Okefenokee Swamp: A Very Special Place

A very special place, the Okefenokee Swamp offers so much, one could spend a lifetime and still not see and do everything.

The Okefenoke is vast, with almost 402,000 acres (that’s roughly 300,000 football fields in size) of cypress forest, marsh, lakes, and islands. Filled with alligators, Sandhill cranes, red-cockaded woodpeckers and over 400 other species of animals, it is a wonderful place to learn about the wildlife of Georgia. The longleaf pine, cypress, carnivorous sundews, and other plants make up different habitats from dry upland forests to open wetlands.

Picture waters so dark and still that the surface seems to reflect images from another world, another time. The Okefenoke is a world more peaceful and more beautiful than any other place on earth. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picture waters so dark and still that the surface seems to reflect images from another world, another time. The Okefenoke is a world more peaceful and more beautiful than any other place on earth. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden sunsets and thundering storms allows one to experience this magical place at its most beautiful and most awe-inspiring moments.

Egrets, herons, ibis, and cranes, standing ankle-deep in mirrored-black water are common sights. Circling hawks, hooting owls, rambling turkeys, leaping white-tailed deer, and playful otters are additional possibilities to see during your visit. Fox squirrels and gopher tortoises are not shy, while black bears and bobcats are Okefenokee’s more elusive residents. Listen for the chiseling and pecking of the red-cockaded woodpecker.

The Okefenokee is a vast bog inside a huge, saucer-shaped depression that was once part of the ocean floor. The swamp now lies 103 to 128 feet above mean sea level. Native Americans named the area “Okefenokee” meaning “Land of the Trembling Earth”.

Fall brings subtle color changes, like the cypress needles’ transformation to burnt orange and the appearance of the delicate yellow tickseed sunflower. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall brings subtle color changes, like the cypress needles’ transformation to burnt orange and the appearance of the delicate yellow tickseed sunflower. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peat deposits, up to 15 feet thick, cover much of the swamp floor. These deposits are so unstable in spots that trees and surrounding bushes tremble by stomping the surface.

The slow-moving waters of the Okefenokee are tea-colored due to the tannic acid released from decaying vegetation. The principal outlet of the swamp, the Suwannee River, originates in the heart of the Okefenokee and drains southwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The swamp’s southeastern drainage to the Atlantic Ocean is the St. Mary’s River, which forms the boundary between Georgia and Florida.

The swamp contains numerous islands and lakes, along with vast areas of non-forested habitat. Prairies cover about 60,000 acres of the swamp. Once forested, these expanses of marsh were created during periods of severe drought when fires burned out vegetation and the top layers of peat. The prairies harbor a variety of wading birds: herons, egrets, ibises, cranes, and bitterns.

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

Free popular activities include walking trails, a restored 1920’s farm house tour, and a pleasant 1.5-mile-long boardwalk through the swamp. At the end of this boardwalk is a 50 foot tower that has a great view of the swamp. Also while you are here, visit the Visitor Center.

Hours open are 1/2 hour before sunrise until 5:30 pm. Cost is $5 per car for parking. All activities are free except for guided boat tours. These tours are 90 minutes and cost $19.25 per person.

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.

Free popular activities include walking trails, a restored 1920's farm house tour, and a pleasant 1.5-mile-long boardwalk through the swamp. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free popular activities include walking trails, a restored 1920’s farm house tour, and a pleasant 1.5-mile-long boardwalk through the swamp. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

The swamp contains numerous islands and lakes, along with vast areas of non-forested habitat. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The swamp contains numerous islands and lakes, along with vast areas of non-forested habitat. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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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