Augusta is one of those places perfect for a quick fall getaway. It requires a bit of a drive—140 miles or so from metro Atlanta—just far enough to feel like one has escaped the everyday, yet not so far that an overnight stay is mandatory.
A perfect day trip activity is a guided tour of the Augusta Canal on a replica of a Petersburg boat.
Built in 1845, the canal was one of the few successful industrial canals in the South and “helped usher the Industrial Revolution into this part of the United States,” according to a background sheet compiled by Rebecca Rogers, director of marketing and public relations for the canal.
Developed as a source of power, water and transportation, the canal became the home of numerous textile mills and an ironworks facility. The city had the distinction of being the first Southern city with electric streetcars and street lights powered by the canal’s falling water. Augusta experienced a population boom but by the mid-20th century, the canal entered a period of neglect. However, it’s now a area of much pride for Augustans. Designated as a National Heritage Area, the canal attracts locals and visitors alike.
The canal is built in three levels, beginning at the Headgates at Columbia County’s Savannah Rapids Park. This level, which is parallel to the Savannah River, is seven miles with a towpath, where boats in the canal were once pulled by a horse or mule that was on land, is now a trail for pedestrians and cyclists. “The two other levels wind through downtown Augusta and are less visible and accessible than the first,” according to Augusta Canals website.
At the canal, there’s a footbridge that crosses the lock and dam where a fence is festooned with hundreds of locks of various sizes and shapes. Commonly known as the Love Locks, this bridge is where lovers engrave a lock with a date of significance and attach it to the fence.
One can experience the canal in numerous ways—on foot or by bike along the trail that runs beside the waterway. However, aboard one of the Petersburg boats gives visitors a unique perspective of both the natural and manmade elements of the canal.
On a day that was sunny in the morning but rainy by noon, nine visitors to the canal boarded the boat for the hour-long trip along the waterway.
Kelli Spearman, a guide with the Augusta Canal, explained the historic, geographic and environmentally significant aspects of Augusta and the canal, which she said was built to supply drinking water to the city.
She pointed out that granite from an Augusta quarry once was shipped from here throughout the northeast and that industrialist Henry Ford once used the Spanish moss hanging from Augusta’s live oak trees to fill the cushions of his automobile seats. She points to turtles and great blue herons in the water to the delight of younger passengers on the boat. She shares that Petersburg boats were used to transport cargo to Augusta along the waterway.
Among the passengers on this trip were a grandmother and granddaughter, a family visiting from Denmark and a brother and sister who played Pokémon Go—capturing 30 Pokémon characters on their smartphones—while on the water.
Lisa Creveling, an Air Force senior airman stationed at Fort Gordon, was accompanied by her brother Chris. She said that said the combination of the tour and playing Pokémon Go, made for a great outing. He described the experience as “very peaceful, serene.” She said the boat tour was “pretty fun,” adding that she liked it for its educational value.
Boat captain Anthony Negron has plied the waters of the canal for several years and said it still captivates him.
“I love the natural aspect,” said Negron. “It’s so beautiful.”
Two tours are offered several times daily: the Heritage Tour and Civil War Tour. Friday music cruises and Saturday sunset cruises also are offered in spring and fall. On Nov. 5 in celebration of the canal’s 20th anniversary and the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, Find Your Park Festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. featuring runs, walks, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, yoga, demonstrations, live music, food trucks and more. The action takes place along Augusta Canal’s Mill Village Trail between the Lake Olmstead and Mill Village trailheads.
For more information, go to www.augustacanal.com.
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