The city of Springfield and several other agencies and entities have finalized an agreement to protect a historically-significant and environmentally-fragile area.
The city, along with the Georgia Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, the state Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Foundation and the Knobloch Family Foundation, announced the purchase and preservation of 278 acres known as Ebenezer Crossing. The announcement comes on the 150thanniversary of one of the Civil War’s most notorious and tragic events, the drowning deaths of hundreds of freed slaves at the crossing.
Ebenezer Crossing is the location of the tragic drowning of hundreds of freed slaves in December of 1864. The recently emancipated African-Americans, traveling with a vanguard of Union forces being pursued by Confederate troops, perished as they attempted to cross swollen Ebenezer Creek. Union forces removed the pontoon bridge after they reached the other side, stranding the freed slaves.
In addition to its historic and cultural significance, Ebenezer Crossing is a place of ecological value. The National Park Service designated 1,350 acres of the lower Ebenezer Creek watershed, which includes Ebenezer Crossing, as a National Natural Landmark, noting its cypress-gum forest as one of the best remaining stands in the Savannah River basin.
“The scenic beauty, historical relevance (especially at Ebenezer Crossing) and quiet solitude offer something for everyone – fisherman, birdwatchers, hikers, kayakers, history buffs,” said Springfield Mayor Barty Alderman. “The ownership of properties along Ebenezer Creek, whether by Springfield, Effingham County, or some other government entity, guarantees that the land along the creek will be saved from timber cutting and residential or industrial development. It means that our children’s children can enjoy the creek just as we enjoy it today.”
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Management Program also recognizes the importance of Ebenezer Crossing and its team has been working with the City of Springfield on an overarching greenway plan for Ebenezer Creek for the past few years.
“Our Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy specifically lists Ebenezer Creek, including Ebenezer Crossing, as a high-priority site because of its old growth bald cypress and water tupelo swamp,” said Sonny Emmert, land conservation specialist with Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Division. “The conservation of this tract will protect river and stream riparian habitat on the Savannah River and Ebenezer Creek.”
For the residents of Springfield and Effingham County, Ebenezer Crossing has the potential to provide important recreational and educational opportunities. The tract is the second piece of ecologically-valuable land along Ebenezer Creek, a Georgia Wild and Scenic River, that Springfield has acquired in the last two years. It flanks the lower two miles of the creek at its confluence with the Savannah River and is just downstream from Thompson Island, the 19-acre island donated in 2013 to Springfield by the Thompson family and the Georgia Conservancy. The acquisition of these two properties by Springfield brings the city one step closer to realizing its vision of a greenway that connects the community with the ancient bottomland forests and cypress and gum tupelo swamps of Ebenezer Creek.
“Anytime a community decides to try and conserve a unique part of Georgia’s landscape, the Springfield-Ebenezer Greenway in this case, we want to try and help,” said Georgia Conservancy President Robert Ramsay. “With continued focus from Springfield and a growing list of conservation partners both large and small, it is clear to me that the greenway will be completed.”
Springfield’s incorporation of Ebenezer Crossing into their vision of the greenway was the result of a variety of parties successfully working together. Earlier this year, after a two-year process, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources was awarded a $400,000 National Coastal Wetlands Conservation grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the protection of the Ebenezer Crossing tract. The grant also called for a matching $189,890 to complete the purchase of the property.
The Trust for Public Land, which was made aware of the Ebenezer Crossing tract by the Georgia Conservancy's then-President Pierre Howard in 2013, was very interested in the historic and natural importance of the land and successfully acquired the necessary matching funds from the R. Howard Dobbs Foundation and the Knobloch Family Foundation. The Ebenezer Crossing deal closed in November with the Trust for Public Land donating the property to Springfield.
“This coastal Georgia property is quite special for people, history and the environment,” said Curt Soper, The Trust for Public Land’s Georgia state director. “The public recreational benefits along Ebenezer Creek to the Savannah River will benefit generations of people to come. The historical significance of the Ebenezer crossing is immense and this land is protected in memory of the many lives that were lost here 150 years ago in the pursuit of freedom.”
The city hopes to have the entire stretch of Ebenezer Creek, from its banks near the center of town to the Savannah River, preserved for future generations.
Springfield looks to continue their partnership with the Georgia Conservancy, Georgia DNR and the Trust for Public Land in an effort to protect more of the greenway area and to acquire any tracts adjoining the creek that could provide more public access. As it currently stands, the city's new properties are accessible only by water.
“The Georgia Conservancy has a rich history working to protect Ebenezer Creek and was instrumental in having it designated as a Wild and Scenic River by the Georgia Legislature in 1981,” said Georgia Conservancy Coastal Director Clay Mobley, who worked for nearly three years to see Ebenezer Crossing conserved. “Today, we continue our conservation efforts by working with the city of Springfield on the Springfield-Ebenezer Greenway. Adding Thompson Island and Ebenezer Crossing to the greenway is a great start to protecting the corridor — one that is loaded with virgin bald cypress trees, some estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. Our hope is that other property owners will contact us to explore the financial benefits of conserving their property instead of timbering the cypress trees, as some have done.”