By: Randy DuTeau
Studying history history and getting active needn’t be mutually exclusive. Given the right circumstances, many people would jump at the opportunity for a little historical edification with their exercise. Believe it or not, there really is a way to get the body moving, commune with nature, and learn a little about yesteryear.
In 1845 the Augusta Canal was built alongside the Savannah River for the purposes of providing drinking water for the city of Augusta, generating power for war-time industry, and as a transportation route for carrying cotton barges past rocky Savannah River shoals. Today, while still serving its utilitarian purposes, the Canal is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a major destination for recreational enthusiasts and history lovers. Active souls looking for a place to paddle, pedal, or hike would do well to pay a visit. In the process, they may just learn a thing or two about the community’s rich history.
The most popular access point for the Canal is Savannah Rapids Park in Martinez, Georgia. The 33-acre park, located just a few short miles from the “town center” of Evans, is a significant attraction for Columbia County and is a popular location for active lifestyle participants. The park features stunning views, unique historic facilities, and great activities for all experience levels.
Paddle sports are a fast-growing activity in Columbia County. Nowhere is this more visible than at Savannah Rapids Park. People with kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards are regularly seen leaving from the dock located near the Historic Canal Headgates. The trip down the Canal offers beautiful scenery and is relatively easy.
Bicycle riding is another excellent activity at the Canal. On any given day it is not uncommon to see the parking lot at Savannah Rapids Park filled with cars with bike racks and cyclists preparing to ride. A paved path leads from the parking lot down to the Canal hard-packed dirt Towpath. Any type of bike may be used on the path, but mountain and cross bikes are recommended. Bicycle rentals are available for anyone.
From Savannah Rapids Park, cyclists enjoy the easy, scenic 7.5 mile towpath that rolls between the Savannah River and the Canal all the way into Augusta. Riders with more experience may want to check out the Canal Singletrack located approximately 3.5 miles from Savannah Rapids behind the Augusta Pumping Station. The twisty trail is about three miles in length and perfect for mountain bikers with intermediate level skills and up.
Pedaling and paddling are not the only ways to get moving at Savannah Rapids Park. People who just want to throw on their kicks and take to their feet are also encouraged to explore the Savannah Rapids area. Walkers and joggers probably make up the greatest number of folks enjoying the beautiful surroundings. To some there is no better way to take in the great views of the river, the Canal, and occasional alligators than on two feet.
While you’re at Savannah Rapids, be sure to visit Miss Vickie at the Visitor Center located in the Lockkeeper’s Cottage near the Augusta Canal Headgates. She will be happy to show you the re-creation of the Lockkeeper’s bedroom, artifacts from the Canal’s early years, and share the rich history of this National Heritage Area. Whether you are there to learn, sweat, take in the view, or all of the above, Savannah Rapids Park and the Augusta Canal are a wonderful place to experience the richness of the past in the beauty of the present.
Randy DuTeau is Executive Director of the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau. He and his wife have two beautiful children. He is an avid cyclist and passionate about promoting Columbia County. www.ColumbiaCountyItsHere.com