Okefenokee: Land of Trembling Earth

Haunting. Mysterious. Okefenokee is the largest swamp in North America, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia.

The East (main) Entrance to the the Okefenokee Swamp is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The East (main) Entrance to the the Okefenokee Swamp is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wildlife paradise boasts an amazing variety of ecological features, from sandy ridges to wet, grassy savannahs and marshes, to narrow water channels and tiny islands floating in the tea-colored water.

Imagine a place where unusual creatures swim through mirror-top waters and exotic plants sprout from floating islands. A place where thousands of creatures serenade the setting of the sun each day. Picture waters so dark and still that the surface seems to reflect images from another world, another time. It is a world more peaceful and more beautiful than any other place on earth.

Almost a half-million acres of wetland, uninhabited by mankind, and still as it was thousands of years ago. Now imagine that this place, this natural wonderland is just a road trip away, a place just off the main road, but light years away from this time. It is a place where you can be guided back a thousand years on a boat, and see the miracle of nature at its best. It is the “Land of the Trembling Earth,” the Okefenokee Swamp.

The boardwalk snakes its way through the swamp leading hikers to an overlook tower. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The boardwalk snakes its way through the swamp leading hikers to an overlook tower. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Swamp evolved from the depths of the ocean and has existed for thousands of years. An outstanding example of an ecologically intact swamp, Okefenokee ranges in elevation from 103 to 128 feet above sea level. It is the largest, intact, un-fragmented, freshwater and black water wilderness swamp in North America. It is also part of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which is the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States.

Activities include fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing and photo opportunities, wilderness camping, and canoeing. The Okefenokee is crisscrossed by over 120 miles of paddle and motor boat water trails.

The swamp supports a vast range of flora and fauna: white-tailed deer, bears, bobcats, river otters, raccoons, opossums, turtles, alligators, birds, fish, and frogs by the millions, mostly dwelling in and under Spanish moss-draped cypress trees. As many as 20,000 alligators consider this spongy peat bog home. Egrets, herons, ibis, and cranes, standing ankle-deep in mirrored-black water are also common sights.

Haunting. Mysterious. Okefenokee is the largest swamp in North America, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Haunting. Mysterious. Okefenokee is the largest swamp in North America, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From white water lilies to red holly berries, more than 600 plant species reside in Okefenokee and reflect the season. Buds and blossoms burst each spring for the largest annual display. Bugs are thickest in hot summer months, though the early hours of the day are generally comfortable. Fall brings subtle color changes, like the cypress needles’ transformation to burnt orange and the appearance of the delicate yellow tickseed sunflower. Migratory birds visit during winter months, the best season for serious birdwatching activities.

Ideally situated some 20 miles west of I-95 (Kingland exit) near Folkston, Okefenokee RV Park is a perfect base from which to explore Okefenokee. Okefenokee RV Park offers 52 full hook-up camping sites with 50/30-amp electric service, free Wi-Fi, bathrooms, showers, laundry, and club house.

After arriving at Okefenokee RV Park we unhooked our dinghy and after setting up camp we ventured out. The East (main) Entrance off U.S. Highway 121 at Folkston is mere minutes away. This main entrance located 11 miles southwest of Folkston is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

We stopped at the Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center, hiked on the upland trails, visited the Chesser Island Homestead and the newly rebuilt Chesser Island Boardwalk, and took a guided sunset boat tour into this primitive wetland.

A perfect days ends with a guided sunset boat tour into this primitive wetland. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A perfect days ends with a guided sunset boat tour into this primitive wetland. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our expert guide shared facts and legends about the swamp along with personal stories that both raised eyebrows and elicited laughs. Along with expertise on alligator biology, wetland ecology, and cultural history, our guide possessed pure passion for Okefenokee, which shone through each anecdote.

This vast bog with trembling peat deposits may also be accessed from several additional entrances including Stephen Foster State Park (West Entrance) off State Route 177 at Fargo. And that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

Way down south in Okefenokee
The sun goes down
And the air is cool

Okefenokee, Okefenokee
Choowa, choowa, choowa

Come on, Georgia

—Freddy Cannon

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