For Joanne Steele, the trip is a milestone in her life's work to help people see the value of the natural world and the human impact on it. Joanne observes, "There are five nuclear reactors, a major nuclear weapons complex, a nuclear waste dump, and two reactors under construction in the Savannah River Watershed." She serves on the board for Nuclear Watch South which works for a nuclear-free future and notes that the year 2015 is significant because it is the 70th year of the Atomic Age as well as marking her 60th birthday.
Joanne and her husband, Bob Steele, live in Nacoochee Valley, Georgia. For 39 years they have been care-takers on 280 acres of land along the Chattahoochee River, raising four children, Jesse, Seth, Sam and Rebecca. They now have ten grandchildren.
Joanne is multi talented: an artist, a singer-songwriter, environmental activist, and a source of service and joy to her friends and her church. On March first, Joanne will mark her sixtieth birthday by beginning a personal pilgrimage to honor the river and earth she loves so well.
In her own words, "During my teenage years songs flowed from the wellspring of new experiences of romance and the freedom to explore the world around me. It was no longer the safe place of early childhood. I saw racism, militarization, water pollution, and deforestation. I learned about the Trail of Broken Treaties and uranium mining on Native lands. These were the roots of my environmental and social justice activism. Writing songs became a way to cope, like prayer.
In the early 1980's pollution from the over burdened sewer system in nearby Helen, GA resulted in our children getting skin infections. It took over 2 years of investigating, organizing, networking, educating, and publicizing to fix the problem. The bonds of friendship of those involved, and the lessons in process to get things done remain to this day.
This way of doing things helped Friends of the Mountains address deforestation, and Action for a Clean Environment prevent regional solid waste and medical waste incinerators from coming to these mountains. The list of positive citizen action is long. Now it's time to apply that process to our Source to Sea: Savannah River Pilgrimage 2015! It's work, and it's play. I am grateful for all the support that makes this pilgrimage possible."
Jesse Steele, Joanne's son, grew up on the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. His love for river travel has taken him across the U. S. and Central America. The Chattooga River and other tributaries of the Savannah River have provided inspiration to him in youth and adulthood. He states that "this trip is an opportunity to deepen my connection to the river system that has given so much to me."
Bob Brooksher, an avid kayaker, uses the outdoors as a classroom to instill awareness and appreciation of the natural environment. "I had a dream for years of making this trip from source to sea. The headwaters are so pristine and it concerns me that the Savannah River becomes so impaired downstream. We are happy to support the many people and organizations working to have a healthy river."
River Dog is always ready to go on a new adventure. This will be his first "Source to Sea" journey. He was a member of the 2013 "Round Manhattan" Team and has boated many rivers and lakes.