Led by Fort McAllister State Historic Park rangers Sarah Miller, Shirley Rowe and Trevor Johnston, a half-dozen hardy paddlers battled the elements Saturday to canoe Redbird Creek and learn more about Georgia’s saltwater marsh.
It was worth the trip, according to Savannah native Peter Simmons.
“I was curious about this water,” said Simmons, who now lives in Keller. “I wanted to see it, and I’m really impressed by the size and the width of this river. I want to come back.”
And that’s what it’s all about, Miller said.
“We do these trips to create an interest,” she said, sitting in a kayak momentarily sheltered from the wind as the paddlers took a break in a cut in the marsh to eat lunch.
That interest, Miller said, can turn into a passion.
“And that passion can turn into awareness, and awareness into advocacy, and it helps the state parks, gives people a deeper understanding of why we’re here,” she said.
So, as paddlers snacked and the wind blew, Rowe gave a naturalist’s view of the marsh, which in Bryan County is fed by the Ogeechee River and creeks such as Redbird. Georgia is home to about one-third of the remaining marsh left on the East Coast and includes more than 1,000 marsh hammocks, or small islands. It plays a role in everything from providing habitat for an abundance of species to serving as a buffer from storms.
But it’s under pressure. Docks and runoff pollution are toxic to the ecosystems, Rowe said, as birds wheeled past and the sun glinted off the salty water.
“What’s the only enemy to the marsh?” she asked the kids in the group, before answering her own question.
“When you drive from Richmond Hill to Savannah and go down 204 and you’re going along that marsh between King George and the mall on the road they put through all that marsh, look around the edges of the road, there’s no marsh growing up close to the road,” she said. “That’s because of runoff on the road, oil and gas and rubber from our tires, all of that. Whenever it rains, it gets washed off in there. We have to have roads, but you can see how that little bit of impact daily keeps the marsh killed.”
Johnston followed Rowe, giving the group a “Cliff’s Notes version” of the area’s long history, which includes the Guale — pronounced Wall-e — Indians, who lived on the coast as far back as 1150 A.D., according to archaeologists. Europeans ultimately colonized the area, and later wars — including the one for which Fort McAllister is famous — have played a role in shaping the area around the marsh.
Simmons said Saturday’s excursion was worthwhile.
“I’m glad I came, they did a good job,” he said. “Especially when you consider the wind and tide was not with us today, they held it together well.”
All told, the day lasted perhaps three hours as Fort McAllister rangers tried out their first “fall-slash-winter” paddle, Miller said, noting the fort soon may be offering kayak trips as well. And though Saturday didn’t turn out exactly as planned, the day wasn’t a loss.
It got people out onto the water, she said. It provided recreation and, perhaps, appreciation.
“Just getting you into the park is our first goal,” Miller said. “We’ve got folks here who’ve never paddled this creek. This helps them understand what’s here and why you’re supposed to respect it.”