By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Possible slippery slope for Fort Morris
outdoors ftmorris
A view of St. Catherines Sound from Fort Morris. Some of the birds visitors often see include the Great Blue Heron, Osprey and Red-Winged Blackbird. - photo by Photo by Jimmy Courier
By Jimmy Currier
Coastal Courier (Hinesville, GA) Sports Editor

Could a Revolutionary War historic site in Liberty County one day be turned into high-price condos? It’s possible, argues Dave Swinford of the Friends of Fort Morris Site in Sunbury.
Five years of budget cuts have taken its toll on Georgia’s 48 parks and 15 historic sites. Legislators have cut the parks’ budget by 25 percent since 2002.
“It is silly to have a site this significant and put so little into it,” Swinford said. “I feel like we see the writing on the wall. This is prime coastal area with 72 acres someone would like to get their hands on and turn into condos or high-rent homes.”
Swinford has volunteered at the fort since 1993 and said the DNR has not funded any capital improvements.
Volunteers and private donations created the nature trail, blacksmith shop and pottery shop.
“We want to get the state to fund the site on an ongoing basis, other than just keeping the lights on,” Swinford said. “In February, we found out they want to reduce our hours by half and cut our staff by a third and that’s just plain unacceptable.”
With constant cuts, Swinford fears what could be next.
“I have this feeling that they’ve been ignoring this fort all this time and in the last five years, the coast has exploded and Sunbury in particular, with all the condos and high-rent homes,” he said. “Now, they’re going to reduce our hours and staff. What will it take after that? Oh, your numbers aren’t good, we have to close you. Next year, the state declares the property surplus and sells it to the highest bidder. Something significant happened here and we want to improve it, not just let it sit here and grow weeds.”
Fort Morris was instrumental in the colonists defeating Britain in the American Revolution. Though the fort eventually fell to Britain, it nevertheless helped the American cause.
Information from Fort Morris’ website states:  “When the Continental Congress convened in 1776, the delegates recognized the importance of a fort to protect their growing seaport from the British. Soon afterwards, a low bluff on the Medway River at Sunbury was fortified and garrisoned by 200 patriots. When the British demanded the fort's surrender on November 25, 1778, the defiant Col. John McIntosh replied, “Come and take it!” The British refused and withdrew back to Florida. Forty-five days later, they returned with a superior force, and on January 9, 1779, Fort Morris fell after a short but heavy bombardment. Under the name of Fort Defiance, this bulwark was once again used against the British during the War of 1812. Today, visitors can stand within the earthwork remains and view scenic Saint Catherines Sound. A museum and film describe the colonial port of Sunbury and the site's history.”
Fort Morris has roughly 70 acres, including a breathtaking view of Saint Catherines Sound and even a swing to relax on while taking in the view.
Earlier this year, Swinford organized a campaign to lobby the DNR and Governor Sonny Perdue to provide more funds for the fort.
Perdue can increase the funding to the DNR if he signs the budget bill before July 1, but he is still undecided on the issue.
Arthur Edgar, director at Fort Morris Historic Site in Midway, said they don’t have a full staff and have been told by the operational staff in Atlanta to close four days out of the week.
The site used to be open Tuesday-Saturday, but now only operates Thursday-Saturday and being open for special occasions like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July was like pulling teeth, according to Swinford.
A full staff for Fort Morris is three, but Fort King George in Darien needed an interpertive ranger, so they got Jason Baker from Morris, leaving Edgar to do the work of two men.
“The programming has to go on,” he said. “That’s what generally gets the visitors to come out. It has to be done to make it live. I put on a uniform and shoot muskets, while my wife gets involved and talks about the colonial period.”
Edgar would like to hire an interpretive ranger, but he understands it will be a while until it happens.
“The magic date is July 1, because that’s when the new budget takes place,” he said. “If the budget gets approved and 30 odd positions get advertised then we can get our manpower back up and we will be able to go back to normal operations.”
Edgar estimates he receives approximately 1,000 visitors a month, including several school field trips.
He believes parks are vital to our quality of life.
“I think they’re vital and it’s very important to get out and play,” Edgar said. “It’s nice to go out and play to release stress and enjoy the environment, history and our heritage. We get a lot of visitors who don’t know the place existed and local people.”
Edgar is grateful for Swinford and the Friends of Fort Morris’ support.
“The Friends did a great job in putting us out there through writing letters and making phone calls,” Edgar said. “We’ve had response from all over the country and they recognize the importance of Fort Morris.”
Note: Fort Morris will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday for Memorial Day, with exhibitions from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Governor Perdue’s office may be contacted at (404) 656-1776.
Sign up for our e-newsletters