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The ever-changing Okefenokee

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By Wayne Lazarus on February 3rd, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

“Land of trembling earth” is the translation for the Indian name of the Okefenokee Swamp, an area as mysterious as it is beautiful. The source of two rivers, its peat beds tell the environmental history of this 7,000 year old area. Those peat layers are responsible for the name — because, even deep enough to support trees, they can shift slightly underfoot.

swamp_0002Carnivorous pitcher plants, orchids, cypress and longleaf pine are just a few of the vast array of plant life. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1937 to protect 402,000 acres. It is managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1974, to further protect it and the over 400 species of animals, 353,981 acres of the refuge was designated a National Wilderness Area. In 2008, the Okefenokee was nominated to the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Just eight miles from Waycross, Georgia, the Okefenokee Swamp Park is at the northern end of the swamp. It offers boat tours, a 1-1/2 hour train tour, museum, gift shop and observations points for otter, black bear, white tail deer and alligators.

On the west side of the Okefenokee, about 18 miles from Fargo, Georgia, there is an entrance at the Stephen C. Foster State Park, which encompasses 80 acres of the swamp. Boat rentals, hiking trails and guided pontoon tours are available. The park contains Billy’s Lake and Billy’s Island, named for Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs who hid there in the early 19th century.swamp_0001

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entrance is on the western side, at the Suwanee Canal Recreation area, about 45 minutes from Waycross and an hour from Jacksonville, Florida. Here Okefenokee Adventures operates the visitor center, museum and gift shop. Both motor boat and paddling tours are available. A short drive leads into the swamp to a boardwalk, from which the 1858 Chesser Island Homestead can be explored.

Insiders note: From early May through the fall, it is people-season for the tiny biting gnats called “no see ‘ems.” Bring a good bug repellent.

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