By Sam Burnham
Let's take a minute to talk about this Catfish Kissin' Competition thing.
I've developed a love for rivers over the years. I guess that comes with growing up in a city built on three of them. It might be from an early love of fishing. It could be from all the historic locations that are associated with rivers. It's all of this and more.
But I can narrow this one down a bit further. I can remember the exact moment it hit me that poor stewardship of our rivers is as un-Southern as anything that we can do.
I saw a post by Vanishing South Georgia on the pollution caused by the Rayonier plant in Jesup. Trust me, I do get tired of hearing many of the environmental protests out there. I do think it can get excessive. And that was where my mind first headed when I started reading on an industry that has a major impact on the economy of Wayne County. But I stuck with the story and I saw the picture.
What is that? Just across the river bank and a treeline about six trunks deep is a pooling mass of...whatever that is. I'm guessing that it isn't teeming with fish. I'm also betting that if it leaks into the Altamaha it won't be teeming with fish either.
I totally agree with Brian's sentiments in his post. I'm not crusading against Rayonier or any other company that is making a product and employing a lot of people. And I don't trust the government to have our best interests in mind when it comes to topics like this. If a river in Cleveland catches on fire, that's one thing. But if the Altamaha, or the Ogeechee, or the Medway burst into flames, that's a different matter entirely. We are not talking about the Rust Belt or some big polluted city. We're talking about Jesup, Midway, and Richmond Hill. The photo shows a thin separation between the natural world and the industrial world. It our duty to keep them apart without destroying either of them.
So what is the answer? A concerned and educated populace that is mindful of what is going on around them and river keepers who keep people informed about current events can go a long way in keeping the South safe for fishing, hunting, boating, hiking, anything outdoors - a long way in keeping The South Southern.
Case in point: I've mentioned before about Burwell Creek in Rome. There is a wetland and forest area that is right in the middle of town. It's a plot of land that would make a great connection between the existing Ridge Ferry Park and the trails and history of Jackson Hill. It's an opportunity for a major park in the city center.
The area was up for sale to be developed into a major retail and residential development. But the Coosa River Basin Initiative announced the plan and worked to inform people of the potential for a park as well as losing such an area of floodplain along the Oostanaula River and the people spoke up. They mobilized, protested, shared information with other people, organized a voting campaign and eventually saved 90% of the property. The government didn't do it. And honestly, the CRBI didn't do it. But it could not have been done without the CRBI and the work they did in rousing concerned people.
I am sure there are times I'll find myself in disagreement with the advice of the group. That is to be understood. But I like knowing that river keepers are watching to advise the public of what is going on with their rivers - the resources that provide us with water, recreation, and beauty all over Georgia. They help us to understand how these resources work, how to keep them healthy, and, during the rainy months, how to keep them in their banks and out of our homes and businesses.
That's why I've signed up to kiss a catfish. I'd much rather eat a fried one than pucker up to kiss a squiggly live one. But if kissing one means there are plenty of clean and healthy ones to fry up with grits, I'll pucker up. If you'd like to donate to make me kiss that squiggly joker, you can donate here.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire