In 1992, a group of men got together to plan a fun boat trip down the Ogeechee River. The three-day trip would include two nights of camping on the river banks, with 11 boats in attendance. Needing a name for their group, The River Rats were formed. Each person had to pay a fee to cover the cost of the trip – meals, etc.
At the end of the first trip, The River Rats returned home with $100 in extra cash and decided to donate to The Sunshine House. Even though the boaters agreed that was not a lot of money, it felt good to be able to help someone. The group of men then decided to make each trip a fundraising event and have successfully done so through sales of t-shirts, raffle tickets, boat paddle bidding, and sponsorships for boats from businesses and individuals. In doing so, local organizations such as The Sunshine House, Georgia Sheriff’s Youth Home, and the Shriners (including the son of a River Rats boater) have benefitted.
Over the years, The River Rats have had as many as 42 boats make the trip, treading 132 miles on water. The group of men leaves at daylight on a Friday from the Bull Hole in Jenkins County and end each trip on Sunday at Kings Ferry in Chatham County. According to ‘old timers’ Albert Hall and William Riner, each trip holds a lot of memories.
“Some years were very challenging. I remember having to get out of my boat and pull it across logs to be able to go on down the river. But in the end it has always been worth it,” said Hall.
Fun fact: Hall has made all 30 trips and Riner has made every river trip except one.
Each year, a new t-shirt design is created for the weekend trip, as well as a custom-designed paddle that is coveted by all the River Rats. On Saturday night, the men bid on the boat paddle, with the proceeds also going to the fundraiser. According to Hall and Riner, the paddle has raised as much as $4,000. This year’s shirt and paddle have a very sentimental meaning behind them and serve as a remembrance of the late Bobby Murray, with the shirt having a picture of Murray’s river house screen-printed on it. Murray, who recently passed away, allowed the River Rats to camp at his place in Effingham County every year.
According to Hall and Riner, they met Murray during their first trip down the river, and he welcomed the River Rats to camp on his riverside property, which became a tradition. After his December 2020 passing, the group has still been welcomed by loved ones of Murray to continue the tradition.
This year, The River Rats are asking for support in their annual fundraiser in order to successfully reach their $500,000 lifetime goal, with this year’s funds being dedicated to the Shriners’ Greenville Hospital. The group of men will set out on Friday, April 16, and will return Sunday, April 18.
“We have a goal this year to raise at least $31,965. That will total $500,000 in donations for 30 years of doing this trip,” stated Riner.
The River Rats would like to express their gratitude to everyone who has supported the group’s efforts in the past and look forward to support received in future trips.
For more information on the upcoming trip as well as ways to make donations, contact Hall or Riner or any River Rat.