For as long as anyone can remember, the boat ramp at Bluff Landing Road near Jackson has offered visitors unfettered access to the Savannah River.
On Friday, however, the landing and a mile of formerly public roadway was gated and closed as a last-resort effort to curb littering, drug use, vandalism and other problems that have plagued the site in recent years.
The proposal to close the landing originated with Silver Bluff Audubon Center, which operates a 3,154-acre preserve that includes the site of an 18th century Indian trading post established by George Galphin at the river’s edge.
“In order to guard the safety of staff and visitors to Silver Bluff Audubon, and to protect the historical features of the area, Audubon petitioned Aiken County’s Master-in-Equity to close a one-mile section of Bluff Landing Road that leads to the Silver Bluff Boat Landing,” said Paul
Koehler, the center’s director.
The request was approved by Aiken County Council and the courts.
Koehler said closing the area was a reluctant step made necessary by problems that have only worsened over time.
“It’s increased to the point where we can’t tolerate it anymore,” he said.
Although the popular landing is one of few access points to the Savannah River in that section of Aiken County, it isn’t the only one.
Boaters and fishermen can still use the Aiken County Boat Landing, which is accessed through the town of Jackson, and has a floating dock, concrete boat ramp, picnic tables, and ample parking.
Additional improvements to that landing are in the planning stages.
The Aiken County Boat Landing also is owned by the National Audubon Society, but is leased to Aiken County for use by the public.
The public’s loss of access to the landing at Silver Bluff isn’t the first time public areas had to be gated because of illegal dumping and bad behavior.
In 2011, the Augusta Canal Authority and then-Sheriff Ronnie Strength eliminated motor vehicle access to the section of Goodrich Street that runs along the canal towpath, citing the same problems that forced the closure at Silver Bluff.
Although it is sad to report the loss of access to any outdoor areas, there is also good news to share this week about the restoration of canoe and kayak access to an important segment of the Savannah River in Columbia County.
In July 2013, the Augusta Utilities Department chained off and closed a dirt launch area below Savannah Rapids Pavilion that allowed boats to reach the section of the river above the headgates and diversion dam, and below Stevens Creek Dam.
The launch site, in fact, was the only public access to a small but significant segment of the river that offers breathtaking scenery and awesome fishing opportunities.
The closure was prompted by safety concerns that escalated last May after three kayakers paddling above the diversion dam were swept through the canal’s intake gates. The paddlers survived, but the accident prompted the closure of the launch site near the headgates, where powerful currents are formed as water flows into the canal.
Since then, eight safety buoys have been placed in the area, and last Wednesday, plans were finalized to restore canoe and kayak launch access by moving the launch site slightly upstream and past an abandoned barge that has been beached there for many years.
“We’ll be clearing a small path to allow people to get a little farther upstream, and we think it will be completed within about a month,” Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said. “Once that has been done, we’ll move the chains and have it re-opened.”
Boaters who use the area in the future will still have to portage their vessels to the site, which has worked well in the past.
Wiedmeier said paddlers who access the upstream side of the headgates will be cautioned to stay well above the warning buoys.
CHEAPER WILDLIFE TAGS: Georgia’s five wildlife license plates will soon cost less and provide more support for conserving Georgia wildlife, from bald eagles to bobwhite quail.
House Bill 881, which goes into effect July 1, rolls back the cost of buying or renewing a wildlife plate to $25 and dedicates more than 75 percent of fees to the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division programs that depend on them.
Lots of people were annoyed in 2010 when the Georgia Legislature abruptly changed the way special license plates were sold in efforts to steer more money into the state’s general fund.
In particular, the addition of a $35 “renewal fee” to such tags prompted many Georgians to simply turn them in.
Under the new law, wildlife plates will cost $25 to buy or renew. Of that, $19 of each purchase and $20 for a renewal will go to help wildlife.
Over the years, proceeds from those tags have helped acquire thousands of acres of wildlands open to Georgians, restore bobwhite quail and habitats, and enhance trout fisheries. Since Wildlife Resources Division work focused on quail and nongame – wildlife not legally fished for or hunted – receives no state appropriations, tag sales and renewals are the main source of local funds.
NRA FRIENDS: The Savannah River Chapter of Friends of NRA Banquet and Auction is scheduled for Thursday at the Aiken County Shrine Club, 1526 Columbia Hwy. North, Aiken.
Tickets for an evening of food, fun, fellowship, firearms and fundraising are $30 each and can be purchased at The Gun Rack or online at www.friendsofnra.org/sc/events. Doors open at 5:45 p.m.
Proceeds benefit youth firearms and safety education, conservation efforts, plus many other qualified educational programs.
CRACKERNECK OPENING: Aiken County’s Crackerneck Wildlife Management Area and Ecological Reserve will be open to the public on five Saturdays during the month of May (3, 10, 17, 24 and 31).
The site consists of 10,470 acres owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and is located along the Savannah River in Aiken County. Maps and brochures of the area can be requested in advance by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and providing a name and postal mailing address. Maps are also available at the check station where visitors sign in.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) office located on the Savannah River Site can be reached at (803) 725-3663.