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Altamaha River should be cherished by Georgia

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

LUMBER CITY — This town got its name because, in these parts, there once existed the largest sawmill in the South. That, I’m sure you agree, makes sense. It is best known, however, for something else. Not far from here is where the confluence of the Ocmulgee and the Oconee rivers form the Altamaha River which flows into the Atlantic near Darien. Including the Ocmulgee, it is 470 miles long which makes it the 7th longest in the country for rivers entirely within one state. From here to the coast, the Altamaha stretches 137 miles. It is the third largest contributor of fresh water to the Atlantic Ocean in North America.

With the Altamaha there is good news and bad news which has been its story historically. In the old days, there were plentiful forests along its banks-abundant long leaf pines which were accompanied by countless hardwoods which offered dwelling habitat for the now extinct Carolina parakeet, native to Georgia. There are concerns about the Altamaha’s future. As it is with so many of our natural resources, greed is the river’s enemy and that is not a recent thing. In the past, loggers felled trees with reckless abandon which is why the Carolina parakeet lost its habitat. Today, aficionados of the river are bothered by pollution which threatens the Altamaha.

There is a book written about the Altamaha which allows for enlightenment to those who don’t live near the river-those who don’t have a vested interest in the Altamaha. The book, published by the University of Georgia Press-”The Altamaha: A River and its Keeper,” by Dorinda Dallmeyer and Janisse Ray-includes over 200 photographs by James Holland, former Altamaha river keeper.

The Altamaha has a rich heritage. At the mouth of the river, history says, was where Chief Altamaha of the Yamasee Indians took up residence. Later on, the English were concerned about the Spanish to the South. The Spanish thought that there might be gold to the North. A lot of skirmishing would take place before the English would become preoccupied with the American Revolution.

From the Internet, you learn that there are over 100 rare or endangered plants and animals which find shelter in the Altamaha basin, which includes the, “Georgia spiny muscle, Atlantic sturgeon, the swallow-tailed kite, the American oyster catcher and the piping plover.” Along the Altamaha, you also find colonies of the red-cockaded woodpecker, which is endangered, gopher turtles and the Alabama Milkvine. The Nature Conservancy has declared that the, Altamaha River is on their list of 75 “Last Great Places in the world.”

Makes you want to spend more time with the Altamaha which is a mighty river at many points on its route from here to the Atlantic. It has power which long ago attracted those with commercial interests. It has a deep friendship with nature which has attracted scientists, naturalists and conservationists. There is a certain romance about the river, especially when you hear a native along its route speak of affection, always pronouncing it, “Altamahaul.”

In 1770, British poet, Oliver Goldsmith referred to the Altamaha in his poem, “The Deserted Village.” So, the Altamaha is about abundant life, history and adventure. Where it begins is about as lonely a place as you can imagine-but where it ends, on the Georgia coast, is where you can outfit yourself for extraordinary fishing opportunity with the help of those who hang out at the “Two Way Fish Camp,” which is but a few short miles from Darien but has a Brunswick address.

Anchored in the middle of the settlement is “Mudcat Charlie’s,” a restaurant where you can find the typical seafood menu, barbecue and something exotic-like alligator tail. It is a place where you also find pickup trucks, maybe a Lexus belonging to a guy from out of state who has found his way here to enjoy local culture-fitting for those who live along the Altamaha which has something for everyone.

Sad to say, the Altamaha, is endangered, according to the advocacy group, “American Rivers.” All Georgians ought to be concerned.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.