A slow, steady flow of river water cascades over the dam,heading to the banks where Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Steven Leathers patrols.
He stakes out the dam from a spot surrounded with pines and notices an occasional truck pass over it. Birds chirp and a sloshing turbine resonates. Meanwhile, small ripples of the Savannah River go untouched by boats and fishing lines.
"It's kind of fun in the morning when the fog starts to lift," says Leathers. "It's kind of neat to see."
For Leathers, keeping an eye on such scenery has been a job with its share of down time, but he says it's a new assignment that has come with a good view and a good cause.
"Before Sept. 11, you'd probably get at least one or two boats out here every morning," he says, pointing out from the Below Dam Boat Launching Ramp of Thurmond Dam on Friday.
"Now, what we're doing is basically keeping people out of the park areas as well as watching the dam. Basically our job is to be out here to make sure the dam is safe."
The area once frequented by visitors for tours and fishing is now closed to the public as a 24 hours-a-day concentrated patrol zone - a result of Sept. 11.
For Leathers, it's a three-hours-a-day, three-days-a-week assignment, which he switches off with other officers to keep the dam constantly patrolled.
During his three hours, he keeps an eye out for anyone who might try to get close to the dam, whether on foot through a wooded path or by car on the road atop the dam. One concern is that a bomb explosion could cause massive flooding in Columbia County and beyond.
The parks and fishing areas at Thurmond Dam have been closed to the public since Sept. 12.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Although vehicles can still cross the road that passes over the dam, "You watch the dam making sure that especially no trucks stop on it," Leathers said.
He also drives across the dam every so often and checks on those at the nearby visitors center, which is still open. U.S. Army Corps of Engineer workers likewise walk on top of the dam at times, looking down to see whether anything is hanging from it.
So far, nothing has been found and there have been only a few hunters and tourists that have been asked to leave the area.
"A lot of people see that the gates are closed and don't hang around too much," Leathers said.
The idea to constantly patrol the dam was an initiative taken on Sept. 12 by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, Capt. Steve Morris said. It's also been embraced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Recently, the Corps approved up to $35,000 in funding for the sheriff's office, "which will help defray the cost of the operation," Capt. Morris said.
Capt. Morris said he doesn't see the watching ending anytime soon.
"It will continue indefinitely," he said.
And in the meantime, Leathers said he'll continue to enjoy the view - one he intends on preserving for a long time to come.
"The biggest deterrent is the presence," he said. "Hopefully, they'll see us here and say 'Well, we'll pick another target."'
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