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Those of you with nothing better to do may remember my article on the Edisto River snagging (debris removal) operation that Orangeburg County paid for.

Back on the Edisto: Keeping river clear means chance to get reacquainted

I contacted the individual in charge at Orangeburg County because a note was left on my gate asking for permission to use my place as a landing for the barge that was doing the work. After talking with the county about its plans to maintain a navigable course in the future, I got very enthusiastic and bought a small outboard for my boat. A friend and I then put in at my place near Canaan and motored up river to his house at Livingston landing. The trip took us about three hours. Here is what we found on our voyage.

The initial part of our trip north to Demme’s landing proved eventful from the start. This is a very tortuous part of the Edisto where it loops back on itself multiple times. After an hour and a half, we had used a tank of gas and had just made it to the northern edge of my neighbor’s property. I could have walked back to my truck in less than 15 minutes.

Part of that time was the distance it took just to go a few hundred yards as the crow flies with the looping of the river. Another problem was the new trees that had dropped across the river (thanks to the Friends of the Edisto/I’ll get back to this a little later).

The main problem though was that as the snagging crew cut a 15-foot right of way, they had no choice but to drop the trunks of the trees into the river. As shallow as parts of the river are even during this high water, the trunks were only a foot below the surface, so we were constantly slamming the foot of our engine into these logs.

As a result, we could only creep at a slow walking speed against the current. When we hit a log, we would lose ground and have to put the engine in shallow drive and try it again with aid of our push pole.

We came to a couple of places where we briefly lost our way because the river hadn’t been cleared at all. On backtracking, we found that the crew had cut narrow shortcuts through the trees rather than clear the main channel.

On talking to the county later, the crew justified this by saying the river was “changing course” through the trees. This appeared to be the case because the water was gushing through these short cuts and quite frankly it was a little dangerous hitting these openings with the speed necessary to transit them. If one hit a stump and the engine were to cut off, a boat could easily get jammed sideways in the torrent.

It will be interesting to see when the water drops this spring and the river goes back into its bank if these shortcuts have any water flow or if the river simply flows its normal path.

Once we passed under the road that joins the Cannon Bridge Road and Rowesville (better known as River Road), the river straightened out and the going was much faster. While we had taken an hour and a half and used a tank of gas getting to Demme’s landing, we made the rest of the trip (three times as far) with less than a tank of gas in an hour and a half.

Now let me get back to the problems with the 15-foot right of way. The county originally proposed removing the trees that were already uprooted and leaning over into the river. These trees will soon fall into the river (many already have in the last month) and to a great degree require constant removal and taxpayer money.

The Friends of the Edisto (an organization that does good work and of which I am a past member) resisted having the leaning trees taken out and negotiated only having a 15-foot path cut through the downed trees. The county relented, not wanting to put the whole project on hold while this matter was debated through politicians. The reason the Friends of the Edisto didn’t want the riverbanks cleared of obstructions is for environmental and, quite frankly, somewhat selfish reasons.

They don’t want motorized craft like jet skis (that’s funny!) or jon boats running the river. Most of these folks are kayak or canoe enthusiasts and enjoy the peacefulness of their sport. What they don’t realize is that though they have done a wonderful job of perpetuating the beauty of the Edisto River as the local watchdog, they don’t own the river. The river is a beautiful resource that belongs to all citizens of Orangeburg County as well as visitors.

Wallowing around at low speeds in a jon boat for fear of destroying an engine creates much more wake and erosion than a small boat on plane. Cutting a 15-foot path and dropping the logs into a shallow channel invite other flotsam to jam into the breach on every high-water event.

When the water drops in the summer, these tree trunks will be at or above the surface. Allowing trees to have their roots undermined and slowly uproot and fall into the river tears huge chunks of earth out of the ground and invites more erosion and endangers adjacent trees, which follow suite.

Quite frankly if the citizens of Orangeburg County are going to spend money to make the river navigable, it needs to be useful for all citizens and not just a few. It also needs to be done in a manner that is time and cost-effective and not just be a temporary measure that will last until the next wind storm or heavy rain.

It is a wonderful thing to drift noiselessly down the river with minimal disturbance to the environment. It calms the soul and forces you to take time to relax. That relaxation is totally negated when you have to drag your boat over or portage around obstructions in the river. It’s an easy thing to do with minimal disturbance to the surroundings with a kayak. It is frustrating and dangerous with a 300-pound boat.

I applaud the county for following through on this project. Sometime spending tax or grant money on the esoteric things is just as important to the well-being of the citizenry as are concrete and asphalt projects. At some point in the near future, I will run downstream to the confluence to the north and south branches of the Edisto and write about what lies downstream to the county line.

In the meantime, I would recommend taking a few hours to drift from the Glover Street landing down to Rowes Bridge. That area should be fine for a nice family afternoon out.

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Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.

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