Originally created 10/01/00

Road into wetlands opens soon



One of east Georgia's best public hunting sites -- the Phinizy Swamp Wildlife Management Area -- is about to get even better.

And it's about time.

Work on a new gravel road beside Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Plant begins this week. Once completed, the half-mile road will restore public access to nearly half of the 1,500-acre WMA cut off by Bobby Jones Expressway.

The road -- promised in 1991, forgotten and then re-scheduled to have been built a year ago -- is long overdue.

It's been nearly 25 years since since Georgia's Department of Transportation made its controversial decision to extend Bobby Jones Expressway across Phinizy Swamp.

After skirmishes with environmentalists and federal agencies over carving a massive roadbed through fragile wetlands, DOT finally agreed in the 1980s to buy and preserve the adjoining 1,500 acres as mitigation land.

The Department of Natural Resources was assigned to manage the area for public use, but it remained closed for another decade as the swampy floodplain was bisected with a four-mile strip of asphalt.

Five years ago, with the highway extension finished, the area was opened to archery-only public deer hunting. The area also offers quality small game and waterfowl opportunities.

Although open almost five years, the only legal access is through the Gravel Pit Road gate, which enters only half the property.

Now that the new access road is under way, the remaining acreage south of Bobby Jones will be reachable. We can only wonder how much the deer have grown during all those years of isolation.

Rusty Merritt, DOT's area engineer, told me part of the delay was negotiating right-of-way for the access road with the city of Augusta, which owns the wastewater plant property.

Now that all is worked out, Merritt said the road -- which will include a turnaround dead-end with parking for 15 vehicles -- will become a reality by late October.

"We got the crew out there today," he told me Thursday. "And we do plan to have that thing opened up, weather permitting, very soon."

In the meantime, some hunters are parking illegally along Bobby Jones Expressway and hopping the fence to access favorite areas.

Merritt reminds those folks that Bobby Jones Expressway is a controlled access road, where parking is off limits.

The new road, hopefully, will offer visitors a legal way to enter the WMA and curb the dangerous practice of parking along what essentially is a highway.

Management areas exist all over the state to offer hunters affordable access to public land with quality outdoor opportunities.

It seems like an eternity has passed since DOT acquired its chunk of Phinizy Swamp. Now I'll be looking forward to seeing what the other half of it is like.

NEVER ENOUGH GEESE: South Carolina gunners will enjoy an extra 10 days of goose hunting this fall and winter, based on a recent decision by the state Board of Natural Resources.

There will be 60 days in the duck season, running from Nov. 22 to Jan. 20. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before legal sunrise to legal sunset statewide, and the bag limit is six ducks per day.

The Canada Goose season will run from Nov. 22 to Jan. 20 and from Feb. 3-12 for all areas of the state not covered by a special `early season` approved for portions of the South Carolina lowcountry later this month.

For complete information on South Carolina waterfowl regulations, write to S.C. DNR, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, S.C., 29202, to request the rules and regulations booklet for the 2000-2001 season.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.