AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - Local conservation organization Savannah Riverkeeper is planning to build a Savannah River Recreation and Education Center in Augusta.
The new center, which will be located at 386 Prep Phillips Drive, will be the headquarters for Savannah Riverkeeper, as well as a public recreation and education center, Executive Director Tonya Bonitatibus said.
It will include classrooms for public classes on topics such as clean water stewardship, wildlife conservation, hunter education, fishing techniques and more, Bonitatibus said. There will also be a fishing pier for anglers who currently lack river access.
"It's going to be a feather in the cap for all of Augusta because this could be a center people want to come and visit and spend some time on the river," said Rocky Evans, Capital Campaign Chairman for the River Center.
The city of Augusta issued a 99-year lease for the 14-acre tract of land where the center is planned to be built. The site is currently uninhabitable due to years of unlawful dumping of auto parts, oils and solvents.
Savannah Riverkeeper is working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to get approval to clean up the site, which will cost an estimated $4 million, Bonitatibus said. The cleanup is expected to begin in one to two years.
Plans for the site also include a full disc golf course, walking and nature trails and a sandy beach area.
The center will also serve as a fish and wildlife education area, featuring fish tanks that will hold fish species from the Savannah River. Bonitatibus said she also hopes the center can serve as a Savannah River museum with interactive kiosks on subjects including the history of Augusta and the Creek Indian nation.
"Augusta was founded because of the river and for hundreds of years, depended on the river for trade, growth and its very existence," she said. "We look forward to displaying artifacts from the Savannah River basin and taxidermy showing the many wildlife species who still depend on the river."
The project is expected to cost up to $2.3 million. Savannah Riverkeeper will rely on grant funding and private donations to cover the cost.
The organization has hired a fifth staff member, Communications Director Elena Fodera, to assist with capital campaign initiatives. Bonitatibus and Savannah Riverkeeper board members also enlisted Rocky Evans, former president of Quail Unlimited, to help with the capital campaign.
For more details or to get involved by donating or providing in-kind assistance, visit www.savannahriverkeeper.org/capital-campaign.
The current Savannah Riverkeeper office occupies a 560-square-foot building near the Augusta Boathouse on Riverfront Drive.