Raftin' on the river

STAYING AFLOAT TO 500 NEW MEMBERS

Six days into an effort to sign up 500 new members, Savannah Riverkeeper Director Tonya Bonitatibus has endured wind and rain -- and even some good-natured ridicule.

"Yeah, a few people say maybe I'm crazy," she said. "But this is day six and we're officially halfway there."

Bontatibus, whose environmental group works to focus attention and awareness on the Savannah River and its complex issues, moved onto a 20-by-20 foot raft anchored in the channel off Eighth Street on Wednesday, vowing to remain there until her organization recruits 500 new members.

As of Monday, 251 memberships had been sold, she said.

"We're counting them in increments of $35, which is what an individual membership costs," she said. "Some people are signing up everyone in their family, so a larger donation will count as more than one sign-up."

Rough weekend weather included rain that dampened a First Friday membership drive and a gusty Sunday that forced her to reinforce her tent with a tarp held in place with 2-inch wood screws. It also got a little cold, with temperatures dipping into the 30s.

"It was scary, with all the wind, but today is beautiful," she said Monday. "I was able to build everything back and set it all up again, so we're in good shape."

The purpose of this event, which has attracted attention from Fox News and local boaters who have motored by to say hello, is to bring attention to the importance and beauty of the river.

Her raft, equipped with a tent, shower, toilet and fire pit, is anchored on the river at the end of Eighth Street in downtown Augusta -- precisely in the middle of the watershed at mile marker 200 of the 400-mile-long Savannah River.

Annual memberships for the Savannah Riverkeeper start at $35. For more information or to sign up online, visit www.savannahriverkeeper.org/savannah500 or call (706) 826-8991.

What is savannah riverkeeper?

Savannah Riverkeeper, established in 2001, is one of seven such organizations in Georgia that are part of a broader national network. Other groups are the Upper Chattahoochee, Ogeechee-Canoochie, Altamaha, Satilla, Flint and Coosa.