Reed Creek, Columbia County, Georgia; a 20,000 Year Natural History Timeline

The U.S. Army stationed my nephew at Fort Gordon, a short drive from where I reside.  As a consequence, we didn’t have to go out of town to visit relatives for the holidays.  He is renting an house in an hilly wooded neighborhood with nice 2 story houses, and on Christmas day I took a stroll around the vicinity.  I came across Reed Creek, a minor tributary of the Savannah River.  The name of this stream intrigues me.  Common reed ( Phragamites sp. ) is not native to North America, and whoever named this creek was likely  referring to bamboo cane ( Arundinerea gigantea ), a species that used to occur in pure stands for miles along piedmont rivers and streams.  (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/canebrakes-are-forlorn-landscapes/ ) I did find a very small patch of short cane near the creek, but this plant’s distribution is nowhere near as extensive as it was 200 years ago.  Most of the houses in this neighborhood are no more than 40 years old.  As I walked I began to imagine the natural history of this Reed Creek vicinity before houses were built on it.

From the map it looks like Reed Creek is impeded by 8 manmade dams and flows under 7 major roads and through a sewage treatment plant before emptying into the Savannah River.

Rocky shoal in Reed Creek.  Note the sewage pipe.

This boulder alongside Reed Creek existed 20,000 years ago, but there was likely no flowing stream next to it, and it may have been more exposed and surrounded by scarce vegetation, maybe some pine trees and grass. There was no ravine either and the land where the creek is now was level to it.  Maybe a saber-tooth cat rested in the shade of it once in a while on an hot afternoon.

Reed Creek likely did not exist as a flowing stream 20,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum because the water table was lower then.  Less precipitation fell and the ocean was farther east than it is today.  Instead, along the route of the present day stream, there were disconnected isolated springs that emerged above the ground.  These wetland habitats were surrounded by centuries old cottonwood, sycamore, water oak, and white oak trees.  Cottonwood is often found today growing next to rivers that flow through prairies.  The water holes attracted mastodon, mammoth, bison, horse, llama, peccary, and deer.  Wolves and big cats waited in ambush along the megafauna game trails leading to these water holes.  Condors and ravens perched in the trees, looking for dead meat.  The surrounding hills were covered in widely spaced shortleaf pine and post oak with an understory of grass, flowers, and bare dirt.  Scrub vegetation grew on the top of the hills.

15,000 years ago, glaciers to the north melted, releasing an increase in precipitation.  Between 15,000 years BP and 8,000 years BP, water began to flow between these isolated springs until they joined the Savannah River.  Formerly, the river was braided and clogged with sandbars, but now it began to meander and a period of supermeanders following huge storms caused its banks to overflow, flooding and killing trees.  Bamboo cane, up until that time a minor local component of the flora, thrived in the sunny environments where leafless dead trees did not block out the sun light.  Herds of bison, horses, and mammoths increased at first because the bamboo provided a rich new source of food.  But man, newly arrived in the area, ambushed the herds, wiping out all the megafauna in the region, except for deer and bear that learned to avoid men.  The surrounding hills became more thickly wooded in the wetter climate with greatly reduced large mammal populations, though turkey and smaller animals still abounded.

For thousands of years Indians continued setting fire to the  woods to improve habitat for game.  The thermal pruning created an open environment where scattered ancient old oaks, hickories, and pines grew far apart in beautiful grass and flower-covered meadows. The frequent fires burned all the way to the edges of Reed Creek, further improving habitat for bamboo cane.  During the 17th century diseases introduced by Europeans decimated Indian populations and the corn fields they abandoned near the creek also gave way to bamboo cane.  When the first Europeans settled in this district 100 years later they saw an extensive impenetrable stand of bamboo here, and they called it Reed Creek.

Europeans drove away the remaining Indians, killed all the deer, bear, and turkey; and stopped the annual practice of setting the woods afire.  Trees shaded out some bamboo groves, farmer’s livestock fed on others until they were gone, and planters converted the rest of the creek bottomlands to cotton fields.  Soon, the surrounding hills were clear-cut, and the vicinity looked bare and ugly.  The boll weevil infestation bankrupted the farmers during the depression, and they left, and the trees grew back.  The deer returned.  40-50 years ago, real estate developers took ownership of the land, and now the surrounding hills have houses filled with human beings inside who shit into pipes that lead to the sewage plant where it is treated and released into Reed Creek.

One Response to “Reed Creek, Columbia County, Georgia; a 20,000 Year Natural History Timeline”

  1. ina puustinen westerholm Says:

    Geeze man..you actually..tell it like it is. was? well..ya get the whole meaning..in well thought out prose!!!!!!!!!!!!! Looking out my side of the farm lands here..into the maw..of the subdivisions..right across thehayden bridge road ..yellow painted line..you be telling the story..of our once upon, beautiful..healthy lands..before folks who chop and build..and then have..no place for..their children/pets/wild animals..to move about. 82 shortly. no one has figured out how to ‘asphalt moi’..yet! 😉 you and yours..raise a good amount of hell. ina

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