THE 2014 RAF RIVER RUN EVENT
The 2014 Recreational Aviation Foundation River Run event was held September 19th-21st. Recreational aviation enthusiasts gathered at the Tusquittee Landing Airport in Hayesville, North Carolina, the starting point for the aerial migration toward the sea, which would conclude on the Georgia Coast at Berg Park Aerodrome in Midway.
Tusquittee Landing is a beautiful fly- in community nestled in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. A short distance from the Andrews Airport (RHP), Tusquittee is tucked into a valley and constrained by mountains on all sides but the west. The preferred landing is on runway 28 after making a close-to-terrain right pattern to land. Anyone landing on runway 28 for the first time should expect to make a go-around in order to get familiar with the approach environment. Landing to the east is permissible but pilots are cautioned to consider density altitude and aircraft climb performance if a go-around from the 2700’ long grass runway at 2000’ elevation is necessary. The scenery at Tusquittee, both from the air and on the ground, is something that one must experience as pictures cannot relate the true beauty of the place. Fortunately for recreational pilots, the residents at Tusquittee are happy to have visitors.
Berg Park Aerodrome is an equally beautiful and serene setting located on the Medway River in Midway Georgia. Owner Steve Berg is the sole full-time resident and is actively working to develop the property into a fly-in community. A short distance south of Savannah, 9GA2 is located just inside the Coastal 1 East (Ft. Stewart) Military Operations Area. The preferred landing and departure runways are 18 and 36, respectively. On the ground gigantic oaks draped in Spanish moss abound and the north end of the runway affords a spectacular view of the marsh. Departing to the north from Berg Park places one immediately above the Medway River which lazily meanders out to the Atlantic. A slow, low flight above the marsh and coastal areas reminds one why they learned to fly.
Pilots and guests began to arrive at Tusquittee Landing late Friday afternoon, dodging the occasional afternoon rain shower. The residents of Tusquittee Landing pulled out all the stops for the group’s arrival. Upon landing we were greeted by residents Richard Jones, David and Catherine Brown, John and Alice Hartman and were treated to an ice chest of cold beverages, and pre-dinner snacks.
As the afternoon progressed additional planes and residents arrived. Soon the area adjacent to Tusquittee’s grass strip was nicely covered with planes, tents, and people milling about making conversation and enjoying the mild afternoon. In all, fourteen people in seven different aircraft came from all over the southeast, some as far away as West Palm Beach. There were two Helio Couriers, a pair of RVs, a Skylane, a Bonanza, and a Navion.
The weekend plan called for camping at the Tusquittee Landing airport Friday night and then flying toward the coast, low and slow, along the Savannah River. Saturday evening would take place at Berg Park Aerodrome in Midway, Georgia where everyone was looking forward to another night of camping and a low-country boil prepared by RAF volunteers. Along the way the group would visit several airstrips including Swaids Field just north of Savannah to enjoy a lunch prepared by EAA Chapter 1514 volunteers. Unfortunately a low pressure system established itself just off the Savannah coast which produced rain, low ceilings, and substantial wind gusts all along the coast and affecting the weather as far north as Augusta.
Regrettably the group determined late Friday night that a trip to the coast was unlikely based upon the weather forecast. Undeterred by the weather, but inspired by the good mountain weather and the incredible hospitality of the Tusquittee residents, the group elected to remain at Tusquittee a second night and spend the day Saturday exploring as much of the original route as feasible.
Saturday morning came quietly, despite the chorus of coyotes during the night. Along with the early morning sun came coffee, biscuits, sausage, and bacon, all courtesy of our hosts. Properly fueled and prepped, the group departed for a day of flying and camaraderie.
First up was Mustang Field (0GA1) on the edge of Lake Hartwell, just to the west of the Georgia / South Carolina state line. Upon landing we were directed to parking by resident Myron Ramsdell. We were then greeted by owner Steve Holder, his son Jeff and many of their neighbors and friends who came out to see the planes. We enjoyed more coffee and donuts and a healthy dose of hangar flying.
Next on the agenda was an uncharted private strip 38 miles further south on the Savannah River. Bob Rhodes Field is cut out of the woods with an up-sloping, narrow runway. There we met Phillip Rhodes, nephew of the airport’s namesake.
Next to the family owned airstrip sits a historic farm house complete with windmill tower. In talking with Phillip we learned that we had missed the Augusta EAA Chapter 172’s annual BBQ fly-in which takes place the 2nd Saturday of each September. Something we will have to rectify next year.
Next, the group decided to head north to Greenville and enjoy lunch at the Runway Cafe. Afterward, the accommodating ATC folks at GMU authorized a group departure for the short hop over to nearby Williamsport, a private airstrip. There we met a master aircraft restorer and were treated to a visit in his “barn”, which contained 13 beautifully restored aircraft, a 1950 Ford truck, T-bird, and various engines, tractors, and more.
The balance of the afternoon was spent taking in the sites of the Smoky Mountains in the area near Tusquittee. That evening a number of the residents hauled the happy group into nearby Murphy for an evening of great food and company at Brother’s Restaurant.
Sunday morning’s sunrise was once again accompanied by hot coffee, more homemade breakfast delights, and some contraband Krispy Kreme donuts. Everyone enjoyed recounting the prior day’s adventure and making plans for future visits back to this welcoming mountain retreat.
Submitted on October 9, 2014.
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