Follow us on Facebook!

"Sustaining the River That Sustains Us"

Altamaha River Bioreserve
Georgia's Mightiest River

The perfect example of a true southern river: the Altamaha. Slow-moving waters flow effortlessly through some of the South's last remaining hardwood bottomlands, cypress swamps, historic rice fields and tidal marshes. More than 20 million years old, the Altamaha River, unhampered by dams, travels from its confluence in Wheeler County to its coastal terminus near Darien. As the second largest river basin on the Atlantic Seaboard, the Altamaha drains more than one quarter of Georgia's land surface, including half of Atlanta and all of Macon. With more than 100,000 gallons of water expelled into the Atlantic Ocean every second, the Altamaha is "Georgia's Mightiest River."

History in the Making

The waters of the Altamaha have woven quite a history since man first appeared in its basin 11,000 years ago. Settlers from all corners of the globe have set foot along the Altamaha, leaving tokens of their culture and life surrounding the river. The river has carried dugout cypress canoes bearing flint and oyster shells, Spanish galleons with missionaries, and plantation boats.

By the nineteenth century, rafts were used to transport lumber for shipbuilding and to carry cotton and tobacco downriver. In the year 1819, the first steamboat traveled up the Altamaha, ushering in a new era. The historic settlements, plantations, forts, trails and archeological mounds along the Altamaha proclaim the river's rich heritage.

A Natural Treasure

Winding for 137 miles, the great Altamaha is a wetland wilderness. Crossed only five times by roads and twice by rail lines, the Altamaha's natural beauty is largely undisturbed. The soils, plants and trees of its floodplain filter and extract chemicals and pollutants, while the banks of the river, accentuated by a multitude of creeks, sloughs and oxbow lakes, are refuges for alligators, wood ducks and wild turkey

At least 125 species of rare or endangered plants and animals exist along the Altamaha River. Birds such as the bald eagle and swallow-tailed kite, soar above its banks. The shortnose sturgeon and the manatee swim through the Altamaha's lazy meanders. The gopher tortoise and the eastern indigo snake coexist among its sand ridges, and the sandbars and sloughs are home to seven species of pearly mussels that live nowhere else in the world.

Among species native to the river basin perhaps the most fascinating case is Franklinia alatamaha. Named in honor of Benjamin Franklin and the Altamaha River, the rare flowering shrub was originally discovered in 1765 by naturalist and artist William Bartram. Although he is the only person known to have seen and described the plant in its natural state, some think it may still survive within the depths of the Altamaha ecosystem. A wealth of rare plant populations has been found along the Altamaha and more await discovery. Radford's dicerandra grows nowhere on earth but along the Altamaha's sand ridges. The only known Georgia population of the Florida corkwood thrives in the Altamaha basin.

^ Top