Preliminary efforts to restore the South Newport River to its natural condition are underway and going well, according to a recent report from the Friends of the South Newport River.
Come mid-June, an existing boat ramp on Old Route 17, off Highway 17 south of Interstate 95’s exit 67, will become a “a family fishing and picnic destination” complete with a 400-square-foot dock and handicap accessibility, according to organization’s president, Rob Emerson.
“It’s hard to use now because the boat ramp that was put in is just a slippery slope, a few people use it, but it’s just not good … it doesn’t work for families, there’s a commercial crabber or two who use it and a few fisherman and a few duck hunters. So what we saw here is an opportunity to upgrade the facility and bring more people to the river,” he said.
The river flows from freshwater swamps in the area of the LeConte-Woodmanston rice plantation in Riceboro across 15 miles of salt marsh to the Atlantic Ocean and acts as the Liberty/McIntosh county line.
The progress is not visible as the group awaits permitting for the dock. Once received the construction should only take about a week.
Emerson said the Liberty County Commission has provided verbal and resolution support for the project.
The dock project is made possible through a Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division grant and private donations.
“This is the only major reservation project on the Georgia Coast. One of the things I learned when I talked to the DNR is nobody’s ever done anything like this,” he added.
Last fall, McIntosh County received a $35,200 Coastal Incentive Grant for the boat launch and shore enhancement project, which aims to increase public access to coastal resources and increase ecotourism.
The project also will make the dock a launch point on the Bluewave Trail, a DNR-grant sponsored map that identifies kayak routes from St. Marys to Savannah.
While Emerson said he’s eager for more people to enjoy the river, this is just a step toward conservation.
“The river here is silting in as a result of the construction activity from when they built I-95, and without action, it’s going to choke,” he said. “Historically, going back for generations, folks in Liberty and McIntosh county fished out of here, and now it’s becoming almost impossible to navigate it.”
The marsh and bank have eroded since the construction of the interstate through the marsh, the group’s website said. For years, area residents have discussed the issues with U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and the Army Corps of Engineers, but feasibility studies that can cost up to $250,000 are required before the issue can be resolved.
“Ultimately, it’s a $5 or $10 million fix,” Emerson said. “That’s how big a problem it is … It’s a big fix, but the good news is, it could also be a mitigation project.”
The group also has received donations from Plum Creek Timber, which has provided for a paddle-boat installation device, and from SNF Chemtall.
Another component, collection of oyster shells to construct a 2,400-square-foot oyster reef, also is underway. “Shell donations mean more than money to complete the dock project,” he added. “The volunteer efforts are highly important to match NOAA grant funds.”
The group is collecting oyster, clam and scallop shells at the dock site. Everyone is encouraged to bring shells for recycling.
Those who wish to become involved in the river’s preservation projects can do so by visiting www.friendsofsouthnewport.org.