Atkinson County

Atkinson County is defined by the Willacoochee and Alapaha Rivers on the west and the Satilla River on the east. Eco Tourism along the rivers and wetlands, especially including the Carolina Bays, is an important goal for the county: birding, biking, hiking, boating, and cane syrup making.

While most of the county with its largest city, Pearson, is drained by the Satilla River watershed, the city of Willacoochee is on the divide between east and west. Near Willacoochee is the McCranie Turpentine Still, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. Nearby on the Alapaha River was the last Indian battle in the area. Atkinson County would like to have a canoe and kayak rental business, as well as improvement to boat ramps and other recreational facilities on the rivers, including fishing. The county previously discussed “Develop public boat ramp Highway 135 South at Atkinson/Berrien line along the Alapaha River” and might want to pursue that again.

Willacoochee City Council

Atkinson County Commission

Meets 6:30 PM at the Courthouse in Pearson, usually on Thursday.

  • Thu, November 13, 2014, 6:30pm – 9:00pm
  • Thu, December 11, 2014, 6:30 PM

Greater Atkinson County 2024 COMPREHENSIVE PLAN PARTIAL UPDATE February 2010

Numerous mentions of the Alapaha River, including:

III. Analysis of Areas Requiring Special Attention

1. Areas of significant natural or cultural resources, particularly where these are likely to be intruded upon, or otherwise impacted, by development;

The natural resources that require special attention in Atkinson County are it’s water bodies. In 2007, the SGRC prepared fourteen (14) local TMDL Implementation Plans for stream segments in the Satilla Basin that had been identified as impaired water bodies due to high fecal coliform (FC), Mercury, or low dissolved oxygen (DO). Of the fourteen (14) TMDL Implementation Plans located in the Satilla Basin, 5 of the streams were located within Atkinson County, which include the Alapaha River, Little Red Bluff Creek, Pudding Creek, the Satilla River, and the Seventeen Mile River. These water bodies will need special attention to become healthier for public use.

IV. Identification of Issues and Opportunities

2. Economic Development


  • The Alapaha and Satilla Rivers could support a canoe and kayak rental business.

4. Natural Resources



2. Policies

Economic Development

Goal 2: Create and maintain a long-term sustainable and diverse economic base.

Issue: We need to keep the sales tax dollars in the county as much as possible.

Policy 2.10: Coordinate with relevant state agencies in an effort to permit canoeing and kayaking opportunities along the Satilla and Alapaha Rivers.

Policy 2.11: Promote recreational activities along the Satilla and Alapaha Rivers.

Natural Resources

Goal 4: Establish and maintain conservation and protection of natural areas, where those areas would be endangered by development. These areas include, but are not limited to, floodplains, wetlands, groundwater recharge areas, protected river corridors, and forested hardwood areas, and areas where Georgia and Federally Endangered species and habitat exist.

Issue: Most of the boat ramps throughout the community are not improved.

Issue: There are few recreational facilities along the Alapaha and the Satilla Rivers.

Policy 4.1: Coordinate the applicable state agencies to develop more recreational facilities along the Alapaha and Satilla Rivers.

(Fiscal Year June 1 – May 31)

Activity Years Responsible Party Cost Estimate Funding Source Status
Natural and Historic Resources
Develop public boat ramp Highway 135 South at Atkinson/Berrien line along the Alapaha River 2005, 2010 Seven Rivers, Atkinson County n/a Seven Rivers, Grants Discussed but no follow up

A Joint County/City Comprehensive Plan for Atkinson County and the cities of Pearson and Willacoochee For Submission February 28, 2005 – 2024

Brief History of Atkinson County

Atkinson County’s earliest occupants were Indians of a pre-Creek civilization; possibly of the Muskhogean cultures. The Creek Indians later occupied the territory. The last Indian stand in the area was about 1 1/2 miles from the town of Willacoochee on the Alapaha River. The story states that so many Indians were massacred that the river ran red with blood.

Special and Unique Economic Activities

Our unique economic activity in Atkinson County focuses on tourism related to the Alapaha River, Satilla River, Willacoochee River, and our many wetland areas located mainly in the southern section of Atkinson County. Using them to attract and develop Eco Tourism can expand the attractions of the river. With bird watching and bike riding being the number one and two past times in the state, these areas can become primary tourist attractions.

Of great ecological importance are the Carolina Bays, which are unique to Atkinson County, and other wetlands within the county. These bays and wetlands provide valuable wildlife habitat and nesting areas for migratory and indigenous waterfowl and other bird species. Hawks and Eagles (both are protected species) are among the wildlife species dependant upon these bays and wetlands for habitat and final retreat from human encroachment, and would provide many a pleasurable and rare treat for birdwatchers everywhere. Our rural area is ideal with its rich agricultural history that still operates grits mills and “old timey” cane syrup making, ornately beautiful old homes, and lovely country side with an abundance of wildlife will provide a bike route for riders to truly experience the “Southern Hospitality of the Deep South”.

Labor Force Data

… Atkinson County provides a public boat ramp located on the Satilla River at SR 64, and plans for another public boat ramp for the Alapaha River has been placed in the five-year plan….

Protected Rivers

The Department of Natural Resources has designated the majority of the Satilla and Alapaha Rivers as protected river corridors. The protected portion of the Satilla River in Atkinson County is very small and runs along the border between Atkinson and Ware Counties. The Alapaha River runs as a protected river corridor along the western boundary of Atkinson County south of US Highway 82. No other creek or river has been designated as a Protected River Corridor in Atkinson County.

Scenic Views and Sites

There are many scenic areas of Atkinson County; the most scenic views and sites can be found by canoeing down the Alapaha, Satilla, and Willacoochee Rivers; this type of Eco-tourism is to be encouraged.

Groundwater Recharge Areas

According to the Georgia Pollution Susceptibility Map produced by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the groundwater recharge areas along the Willacoochee and Satilla Rivers have a medium susceptibility rating, while the Alapaha River recharge area is highly susceptible to pollution.

For all three groundwater recharge areas, any new sanitary landfill approved by the Department of Natural Resources must have synthetic liners and a leachate collection system. Liners are required for all new agricultural waste impoundment sites along the Alapaha; at the Satilla and Willacoochee River groundwater recharge area, a liner is required if the impoundment site is larger than fifteen acres. State law permits no land disposal of hazardous waste.

Any new operations located on these groundwater recharge areas, which handle hazardous materials, their treatment, storage, or disposal must perform operations on an impermeable pad, which has a spill, and leak collection system. Any new aboveground chemical or petroleum storage tanks larger than 660 gallons must have a secondary containment system for 110% of the new tank volume or 110% of the largest tank volume in a cluster.

For the Alapaha ground water recharge area, new wastewater treatment basins — excluding settlement basins — are required by Georgia law to have an impermeable liner, and stormwater infiltration basins are not permitted; there are no legal requirements for treatment basins or stromwater infiltration basins at the Satilla and Willacoochee River recharge area.

Wastewater spray irrigation systems or land spreading of wastewater sludge located over the Alapha groundwater recharge area must be conservative in d esign in accordance with the DNR Criteria for Slow Rate Land Treatment — there are no requirements for the Satilla and Willacoochee River area. New homes served by on-site septic tanks in the Alapaha groundwater recharge area must have a lot of 76,500 square feet; new homes served by on-site septic tanks in the Willacoochee and Satilla River groundwater recharge areas must have a lot of 63,750 square feet. New mobile home parks served by on-site septic tanks in the Alapaha groundwater recharge area must have a lot of 25,500 square feet, while in the Willacoochee and Satilla River groundwater recharge areas lots must have 21,250 square feet. New septic tank systems must have approval of the County Health Department as meeting the requirements of the Department of Human Resources Manual for On Site Sewerage Management Systems.

Protected Rivers

Satilla and Alapaha River Corridor Protection Values

The Satilla and Alapaha Rivers and their associated wetlands are considered to be among the most pristine riverine and wetland environments in the state of Georgia. The diverse mixture of agriculture and forestry practices in Atkinson County pro vides ample habitat for wildlife including deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, dove, quail, songbirds, reptiles and furbearers. The non-game fish resources along these rivers are also very diverse. Both rivers are also a recreational resource for Atkinson County.


The protected portions of the Satilla and Alapaha Rivers do not flow through any incorporated cities in Atkinson County. In fact, no significant amount of urban development has occurred in these areas. Large tracts of land utilized primarily for forestry and agriculture encompass these river corridors. Urbanization, which can disrupt the natural equilibrium of the river system, has had little impact on either the Satilla River or Alapaha River corridors located in Atkinson County. Both c orridors have thus far been protected form pollutants from urban construction, runoff, municipal wastewater operations and septic tank development, which could enter the river and adversely affect water quality. The lack of development along the corridors has helped to keep the area relatively unspoiled.

As stated earlier agriculture and silviculture are the predominant land uses in the area. The most significant threat to the river’s water quality is non-point source pollution as a result of these activit ies. Non-point source pollutants are generally carried into surface caters by storm water runoff. This problem is especially aggravated when various land uses impede the natural process of water infiltrating into the soil. While this problem is typically one associated with urban development and large amounts of impervious surfaces, runoff from agriculture and lumbering activities can pose a threat to the eater quality of surface waters. Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) should be implemented to protect the river corridor from agriculture and silviculture activities.

There’s a lot more in there about possibility of adverse effects on the rivers and what can be done to prevent them, including this:

The Alapaha River was nominated in 1992 as a Regionally Important Resource. This designation will culminate in the development of a resource management strategy for the protection and enhancement of the Alapaha River by the Georgia Department of Natur al Resources. The Satilla and Willacoochee Rivers in Atkinson County are not included in the designation of the Alapaha River as Regionally Important Resources, although they will be certainly included in any studies as sources for each river system.

Identification of Need and Implementation Strategy

Recognizing that development adjacent to the Satilla and Alapaha Rivers will require special regulation beyond the current protective measures to adequately protect water quality, control erosion, and to prot ect against future flood damage Atkinson County has adopted Georgia’s minimum standards and protection criteria for river corridors (O.C.G.A. 391-3-16-04). Local governments will stride to enforce these standards of protection for our river corridors.

And this emphasizes the importance of the rivers to Atkinson County:

Scenic Views and Sites

Most of Atkinson County’s scenic sites can be found on or near our rivers, the Alapaha, Satilla, and Willacoochee. Inventory of Cultural Resources Only two historic resources in Atkinson County are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Atkinson County Courthouse, located off US 441 in Pearson, was listed in 1980. The McCranie Turpentine Still, located just west of Willacoochee on US 82, is one of the last remaining early turpentine stills in Georgia; this site with well-kept and intact barns and equipment, was listed on the National Register in 1976.

Picture of McCranie’s Turpentine Still by Michael Rivera, used with permission.

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