By Suzanne Welander
A blackwater tributary of the lower Savannah River, Ebenezer Creek boasts a rich history cast within a distinctly rare natural environment. This 13-mile run passes through ancient dwarf cypress and tupelo forests drowned in small shallow lakes that shelter a wide variety of bird and animal species. The sanctuary that the creek has historically provided is now reciprocated by the state; it is one of only four waterways designated as a Georgia wild and scenic river, and it is a National Natural Landmark. The nearby town of Springfield is developing a water trail on the creek.
Ebenezer Creek, Stillwell Road to Savannah River
Length 13.5 mi
Time 7 hr
Gradient <1 fpm [caption id="attachment_91546" align="alignleft" width="594"] Map detail from Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia, copyright Menasha Ridge Press[/caption]
When the water is high, trips can begin near Springfield at the GA 119 bridge. Farther downstream near Log Landing Road, paddlers pass Ebenezer Landing, potentially the site of the first settlement by the German Salzburgers in 1733. In Georgia, the Salzburgers found freedom to live according to their religious beliefs. Settling at a low-lying section of land near the creek at the direction of Governor Ogelthorpe, the Salzburgers befriended the Native American Creeks of the area but found that the swamp environment didn’t agree with them. After two years of disease and struggle, they migrated downstream on the creek to found New Ebenezer on higher ground at the creek’s confluence with the Savannah River. The community thrived until the Revolutionary War, when it was mostly destroyed. The church, however, survived, and is the oldest continuously used building in Georgia. Some visitors still see, in the bricks of the church, the fingerprints of the women and children who helped build it.
Nearly 100 years later, the creek was the site of a tragic incident during the Civil War when hundreds—perhaps thousands—of freed slaves became caught between opposing armies. Seeking protection from Union Gen. Jefferson C. Davis, the refugees trailed his army to the creek; the Union army took the flooded creek as opportunity to strand the refugees on the opposite shore. Panic rose as the Confederate calvary closed in from the other direction, and countless refugees drowned or were killed as they tried to flee.
Today, the paddle down the creek is a profoundly peaceful one. Periodic high water flows of the Savannah (modulated now, due to the influence of upstream dams) force water to flood into the creek, creating shallow lakes. The resulting ecosystem is the best example of a backwater stream ecosystem in the state. The elongated lakes provide habitat for an unusual forest of virgin dwarfed bald cypress, located 0.5 mile above Long Bridge Road (C). Huge foundations support the comparatively small trunks of these trees, some estimated to be in excess of 1,000 years old. The swamp’s low nutrient levels, partly responsible for this dwarfing, have facilitated the invasion of nonnative plant species that threaten the natural diversity of the creek’s native flora. One of the most scenic portions of the creek lies near its mouth, where a forest of swamp tupelos towers above the reflective blackwater. Their regular pattern and lack of intervening vegetation inspire comparisons to a temple or cathedral.
A wide variety of animals thrives within the creek’s shelter, including elusive alligators. Birds flock to the area, making birdwatching a major attraction for paddlers. The creek’s waters provide spawning grounds for spotted bass.
The creek passes intermittently along flooded swamps and between banks. When the water is high, the creek jumps out of its banks into the swampland forest. You can, too, but take care not to get lost, particularly below Long Bridge Road. Even in high water, the current is imperceptibly slow. Dry landings are rare in the 3 miles below the Tommy Long boat ramp (D) and at other spots when the water’s up. The creek’s path is obvious when the water is low; exposed strainers are present but should not present a problem.
From Savannah, go north on I-95, Exit 109 for GA 21 North, to a righthand turn at GA 275. The boat ramp is at the end of the road. To get to the usual put-in, take GA 275 west to a right turn onto Long Bridge Road and continue to the creek. A bike trail can be used for a canoe–bicycle loop. Historical sites, including the church and a museum, are located at the confluence in New Ebenezer. GAUGE Consult the USGS website for Ebenezer at Springfield. The creek is runnable all year. Higher levels make side exploration of the swamps and sloughs possible.
Suzanne Welander is the co-author, with Bob Sehlinger, of the definitive Georgia guidebook, Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia published by Menasha Ridge Press. New for 2015, the completely updated 2nd edition adds five new waterways, including the new urban whitewater course in Columbus, with all new maps and data for all 771 access points. Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia is available from Menasha Ridge Press.
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