Discover the Resources of the Ogeechee River one of Georgia’s 14 Major Watersheds

ogeechee watershed
The Ogeechee River. Photo by the Georgia River Network

The Ogeechee watershed is one of Georgia’s 14 major watersheds. Beginning in Greene County in the Georgia Piedmont, the Ogeechee River flows 245 miles to empty into Ossabaw Sound, 15 miles south of Savannah. Read an Ogeechee River Paddling Guide

See all of Georgia’s 14 Major Watersheds

Altamaha, Chattahoochee, Coosa, Flint, Ochlockonee, Ocmulgee, Oconee, Ogeechee, Satilla, Savannah, St Marys, Suwannee, Tallapoosa, Tennessee

The Ogeechee Watershed System

The Ogeechee River, which begins in the Georgia Piedmont, flows southeast for 245 miles and empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Ossabaw Sound, 15 miles south of Savannah. Maximum elevation of about 650 feet above sea level occurs at the headwaters near Union Point in Greene County in Georgia’s Piedmont Province. This occasionally steep, rolling area comprises only about five percent of the river basin. The Upper Coastal Plain portion of the river basin extends some 90 miles to the southeast and includes about 57 percent of the basin area. The Lower Coastal Plain, comprising about 38 percent of the basin area, is nearly flat. At the extreme seaward end of the Lower Coastal Plain, river water and land form an irregular and intricate pattern in which estuaries, sloughs, lagoons, mud flats, brackish swamps and barrier islands all play a part. The Ogeechee’s principle tributary, the Canoochee River, originates in the Upper Coastal Plain southwest of the Ogeechee River and, for most of its 85 miles, flows parallel to the Ogeechee. The Canoochee joins the Ogeechee about 35 miles above its mouth.

How the Ogeechee Got Its Name

Freely translated to be “River of the Uchees,” the Ogeechee referred to a sub-tribe of the Creek Confederation. The British settlers called the stream “Hogeechee.”

Watershed Protection

Ogeechee Riverkeeper was formed in 2005 from the merger of two river groups, Friends of the Ogeechee River and Canoochee Riverkeeper. It works to protect the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers and their tributaries from pollution.

Experiences in the Ogeechee Watershed

Listed below are locations where you can see or experience the Ogeechee watershed.

A.H. Stephens State Historic Park

This quiet site combines the recreational opportunities of a state park with the educational resources of a historic site. Named after the vice president of the Confederacy and governor of Georgia, A.H. Stephens State Historic Park features a Confederate museum with one of the finest collections of Civil War artifacts in Georgia, with articles such as uniforms and documents. Stephens’ home, Liberty Hall, has been renovated to its original style and is fully furnished and open for tours. Beautiful outdoor facilities make this park attractive for both nature lovers and history buffs.

The Ogeechee Watershed Connection: The park is closely connected to two rivers, the Ogeechee and the Savannah. Just south of the park, the North and South Forks of the Ogeechee, Beaverdam Creek and several other unnamed creeks come together to form the Ogeechee River, which then flows south to the Atlantic. The outflow from the park’s lake is joined by the North and South Forks of Little River, Kettle Creek and several unnamed streams to form Little River, which flows into Clarks Hill Reservoir. That water also eventually reaches the Atlantic, but via the Savannah River. It’s a small but interesting irony of Georgia history that the home of Stephens, a man who was closely involved in the beginnings of the Civil War, is at the headwaters of the Ogeechee while the Battle of Richmond Hill, a Civil War battle whose Union victory hastened the end of the War, occurred at the end of the river.

Fort McAllister State Historic Park

Located on the south bank of the Ogeechee River, this park is the home of the best-preserved earthwork fortification of the Confederacy. These sand and mud earthworks were attacked seven times by Union ironclads, but did not fall until captured in 1864 by Gen. William T. Sherman during his “March to the Sea.” Nestled among giant live oaks and beautiful salt marsh, this park offers a museum of Civil War artifacts as well as camping, hiking, fishing and picnicking facilities.

The Ogeechee Watershed Connection: The Ogeechee, which flows into the Atlantic just east of the park, provides one of the sources of water for Ossabaw Sound, a part of the great estuarine system of the Georgia coast. It is an interesting twist of historical fate that this river, which figured prominently in the last months of the Civil War, begins just south of the home of A.H. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy. The Stephens home is also a state historic park (see the listing in this section).

Hamburg State Park

With modern-day facilities combined with elegant structures from an earlier time, Hamburg State Park is an inviting mix of history and outdoor recreation. Anglers can enjoy great lake fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, and bream while aided by boat ramps and a fishing pier. Campers find shaded campsites along the edge of quiet Hamburg Lake, which is fed by the Little Ogeechee River. The restored 1921 water-powered gristmill is still operational and beckons visitors to buy a bag of cornmeal at the country store. (Visitors who are particularly interested in the operation of the mill should call ahead to be sure it will be operating.) A museum contains old agricultural tools and appliances used in rural Georgia. This state park offers one-day canoe trips in early spring on the scenic Ogeechee. The trips are 4.5 miles long and usually run about 3-to-3.5 hours. Most of the trip is on flat water with one Class I rapid and a short stretch of Class II rapids. Trips are open to individuals as well as groups. Spaces are limited and only three or four trips are run each year.

The Ogeechee Watershed Connection: The Little Ogeechee River forms Hamburg Mill Pond and then joins the main stem of the Ogeechee River a few miles south. The Ogeechee flows southeast to its ultimate destination – the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Savannah. The restored 1921 gristmill is a good example of how, well into the 1900s, river-powered gristmills were an important part of community life and economics.

Magnolia Springs State Park

Magnolia Springs State Park is known for its crystal-clear springs that spout 7 million gallons of water per day and the boardwalk that spans the cool water. During warmer months, alligators, turtles, and other wildlife congregate near the springs. A free freshwater aquarium contains native species, and a 28-acre lake is available for fishing and boating. During the Civil War, this site was called Camp Lawton and served as the “world’s largest prison.” Today, little remains of the prison stockade; however, the earthen breastworks which guarded it may still be seen.

The Ogeechee Watershed Connection: Magnolia Springs flows into Buckhead Creek, which joins the Ogeechee just south of the park. From there the Ogeechee flows to the Atlantic, reaching the ocean just below Savannah. Here visitors can see some of the water in Georgia’s vast system of “underground rivers” come to the surface. The water pouring out of Magnolia Springs has been circulating (perhaps for hundreds of years) in a complex system of underground channels, or “aquifers.”

Skidaway Island State Park

Located near historic Savannah, this barrier island has both salt and fresh water due to the estuaries and marshes that flow through the area. The park borders Skidaway Narrows, a part of the intercoastal waterway. Two nature trails wind through marshes, live oaks, cabbage palmettos and longleaf pines, allowing visitors to watch for deer, raccoon, shore birds and fiddler crabs. Observation towers provide another chance for visitors to search for wildlife on this beautiful island.

The Ogeechee Watershed Connection: Skidaway is part of the estuarine system fed by the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers.

More Ogeechee Watershed Resources

Here are some other places and resources that will help you experience the Ogeechee watershed and its estuarine system where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Ossabaw Sound.

Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge

Blackbeard Island was acquired by the Navy Department at public auction in 1800 as a source of live oak timber for shipbuilding. (The U.S.S. Constitution was constructed from live oak timbers harvested on the Georgia coast.) A Presidential Proclamation in 1940 changed its designation from Blackbeard Island Reservation to Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge. Today, the island’s 5,618 acres are characterized by a series of long, low parallel ridges forested mainly with live oaks and slash pines. In 1975, 3,000 acres of the refuge were set aside as National Wilderness. Blackbeard Island offers a variety of recreational activities year-round. Wildlife observation, especially bird watching, is excellent throughout the year. Waterfowl visit the freshwater pools and marshland in winter months while songbirds abound in the wooded areas in the spring and fall. The existing trails and roads provide hikers with scenic paths ideal for nature study. From March 15 to October 25, fishing is allowed on two large freshwater ponds. Saltwater creeks that pass through refuge marshland are open to fishing the entire year. Presently, two archery hunts for deer are scheduled on the island in the fall and winter (for exact dates and permits, contact the Coastal Refuge’s headquarters. Submit a stamped, self-addressed envelope for permit applications). Directions: Blackbeard Island is accessible only by boat. Transportation to the island is not provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Arrangements for trips to the refuge can be made at Shellman’s Bluff. To reach Shellman’s Bluff, travel south from Savannah on US 17 for approximately 51 miles to Shellman’s Bluff Rd which terminates at Shellman’s Bluff on the Julienton River. A public boat ramp on Harris Neck NWR (Barbour River Landing) may also be used as a launching site for trips to the island.

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Harris National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1962 by transfer of federal lands formerly managed by the Federal Aviation Agency as a WWII Army airfield. The refuge’s 2,765 acres consist of saltwater marsh, grassland, mixed deciduous woods, and cropland. Because of this great variety in habitat, many different species of birds are attracted to the refuge throughout the year. In summer, hundreds of egrets and herons nest in the swamps while in the winter large concentrations of ducks (especially mallards, gadwall, and teal) gather in the marshland and freshwater pools. Over 15 miles of paved roads and trails provide the visitor easy access to these areas. Some portions of the refuge may be closed seasonally to protect wildlife from human disturbance. Fishing is allowed in the tidal creeks bordering the refuge. Piers have been constructed for public use on Harris Neck Creek at the Ga Route 131 entrance. Access to refuge tidal waters and Blackbeard Island can be gained from a public boat ramp located on the Barbour River (at the termination of Ga Rt 131). The Barbour River Landing is open daily from 4 am to midnight. Deer hunts are managed on the refuge in the fall and winter. Hunters may obtain applications for permits from the Coastal Office. A stamped, self-addressed envelope should be included with written requests for applications. Directions: To reach Harris Neck, take Exit 67 off I-95 and travel south on US 17 for approximately 1 mile, then east on Ga Rt 131 for 7 miles to the main entrance gate.

University of Georgia Marine Education Center and Aquarium

The University of Georgia offers short academic classes and summer science camps for school children (pre-K-12th grade). Classes for college students and teachers and programs for visiting adult groups are available by advance reservation. Classes and programs can include classroom, laboratory or field activities. Boat trips and trawling are available. An aquarium, open weekdays and Saturdays, features species of fish, turtles and other animals native to Georgia coastal waters. The Jay Wolf Nature Trail has 0.5- and 1-mile loops that wind through the maritime forest and beside the salt marsh. Directions: located on Skidaway Island, less than 30 minutes from downtown Savannah. Follow Waters Ave south, which becomes Whitfield Ave, then Diamond Causeway. After the stoplight on Skidaway Island, turn left onto McWhorter Dr at the 4-way stop and follow the signs for about 4 miles.

Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge

Wassaw, one of Georgia’s coastal barrier islands, was designated a National Wildlife Refuge on October 20, 1969. Unlike many of Georgia’s Golden Isles, little development and strict management practices have modified Wassaw’s primitive character. The 10,053-acre refuge includes beaches with rolling dunes, live oak and slash pine woodlands and vast salt marshes. Refuge visitors may enjoy recreational activities such as photography, bird watching, beachcombing, hiking and general nature studies. The 20 miles of dirt roads and 7 miles of beach provide an ideal wildlife trail system for hikers. Bird watching is particularly fruitful during the spring and fall migrations. The island supports rookeries for egrets and herons, and a variety of wading birds are abundant in the summer months. In summer, telltale tracks on Wassaw’s beach attest to nocturnal visits by the threatened loggerhead sea turtles that come ashore for egg laying and then return secretively to the sea. The Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with the Savannah Science Museum, monitors the nesting activities of these giant loggerheads. Under the supervision of qualified museum personnel, the public is permitted to assist in the ongoing research project. Selected participants must pay a fee covering transportation and lodging expenses. Deer hunts (both bow and gun) are scheduled in the fall and winter. The Coastal Refuge’s Office can provide a schedule of hunt dates and issue applications for permits to hunt on the island (requests for permit applications must be accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope). The saltwaters of the refuge marshland are open to fishing throughout the year. Directions: Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge is accessible only by boat. Both Wassaw and Pine Island are open to the public; other upland areas are closed. The visitor must arrange transportation to the refuge. Several local marinas in the Savannah area (at Coffee Bluff and Isle of Hope) and a public boat ramp adjacent to the Skidaway Island Bridge can serve as launching sites for trips to Wassaw.

 

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