Officials were all smiles last Friday as they cut the ceremonial ribbon to mark the opening of the new Tivoli River fishing pier and kayak launch in south Bryan County.
The facility replaces wooden docks built on state land on both sides of the river in the mid-1980s. Those docks had fallen into disrepair and were unsafe.
“It’s exciting for me to see this,” Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said. “I live across the river and have been watching these docks fall down for 19 years. Now we have something the whole community can be proud of.”
The south dock of the old pier jutted about 100 feet into the river and blocked more than 80 percent of the waterway. Its replacement runs parallel to the bank and includes an 80-foot fixed pier and a 25-foot-long floating kayak launch.
The new pier, about two miles off Highway 144 on Belfast Keller Road, is made of aluminum and concrete and cost $150,000 — a third of which was funded through a federal grant. The rest was paid for by Bryan County.
The Tivoli River pier is the first public facility in Georgia to be designed and built with kayakers and other paddle sports in mind, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Chairman Mark Williams said.
That drew thanks from Tony Narcisse, president of Georgia Kayak Fishing Inc.
“The overwhelming feeling I have for paddlers across Georgia is one of gratitude,” Narcisse said. “We’re very grateful to the citizens of Bryan County, elected officials and state officials. To make something that should have happened a reality has been a lot of hard work. Speaking for paddlers, this is something that has been sorely needed.”
Though Bryan County commissioners set aside funding several years ago to replace the old docks, a tanking economy brought the project to a halt. It started again in 2009 when the county and DNR signed an agreement enabling the state to get $50,000 in federal funding to finish the project, Williams said.
The first design for the pier included a Jet Ski launch, but Burnsed said that idea didn’t float.
“I said, ‘Oh, no, this river is not big enough to have a bunch of Jet Skis flying up and down it,’” he said. “Paddling is what it’s all about. I’m a kayaker myself, though I don’t do it as much as I want to.”
The Tivoli River pier is one of 46 access points to saltwater in the state. Georgia has more than 3,400 miles of tidal creeks and rivers and 10 major estuaries, all in a coastline about 100 miles long, and the demand for access is increasing, according to Williams.
“Nature-based tourism and paddle sports are growing in coastal Georgia,” Williams said. “More and more people want to visit our coast.”
The new facility, which meets American Disability Act guidelines, also provides access to water to those who don’t have other ways to enjoy the coast, Burnsed said.
“People like to fish, like to crab, they like to shrimp and this is a good place to do it,” he said. “It’s an alternative for those who don’t have a boat and can’t get in the water. They can come here and fish and crab and just enjoy this beautiful place.”