Local collaborative developing multi-county Satilla paddle trail

By WAYNE HARDY The Blackshear Times
Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Conservationists and tourism officials say a Satilla River Water Trail could be a money-maker as Pierce County’s Natural Attraction

The Satilla River has long been revered as a natural jewel for swimming, fishing or boating.

It is the river’s value to recreation, as well as the local ecosystem and economy, that has spurred a group to create a Satilla River Water Trail, celebrating the waterway as a local and tourist attraction.

Sixteen people – tourism officials, river enthusiasts and Georgia Department of Natural Resources representatives – met last Tuesday to discuss planning for a canoeing and kayaking water trail, which would have official checkpoints, rest areas and an ongoing marketing effort.

The first of several planned monthly sessions this year was facilitated by Gwyneth Moody, community programs coordinator for the Georgia River Network (GRN), based in Athens. The non-profit organization guides watershed groups along the steps for starting water trails and provides resource assistance.

Satilla Riverkeeper Executive Director Ashby Nix explained the initial section of the roughly day-long paddle trip would include Pierce and Brantley counties, from the U.S. Highway 84 bridge at the Pierce-Ware county line down to a U.S. Highway 301 bridge. The trail could later be expanded upstream and downstream with the help of partnerships in adjacent counties.

Just getting started, however, will take time – and volunteers.

Moody outlined criteria to get the water trail operational and included on official listings. Kiosks would be set up at each access point, featuring information about the trail, endangered species and reminders about safety, keeping the river clean and respecting private property.

Access points should provide “safe and legal access” to the river, Moody said. Parking would be held to the same standard. Moody explained the water trail would need to be sponsored by either a single group or collaboration.

“There needs to be some organization maintaining the water trail, making sure the landings are safe and are not becoming dilapidated,” she said.

Discussion about a Satilla water trail has been ongoing for the past year, with involvement from the Blackshear Main Street program and Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

Satilla Riverkeeper has already handled some legwork, Nix said, on identifying possible landings on public and private property – noting landowners where permission would be needed – and outlining needs at each point.

Further work for access points includes collecting data for interpretive signage at the kiosks, along with notes about nearby amenities, Moody said. For example, sites for camping are encouraged, though not required, she added.

Chamber Executive Director Angela Manders said it may be useful to have kiosks in well lit, high traffic area in the city to let people know about the nearby water trail.

Blackshear Main Street Manager Tommy Lowmon said the city’s hotel/motel tax revenue could possibly be used to promote the water trail and attract visitors.

The tax generates about $20,000 annually. Though its use is currently restricted to attractions within the city limits, Lowmon said there has been talk of adjusting rules to fund outside activities for the purpose of bringing visitors who may spend money in town, such as for gas, lodging, shopping and food.

“We realize the significance of the resource we have in the Satilla River,” Lowmon said. “We just want to use every asset we have.”

Volunteers are needed to scout areas and record river levels suitable for paddling along the proposed trail, so guests are aware when some portions may be inaccessible according to gauges. Moody encouraged the group to contact equipment outfitters about accommodating visitor needs.

“It’s really important, if you’re going to bring in tourism, to also have some place that has canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards or rafts … for them to rent because not everybody owns their own kayak.”

Moody said a portfolio of Satilla River information, to be used on fact sheets, rack cards and brochures, should be available for distribution to government officials, community groups or anyone showing interest in the river. Additional promotional items needed include a website, social media accounts, an illustrative map and logo.

Marketing and involvement for the Satilla River Water Trail should include educational opportunities, such as field trips for schools and youth groups, river cleanup events and water testing, Moody said. Outreach could include integrating the water trail with the Blackshear Geocaching Challenge, which already has some of its prize destinations at the Satilla.

Moody advised the group to include vision and mission statement development in its planning, as well as to develop a timeline for short-term and long-term projects. She said identifying funding sources, including grant opportunities, should also be a priority.

GRN also maintains and promotes the state’s 14 established and eight developing water trails. The Satilla River Water Trail would be added to the listing with a link to learn more about the Satilla, Moody said.

“The water trail is a great opportunity to bring economic development to your community.”

• To get involved or learn more about the proposed Satilla River Water Trail, contact the Chamber at 912.449.7044 or Satilla Riverkeeper at 912.510.9500.

Our Thanks to the Blackshear Times,
Here is a link to the original article if you want to see it (although we don’t know how long this website keeps their files active).