Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief David Hill, Senator Jon Ossoff, Representative Darlene Taylor, and other river protectors will be honored at Georgia River Network’s Georgia Rivers Gala in Atlanta on Sept. 8.

Georgia River Network, the only statewide advocacy organization dedicated solely to protecting Georgia’s rivers, is celebrating 25 years. During this milestone anniversary year, Georgia River Network will host the Georgia Rivers Gala to honor leaders who advocated for the protection of the economically vital rivers that flow through our state, including those currently fighting to protect the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the most endangered waterways in the United States. 

Since 2019, Georgia River Network has helped lead the fight to save the Okefenokee Swamp from a proposed mine along Trail Ridge, the geological barrier that forms the eastern boundary of the swamp and maintains the swamp’s water levels. The Okefenokee Swamp is home to the headwaters for St. Marys and Suwannee Rivers, and made national news when American Rivers named it one of the Most Endangered Rivers of 2023. Leaders nationwide have spoken for the protection of the Okefenokee Swamp. 

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief David Hill declared Trail Ridge from Hoboken, Georgia, to the St. Marys River, a Sacred Site.“The Okefenokee Swamp is a special place. Its ecosystem, much like the dawn of our Muscogee people, is unique and inherently found in southeast Georgia. It is special for many because of its role in our origins and what it means to the people of Georgia today. Honoring and protecting sacred places like this is why we are re-connecting with this region and moving forward together with our friends here,” said Chief  Hill. 

The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in North America, is one of Georgia’s top sites for outdoor recreation and tourism, and is one of Georgia’s most beloved and environmentally significant wild places. Senator Jon Ossoff has pushed for protection of the beloved wilderness through many fronts. 

“The Georgia River Network works tirelessly to protect Georgia’s waters. The Okefenokee Swamp is a sacred and beloved place for all Georgians. Proposed strip mining around the swamp risks irrevocable damage and would be a grave mistake. While I deeply appreciate this award, we are far from victory in protecting the Okefenokee, and I will sustain my efforts to protect it,” Sen. Ossoff said.  In February, Sen. Ossoff launched a bipartisan push with Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter to urge the Department of the Interior to formally nominate the Wildlife Refuge to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Representative Darlene Taylor proposed the Okefenokee Protection Act bill (HB71) to ban mining on Okefenokee’s Trail Ridge. After witnessing first hand the destruction of the Everglades, Rep. Taylor would not let the Okefenokee wilderness be threatened by a proposed mine.

“There is a preponderance of scientific evidence that the proposed mining on Trail Ridge adjacent to the Okefenokee threatens to lower water levels – in the swamp, in neighboring wells, and in the St. Marys River,” Rep. Taylor said.“The amazing thing about these waters is that they are essentially intact. Nature as it exists in the Okefenokee today is essentially the same as it would have been when the first people beheld its dark, flowing waters.”

Georgia River Network is uniting these leaders  championing the protection of the Okefenokee in celebration of their legacy as a network that has united river protectors for over 25 years. 

“Georgia River Network has facilitated the growth of riverkeeper groups, guided watershed conservation groups and water trails organizations and protected countless Georgia rivers over our 25 year history –and we’re just getting started,” said Rena Ann Peck, GRN executive director. “We are building on our legacy as a statewide advocacy organization by protecting the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the most endangered waterways in Georgia, as well as the entire nation. As we reflect on our impact over 25 years, we look to the next 25 years to serve as Georgia’s only science-based non-profit conservation organization focused solely on protection of and access to our state’s waterways.”

The Okefenokee Swamp champions will gather with other outdoor recreation enthusiasts, conservationists, and leaders at the Georgia Rivers Gala. Guests will enjoy an opening cocktail reception with live music, a live auction and program, dinner, and live dance band.

To become a sponsor or get tickets to the Georgia Rivers Gala, please visit the event webpage at

To learn more about Georgia River Network efforts to protect the Okefenokee Swamp, please visit

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.