I just got the following message from Amy Ochoa, the Refuge Ranger in charge of the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex: Laurel Hill Drive in the Savannah NWR is going to be CLOSED to all visitors starting on June 1st and continuing through the end of the year! Read her full message below for the details.
Laurel Hill Drive is the main route that visitors and birdwatchers take through the refuge’s water impoundment areas, so this is a MAJOR setback for visitors to the Savannah NWR. Ranger Ochoa also noted that the new Visitor Center will remain open during its normal hours throughout the construction project. (It is a very useful and “user-friendly” place to learn more about the refuge.) She also told me that “… all the dates of closures and phases of the project are subject to change. We’ll keep our website updated, so you and your users can keep current there: http://www.fws.gov/savannah.”
Here is the text of the official message about the Laurel Hill Drive closure:
Rehabilitation of Freshwater Diversion Canal
Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive – Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be replacing the water control structures associated with the Freshwater Diversion Canal, which runs adjacent to the east side of the managed freshwater wetlands at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.
The Freshwater Diversion Canal was constructed in 1977 as mitigation for the 38’ harbor deepening of the Savannah River. Its function is to carry freshwater from the Savannah River into the refuge’s managed wetlands through a system of water control structures. Over time, the system has deteriorated to the point where it is no longer functional, and the ability to manage freshwater within the refuge has been compromised. Repairs to the system are necessary to enable the refuge to fulfill its mission of providing essential habitat for wintering waterfowl and other wildlife species.
Throughout the duration of the project, closures to various parts of the refuge will be necessary to ensure public safety and to allow the contractor sufficient space for moving and storing construction equipment and materials. This will cause the greatest impact along the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive, which attracts over 100,000 visitors annually. The Savannah National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, located on U.S. Hwy 17 (6 miles north of Savannah, GA; 7 miles south of Hardeeville, SC) is open Monday – Saturday, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm, and staff there can provide information on other wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities that may be available while the wildlife drive is closed.
This is a three-phased project with each phase taking about 6-8 months:
- Phase 1 (June 1, 2010 – January 2011*) – Outflow structure and interior water control structures adjacent to the wildlife drive will be repaired or replaced. Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive will be closed.
- Phase 2 (January 2011 – July 2011*) – Inflow structure and interior water control structures on the north-side of SC-170 will be repaired or replaced. Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive will re-open; areas north of SC-170 will be closed.
- Phase 3 (July 2011 – January 2012*) – Remaining water control structures adjacent to the wildlife drive will be repaired or replaced. Areas north of SC-170 will re-open; Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive will be closed.
We apologize for any inconvenience this project may cause and hope you will visit the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive in the future. For additional information or status/closure updates, please contact the refuge headquarters at 843-784-2468 or visit the refuge website at http://www.fws.gov/savannah.
*All dates subject to change