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DNR grant for Ebenezer Crossing draws praise

POSTED: February 3, 2014 8:04 p.m.

The purchase of hundreds of acres along the Ebenezer Creek for preservation purposes is getting a significant boost.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the state Department of Natural Resources a $400,000 grant to permanently protect 250 acres of the Ebenezer Crossing tract.


“This assists in the effort of preserving this historic natural resource,” said Springfield City Manager Brett Bennett.


The Ebenezer Crossing was the site of one of the Civil War’s most notorious incidents, as several hundred freed slaves, following the Union Army as it advanced on Savannah, were left to drown in the swollen creek as Confederate cavalry units pressed the rear echelon of the Union column.


Effingham commissioners did not approve sending a letter of financial commitment to the state, which was needed for a grant application that, if successful, could have purchased 250 acres along the Ebenezer Creek’s northern banks. That land would have included the historic Ebenezer Crossing. DNR officials approached the county two years ago about pursuing a grant, which is awarded on a competitive basis, to purchase and protect the land.


“We’ve been a couple years trying to get this,” said county Commissioner Reggie Loper. “The grant didn’t go right to start with. But anyway, we finally got the grant.”


As a result of the freed slaves’ drowning in the creek, the U.S. government decided to give emancipated slaves 40 acres and a mule, Loper and Historic Effingham Society president Norma Jean Morgan said.


Morgan also said she was glad the land will be preserved and its history will not be lost.


“I was just so fearful that it wouldn’t get into the hands of persons who would make sure the preservation was complete and that our children and our children’s children know about it,” she said. “Because I’ve lived here all my life, and I didn’t know exactly where they crossed until this research was done.”


The National Park Service designated the lower 1,350 acres of the Ebenezer Creek watershed, which includes the Ebenezer Crossing tract, as a National Natural Landmark, noting it was the best remaining cypress-gum forest in the entire Savannah River Basin. Protection of these lands is a priority in the DNR’s comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy because of the old growth bald cypress-water tupelo swamp.


The total project cost is $589,890 and conservation of the tract supports migration of the endangered wood stork and swallow-tailed kite, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.


The city accepted a donation of 19 acres off Ebenezer Creek near Tommy Long Landing last November from the Georgia Conservancy. The city’s work on Springfield-Ebenezer greenway grant applications helped make the connection with the Conservancy, according to Bennett. The Ebenezer Creek is one of only four state scenic rivers.


Loper also said the county’s first road is on the property and George Washington is said to have traveled it.


“And over half the road is just like it was 150 years ago,” Loper added. “I’m glad they got it so it can be preserved. It’s pristine. There’s nothing changed to it.”


Staff writer Paul Floeckher contributed to this story.

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