when you people did away with the City Police ... you did in the CITY. now its one great big welfare pit.

catfish20
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catfish20 02/15/10 - 07:34 am
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This is fabulus news.

This is fabulus news. Augusta is finally waking up and taking advantage of its natural resourses...river, canal and lake. I went to the water shows at Lake Olmstead when I was young and throughly enjoyed them....so much potential.

dstewartsr
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dstewartsr 02/15/10 - 09:09 am
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Yeah, this is such a good use

Yeah, this is such a good use of the taxes raised. Just like Columbia County, let's dredge the lake so the monied few can enjoy their view.

jb1234
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jb1234 02/15/10 - 09:17 am
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dstewartsr, anyone can enjoy

dstewartsr, anyone can enjoy Lake Olmstead, it is a public park! No one is stopping you from going down there and enjoying the view.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/15/10 - 09:18 am
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Lake Olmstead was dredged

Lake Olmstead was dredged with federal money after the 1990 flood. It, Thurmond Lake, the river and canal are treasures for all the public that should be maintained. Dredging them to remove silting makes perfect sense.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 02/15/10 - 10:09 am
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When they dredge the silt

When they dredge the silt out, they just spread it around the area so it can wash back into the lake. It's a never-ending cycle. Now if they would take the dredged silt and truck it somewhere outside the Raes Creek drainage basin we might have a solution. How about taking the dredgings to Hyde Park subdivision and gradually build up the low-lying areas down there?

cleanup
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cleanup 02/15/10 - 10:25 am
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Suprisingly (at least to me)

Suprisingly (at least to me) the water itself in Lake Olmstead is supposedly relatively clean, according to a local science teacher who takes his students there to test the water fairly regularly. Little Lamb, I agree with your idea of using the silt wisely. A ton of lowlying areas all over Augusta could use it.

flipa
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flipa 02/15/10 - 10:51 am
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Good Point LL. Too much city

Good Point LL. Too much city work is done with no thought, only to have to be redone over & over.
Once they clean it out I’ll come do jetski stunt shows there again. Already did a national commercial there where a golfer hits his ball into the water & I jump up in the air and sub under water, catch the ball on its way to the bottom and return it to the dock. Very cool trick, looked good on TV too, then we did a show for the Coors wakeboard world tour but the water was so nasty I refused to do most of my underwater tricks. It was really hard to do submarines, fire hoses, flips, pirouettes and nose stab spins without getting my head underwater but believe me NOTHING could make me stick my head under that nasty, stenching, filthy, putrid water. I MIGHT be crazy, but I’m NOT STUPID. Ha ha ahah They need to level the Ghetto on top of the hill where MOST of the trash is coming from and turn it into something that won’t result in so much trash & thugs in & around the lake like as now and Augusta COULD have yet another world class destination. Hey, a man can dream can’t he? Ha ah aha ha…

Chillen
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Chillen 02/15/10 - 11:03 am
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At least Richmond County

At least Richmond County residents will get to enjoy this lake if this project moves forward (not that I agree with the expenditure).

Columbia County residents paid for a pond to be "fixed" that is in the gated community of West Lake. We, the taxpayers paid for it and unless you are a member or resident of West Lake, you don't get to use it or even see it! Now THAT is a total waste of money and an abuse of government power. Ron Cross, et al. We will remember you in November.

Grimzine
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Grimzine 02/15/10 - 04:30 pm
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I remember as a kid going to

I remember as a kid going to the Augusta Pirates baseball games then playing at the lake. I am sure that a cleanup at the lake itself would attract more folks to that area for picnics and baseball

disssman
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disssman 02/15/10 - 05:54 pm
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Lets see, the owners own the

Lets see, the owners own the property down to the water line. And Mr.Rivers says "living ther goes with HELPING to keep it maintained". That is awfully big of him. I would have thought it would be his responsibility to keep it maintained. This must be what they mean by the terms "transfer of wealth". By that I mean the funding that would be used in my neighborhood for sidewalks etc. is being designated to this private community. I am sure once the area is put in pristine shape, the home owners won't mind a bit for you to come on down and barbeque in their back yards or use their private docks. Will they?

Mudfish
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Mudfish 02/15/10 - 09:19 pm
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Little Lamb, When the upper

Little Lamb, When the upper part of lake was dredged and the upper part cleaned with a drag line, the silt taken out by drag line was trucked out and the dredged part dredged by the little mudcat was pumped into the pit made in the area between the Calhoun and Broad Street. The other silt from the big part of the lake was pumped into the borrow pits next to the Riverwatch Expressway.

gnumbgnuts
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gnumbgnuts 02/15/10 - 10:49 pm
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When I think of my dream

When I think of my dream home, I leave out the part about it overlooking a stinky mud puddle.

corgimom
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corgimom 02/16/10 - 10:50 am
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This is just like the

This is just like the homeowners that build homes along the beaches and want the beaches "replenished". It's a never-ending task. How much money do you want to sink into it, because it WILL fill in again?

lifelongresidient
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lifelongresidient 02/16/10 - 05:26 pm
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this is not an idictment of

this is not an idictment of the current or event recent commission officials, but just about the augusta government mindset from the beginning....land by water(oceans, lakes, rivers..etc) always commands the most value..so why in the world would any local government official vote to place or approve of accept a GOV'T HOUSING PROJECT near lake olmstead????? on one side you have very well maintained homes and on the other side of the lake at times it's like the shootout at the ok corral. instead of spending the millions to fix up lake olmstead, it should have cleared out and sold to a developer to renovate the units as condo/townhome units to be sold...this would have made the area around lake olmstead a lot more attractive with water activities (fishing, swimming, water skiiing...etc) and in close proximity to the local baseball stadium with probable increase in attendance. but with augusta everything is always bassakwards

Augusta resident
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Augusta resident 02/16/10 - 10:33 pm
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Please correct me if I'm

Please correct me if I'm wrong but isn't Lake Olmstead a retention pond built by Chinese immagrants and not a natural resourse? By the way there are very few nice houses full of rich people living on it.

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