The Satilla River is a true blackwater stream, born in river swamps of the Coastal Plain and flowing 260 winding miles before emptying out into St. Andrew Sound on the Georgia coast. The Alabaha and Little Satilla rivers are the main tributaries, adding to the 3,530-square-mile watershed drained by the Satilla River. Blackwater rivers flow through a narrow floodplain carrying a high organic, low sediment load. Decaying vegetation produces tannic acid, which creates the signature burgundy red color that gives the river its "blackwater" designation. Adding to the Satilla's silvery, reflective beauty are the adjoining swamplands and bottomland forests that buffer the course of the river as it winds between glistening white sand banks. As the river approaches its lower reaches, it broadens and loses its canopy of trees. Below US 17 (at Woodbine), the river widens and becomes tidally influenced and the surrounding vegetation consists of marsh. It was near this area that many famous large rice plantations were developed, including Belleview, Fairfield, and Refuge plantations.
The river's name comes from Saint Illa, the name of an officer of the Spanish Army, which was later shortened and corrupted to Satilla. In early times, the Satilla was known for abundant game, and fur trappers tried their skills along the riverbanks. A pre-Revolutionary War fort, known as Burnt Fort, is located where the GA 252 bridge crosses the Satilla. The name comes from a local legend that a fort once was built there by South Carolinians from 17151725, which later burned. Burnt Fort Station was built in 1793 by Capt. James Randolph, who the next year commanded a squad of dragoons to defend Camden County from Creek Indian attacks.
Wildlife common along the banks of the river includes raccoons, opossums, armadillos, deer, squirrels, ducks, and wild turkeys. A study of the river's insect fauna revealed a great abundance and diversity of stoneflies, mayflies, dragonflies, dobsonflies, caddisflies and beetles, which are supported by submerged decaying vegetation such as snags and roots. Fishermen seek the river's largemouth bass, crappie, redbreast, and bluegill. Warmouth, channel catfish, bowfin, chain pickerel, and American eels share the river with softshell and hardshell turtles, cottonmouths, and alligators.
Flora surrounding the river is determined by the degree and duration of submergence. In wetter areas, the river flows through cypress and gum swamps. Drier areas support water oak, laurel oak, sweetbay, red maple, and pine. Swamp blackgum are common. In the understory are titi, black titi, and an azalea (Rhododendron canescens), which produces beautiful floral displays in spring. Many of the higher, sandy plateaus have been converted to monoculture pine plantations.
Magnolia Bluff, a virgin hardwood tract, is one of Georgia's prized botanical areas. It is found 1 mile north of Burnt Fort on the river, and is renowned for its very mesic (wet) seepage bluff forest that supports a strange assemblage of flora species, including 500-year-old magnolias growing side by side with floodplain species such as cypress and water hickory.
The Satilla is a peaceful, slow-moving river that creates feelings of tranquility and mystery in its wilder sections. Unfortunately, the river is interrupted by farmlands and pine plantations developed right up to the river, which can disturb the sense of isolation and remoteness on the river. The novice canoeist will feel comfortable on the slow-moving Satilla. Camping can be excellent on the white point bars found on the inside turns of the river, or on the higher bluffs that go up to 50 feet above the river in the upper reaches and 8 feet in the lower reaches. Of interest to historians is Burnt Fort, located where the river flows under the GA 252 bridge.
Another approach to canoeing the Satilla is to launch a boat in the Little Satilla River Wildlife Management Area and paddle down to the Satilla River. The Little Satilla River flows past extensive swamps, with clay banks instead of the characteristic white sand banks of the Satilla.
Suggested canoe trips on the Satilla River: US 82 to GA 15/121, 15.7 miles. GA 15/121 to US 301, 26.8 miles. US 301 to US 84, 20.2 miles. US 84 to GA 252 (Burnt Fort), 35.3 miles. GA 252 to US 17 (Satilla River Waterfront Park), 24.5 miles. Little Satilla: US 84 to intersection with Satilla River at Oak Grove Church on GA 110 south of Needmore, 30 miles.
[Fig. 3(5)] Established in 1980 on the banks of the beautiful Satilla River in Woodbine, this well-equipped park provides access to the upper reaches of the river. The Crawfish Festival, featuring locally raised "mudbugs," is a popular event held in the park the last weekend in April. Located on the southeastern side of the US 17 bridge, the park's facilities include a boat ramp, 2 docks, picnic tables and shelters, and restrooms.
For more information: Phone (912) 576-3211.
This 16,934-acre wildlife management area borders both sides of the Little Satilla River and its extensive river swamps in Pierce and Wayne counties. The WMA is a popular site for hunting deer, turkeys, raccoons, and opossums. Hikers should only contemplate visiting this wildlife management area when it is not hunting season and must give notice to the forest supervisor. Contact the Wildlife Resources Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources for hunting seasons.
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