Why whitewater rapids could catapult development in South Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)-- South Augusta development is on the rise. Two new trails are already being cleared, and there is a possibility of a whitewater course coming to the area.

Commission decided last week to halt the $10,000 study to assess the lock and dam's capability to transform into whitewater rapids.

But with the Georgia Cyber and Innovation Training Center bringing development and an influx of people to downtown Augusta, South Augusta wants in.

Right now, the city is clearing paths for two new trails: One stretching from the lock and dam to the Savannah Rapids Pavilion. The other running from the lock and dam to Fort Gordon's Gate 5.

Savannah River Keeper Tonya Bonitatibus, also a South Augusta native, believes transforming the Lock and Dam into a whitewater course may be what the area needs to kick-start revitalization.

"One of those big questions that's going to be looming for us is: "Do we keep the locks that are sitting here behind me, or do they go?" the Riverkeeper explained.

For decades, the lock has had little purpose besides providing a way for large house boats to bypass the dam.

And this water is home to an endangered species of fish, so the Corps of Engineers will soon determine what do with the Lock and Dam. But the River Keeper plans to present proof as to why the lock should remain.

"You could start at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, run two different sections of whitewater with flat water in between, so it would actually be a very long course," the Riverkeeper told NewsChannel 6

Or the course could run entirely around the Lock and Dam-- putting adjustable structures throughout the lock to create man-made rapids.

Columbus, Georgia opened its 2.5 mile whitewater course just five years ago. I spoke with the man who oversees all whitewater activity in Columbus, and he told me the attraction brought life to an area that for decades, few people visited.

"International businesses coming to the area, but also restaurants are popping up all over the place," Will Chambliss, General Manager of Columbus and Phenix City's whitewater attractions said. "Your choice of dining is getting more and more complicated-- Then also housing."

Chambliss explained last July, more than 10,000 visitors rafted down Columbus's river.

"[People] coming from outside of the Columbus area want to eat somewhere, stay somewhere, so the economic impact is huge."

Commission is set to talk with the Corps or Engineers next Wednesday about how to move forward with the lock and dam.

Count on us to keep you updated.

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