What in the sam hill are headgates, lock, lockkeeper and a towpath? Did you know the city of Augusta, GA has all of these?
If you are into outdoor activities then head East on 1-20 until you hit the sultry town of Augusta. Built on the Savannah River this city swelters in the summer and the residents know that the only way to cool off is being in the water. Luckily they have not only the river but a:
Lock: a short confined section of a canal in which the water level can be changed by the use of gates and sluices, used for raising and lowering vessels between two gates.
*Enter Stage Right*
The Augusta Canal
Built in 1845, the Augusta Canal is the oldest continuously operated hydro-power canal in the United States. During the 1960’s, city officials considered draining the canal and using it for a highway and upon visiting the green space you will quickly realize how sad that would have been. Today the canal and mills are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Running parallel to the Savannah River, the 13-mile canal provides the drinking water and hydroelectric power (whooo! clean energy) to the city. The canal offers outdoor recreation such as fishing, hiking, canoeing, biking, paddleboarding, picnicking and boat tours.
|1845||Canal work begins|
|1875||Canal enlarged to present size|
|600 Hp||Power of original 1845 canal|
|14,000 Hp||Power generation capacity after 1875 enlargement|
|11-15 feet||Canal average depth|
|150 feet||Canal average width|
|52 feet||Head- The drop in elevation from Canal to Savannah River|
Running along the lock (canal) is the:
Towpath: a path beside a river or canal, originally used as a pathway for horses.
There are miles and miles of trails that diverge off the canal and you can pick up the trail at several locations. Wildlife is abundant along the towpath and old mills, that have been restored, offer a scenic backdrop. Along the paths, you will be greeted by friendly Augustan’s, as the trails are utilized by many. Citizens pride themselves in a clean green space and you will not see much clutter along the way.
We will begin our tour at the top of the canal at the:
Headgates: a gate for controlling the water flowing into a lock or canal
From the headgates, you can hike, bike, and kayak all the way to Augusta Canal National Heritage Discovery Center at Enterprise Mill which is 7 miles downstream. Along the way, you will pass Rae’s Creek Aqueduct, Lake Olmstead, the Confederate Powder Works chimney, Sibley and King Mills and Archibald Butt Memorial Bridge.
When arriving at the headgates, located at 3300 Evans To Locks Rd, Martinez, GA, please take a moment to visit the visitor center inside the lockkeeper’s cottage.
Lockkeeper: a person in charge of a lock or canal.
The Lockkeeper was to be available to operate the locks on a moments notice. This allowed the cotton and tobacco laden boats to move freely from river to canal and canal to river along their journey to and from Augusta.
Within the Lockkeepers cottage, you can gain information from the Savannah Rapids Visitor Center about the canal’s points of interest as well as view what life was like for the lockkeeper in the late 1800’s. The cottage was built in 1890 and the view from the wrap-around porch is impressive, through the Spanish moss and trees, you get a glimpse of the canal. I imagine the folks frequently spent evenings outside on the porch during the humid summer, iced tea in one hand and a fan in the other, singing along to a banjo.
In the distance, the headgates lie with its tin roof visible and take only a few minutes to walk the path to the old wooden building. Make sure you check out the BBQ pit below the house. The pit, built in 1880, was often used to grill pigs during the celebrations held at the headgates. Beside the pit is the dining shed that was added in 1935. You can see the rooftop of the dining shed just below the pavilion in the photo below, the pit is just adjacent to the shed.
Along the headgates, hundreds of “love” locks have been placed by visitors in admiration of their devotion to each other. If you aren’t sure what a love lock is.. just Google “Paris Love lock”. The volunteer at the cottage actually encourages visitors to add their own as this is the lock’s (canal) headgates and all the locks (devices) just are pretty spectacular. Bring yours too, but do me a favor: I implore you to not throw the key into the water. A critter may think it is food and can you imagine the pain of trying to poop that out? Instead, why not place it on a chain and wear it as a reminder that you hold the key to someone’s heart.
Just on the opposite side of the canal, you will see Reed Creek Waterfall on the Savannah Rapids.
Continue along the towpath as it makes a loop back to the lockkeeper’s cottage. From here you can hike south along the canal, or rent a kayak from www.kayakaugustacanal.com or a bike from The Bicycle Peddler, 706-373-4519. My daughter Olivia had previously taken a kayak tour and said it wasn’t difficult even for someone who was a novice. I do recommend a hat, sunscreen, watershirt and/or waterpants because there isn’t a lot of shade along the way. The kayak tour is two miles and ends at Lake Olmstead. The company will pick you up at the end and return you to the original location for a small fee or you can park a second vehicle at Lake Olmstead.
If you are thinking of hiking the trail know that this location is in and out of the shade and pretty rural. Not a lot to see in regards to buildings or points of interests. Unless you are into hiking or jogging, I wouldn’t recommend this stretch for a leisurely jaunt as it is:
- Headgates to I-20 overpass: 2 miles.
- Headgates to the Raw Water Pumping Station: 3.5 miles
- Headgates to the King/Sibley Mills: approximately 5 miles.
- Headgates to the Discovery Center 7 miles.
Instead, I recommend:
Park at the headgates
Rent a kayak or bike and head down to Lake Olmstead (2miles)
Pick up Mill Village Trail and hike to The Discovery Center (1.9 miles)
Take an Uber back to headgates or have another vehicle parked at the Discovery Center.
Below is a link to a handy dandy map made by Augusta Canal tourism. Check it out.
Keep the Lust for Wandering Y’all!
Fran & Olivia