St. Mary’s River
Quick Facts about the River
- The 130-mile St. Marys River is a blackwater river located in southeast Georgia and is bordered by the Satilla River Basin to the north and the Suwannee River Basin to the west.
- The headwaters are located in Okefenokee Swamp and Charlton County, and the river flows south before turning north and east, emptying into Cumberland Sound and the Atlantic Ocean between St. Marys, Georgia and Fernandina Beach, Florida.
- The St. Marys River serves as the border between Georgia and Florida. The Georgia portion of the basin drains approximately 765 square miles (of 1,300 total square miles).
- The 1988-90 land cover interpretation showed 41 percent of the basin in wetlands.
- The population is centered mostly in Kingsland and Folkston.
- The basin’s longleaf pine forests supplied naval stores—masts, turpentine and other forestry products—to the shipping and other industries until the early 1900’s when the last lumber mills closed due to the inability to effectively access profitable timber stands.
- There are 52 species of fish that together represent 17 families in the St. Marys River Basin.Fifteen of the 34 species in the sunfish family Centrarchidae are present in the St. Marys River, making this family the largest group of fish species found in the river basin.
- The fish populations in the St. Marys Basin are limited in productivity by acidic waters, low alkalinity, and extreme variation in flow.
- The blackbanded sunfish and the banded topminnow are two fish species found in the basin that are currently listed by the state as rare species.
- Wildlife in the basin includes deer, otter, beaver, raccoon, alligator, gopher tortoise, turkey and ribbon snakes. The middle portion of the river supports bear, panther, bobcat and the red-cockaded woodpecker.
- Drinking Water Uses
- The main source of drinking water in the St. Marys River Basin is provided by groundwater.
- Municipal and Industrial Uses
- The St. Marys River Basin contains two industrial surface water withdrawal permits.
- NPDES Discharges: As of 2018, there are approximately 8 facilities, including industries and municipalities, authorized to discharge wastewater into the St. Marys River Basin pursuant to NPDES permits.
- Agricultural Uses
- As of 2018, the EPD had issued 10 agricultural water withdrawal permits in the St. Marys River Basin.
- The St. Marys River is a free-flowing river, unimpeded by dams.
- Forestry is a major part of the economy within the basin.
- According to the US Forest Service’s Forest Statistics for Georgia, 1997 report, there is approximately 919,800 acres of commercial forest land in the entire counties within the basin.
- Agriculture in the St. Marys River Basin is relatively limited.
- Agriculture accounts for only 2.4 percent of the land use in the basin.
- Corn is the primary commodity grown in the basin with hay production coming in a distant second.
- Crooked River State Park: Located on the south bank of the Crooked River, this park offers a boat ramp and is located near the ruins of McIntosh Sugar Works Mill, which was built around 1825.
- Obediah’s Okefenok is a recreation of the 1800s homestead of Obedia Barber, a man known as the “King of the Okefenokee.” The authentic homestead includes approximately 30 exhibits such as a cabin, sugarcane mill, potato house, and livestock barn.
- The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1937, encompasses approximately 396,000 acres. It is one of the oldest and most well-preserved freshwater areas in America.
- Okefenoke Swamp Park is a Disney-esque educational experience for the first-time visitor to the magnificent Okefenokee Swamp. The entry fees to the privately operated park allow visitors access to boardwalks, the Nature Center and animal habitats. Boat tours are available for an additional fee.
- The Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest encompasses more than 3,600 acres along the south bank of the river, northeast of the community of Boulogne. This property, managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District, ensures preservation of 6.7 miles of the St. Marys River shoreline. The state forest offers a diversity of recreational activities, including fishing, hiking bicycling, horseback riding, canoeing, bird-watching and seasonal hunting.
- Traders Hill Recreation Park: Once a fort and settlement, Traders Hill today is a 32-acre recreation park on the banks of the St. Marys River where visitors can launch a boat, camp, fish, swim, or enjoy the natural beauty of the river.
- Canoeing and camping
- The St. Marys River is appropriate for the novice, with the biggest dangers being deadfalls in the upper reaches and strong tides in the lower parts. There are many points of access for planning a variety of experiences, a short trip, overnighter, or weeklong trip. Camping is available on sand bars and high bluffs, but canoe-campers should get permission before camping on private property.
- 305(b)/303(d) ListingsIn the St. Marys River Basin, there are approximately 8 rivers and streams listed on the 2012 integrated 305(b)/303(d) list as waters not supporting their designated uses. These impaired waters include roughly 109 miles of rivers and streams in the St. Marys River Basin.
- Fish Consumption Advisories: View EPD’s “Guidelines for Eating Fish from Georgia’s Waters” online: https://epd.georgia.gov/fish-consumption-guidelines
- Florida’s St. Johns River Water Management District has discussed plans for a future 33-million-gallons-per-day interbasin transfer from the St. Marys River Basin into the St. Johns River Basin.
British occupation in the late 1700s brought commerce to the region as crops of cotton, indigo and rice were introduced.
In the American Revolution, Georgia’s colonial volunteers fought the British soldiers on the banks of the St. Marys River.