Tom has been wanting to visit the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge ever since we first came to St. Simons Island. The main Visitors Center is only an hour away, so we piled in the van for a road trip with Mom and Dad. Tom and I don’t normally spend a lot of time in National Wildlife Refuges. They are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service branch of the Department of the Interior. We have all we can do visiting National Park sites, so we tend to skip anything else.
But Tom really wanted to go – so we went. And it was about what I expected: a swamp. Swamps may have their charms, but I don’t see it. Yes, there are lots of birds and the fishing might be great. But there are also alligators and snakes and lots of smelly, stagnant water.
We started at the Richard Bolt Visitor Center, which is the main park entrance. Richard Bolt was an employee of the park who died in a fire there. Because the swamp has lots of peat, it is subject to frequent fires that burn for a while. On the day we visited, they were setting some controlled fires to burn away underbrush.
The Visitors Center was particularly uninformative. We watched the movie – mostly frogs and alligators croaking – maybe 10 words in the whole thing and no information. The Visitors Center lacked historical information and good exhibits. Very disappointing. The volunteer at the desk kept encouraging us to take a concessionaire’s boat ride and eat at the concessionaire’s small diner. We weren’t interested in either of those things.
We enjoyed a drive along the Swamp Island Drive, reading a nice brochure with information that corresponded to numbers along the drive. Several times we got out of the car to check out the area described and saw alligators and other wildlife. We explored the Chesser Island Homestead, named for the family who built a home on the 592 acre island. Tom and I walked along the Boardwalk and climbed Owls Roost Tower for a great view of – more swamp. Can you tell swamps aren’t my favorite thing? I can’t imagine choosing to live in one like the Chesser family.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is 630 square miles of swamp. The Okefenokee Swamp was designated a World Heritage Site in 1974 because of the diversity of life found there. “Okefenokee” means “trembling earth,” a name given the swamp by the Native Americans who lived nearby. Two rivers flow out of the Okefenokee Swamp. The St. Marys River flows east to the Atlantic Ocean. The Suwannee River flows south through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.
If you want to get away from it all on the crowded east coast, the Okefenokee Swamp is a good place to go. There are 354,000 acres of wilderness with no cell service and no roads. But you better take a canoe or kayak too, because there isn’t a lot of dry ground.