Project Description


The Georgia River Survey is an independent project based in Athens, GA that undertook to travel several major rivers of Georgia by canoe in 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2008, and to perform an ecological survey along each stream’s length and in its immediate surroundings. The group traveled the Satilla River in southeast Georgia for nineteen days in April and May of 2003, from SR 64 in Atkinson County to US 17 at Woodbine. In June 2003, we spent twenty-six days on the Flint River, paddling from Flat Shoals Road on the Meriwether/Pike County line to US 84 in Bainbridge (excepting Lake Blackshear). In July and August, 2003, we made an eight-day informal tour of north Georgia’s Etowah River, from Auraria to Rome (excepting Lake Allatoona) and continuing on to SR 100 on the Coosa. In the fall of 2003, two of our members took an informal week-long trip on the Ogeechee River from Millen to US 17 near Richmond Hill. In May and June of 2004, we spent six weeks traveling the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers from the Lloyd Shoals Dam to US 17 at Darien. In June of 2006, we spent fifteen days traveling the Oconee River from GA HWY 22 in Milledgeville to US 221 on the Altamaha, in the Three Rivers area. In May of 2008, we traveled from Augusta to Savannah on the Savannah River.

We performed matching ecological surveys on the Satilla, Flint, Ocmulgee, Altamaha, Oconee, and Savannah Rivers. Advancing at a rate of ten river miles per day, these surveys were intended to provide a broad but detailed view of each stream during a segment of its spring or summer season. We made extensive observations of the avian fauna and of bank and floodplain morphology and vegetation, made water quality measurements, and collected terrestrial insects. We kept records of land use, forest type, disturbance and successional stage, and other objects relevant to environmental characterization. At survey points spaced every ten river miles along each streamís course, we walked 200 meters away from the river to repeat our vegetation and bird point count protocol there, so as to expand our view beyond the river and its banks. All data and observations were georeferenced. In addition, we took photos of survey points and of many other places along each river, collected terrestrial insects for the Georgia Museum of Natural History, and engaged in a good deal of conversations about the river with local residents, most of them fishermen.

Our overall goal was to take a snapshot of each river from as many perspectives as possible within a limited period of time and over the greater part of the stream’s length. Analysis of the survey’s products is not yet complete, but a brief description of the details of our survey method can be found in our proceeding from the 2005 Georgia Water Resources Conference in Athens Here. We hope to contribute to the body of knowledge maintained by academic, governmental, and citizen studies and monitoring programs with respect to the state’s surface waters. Those who showed interest in this project in its earliest stages will recall that our original intention was to canoe all, or nearly all, of the navigable reaches of most of the rivers in the state of Georgia. As the project, developed, however, we placed more emphasis on a desire to perform a survey that balanced the characteristics of an exploratory survey with other parameters that provide data that can add to contemporary scientific knowledge.

We hope also to create baseline data that can be referenced in the future. Though exploratory surveys are not as common in research as they once were, we feel that they still hold value to those seeking to understand facets of the landscape. Also, it is often the case that the exploratory surveys of past centuries (e.g. William Bartram’s travels, the Lewis & Clark expedition, John Steinbeck & Ed Rickettsí trip to the Sea of Cortez) are combed for historical data that, when compared to current conditions, provide fascinating information about landscape change. One goal of our project was to foreground this often-secondary aspect of exploratory surveys, with an eye toward future researchers who may desire broad observational baseline data covering a fairly large geographic area. In addition, we hoped to create a survey protocol that could be repeated in the future, so as to continue generating compatible data over time.

Much of our impetus for the project derived from the pleasure inherent in the concept and the exercise of canoeing the entire navigable length of a river. This we achieved more than once in the course of the survey. We also learned how effective our chosen mode of travel can be, as a way of learning the landscape of the state where we all grew up.

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