Okefenokee Swamp (April 1990)
When I was a young boy, this fabled swampland was often mentioned, forebodingly, by my father. The fear and mystique he struck in my heart compels me, as an adult, to immerse myself in it, and survive it, despite the horrors embedded in me in my boyhood years.
My first visit to this immense swamp is a two-day canoe ride along a lengthy, remote canoe trail, toward the heart of the swamp. We see very colorful swamp flowers jutting out from the water (see photo below right), and there is no solid ground to be found for the entire trip (just "floating islands"). We also enjoy the fact that we come across no humans along the canoe trail we select.
We camp at a lean-to elevated above the water, and are amused to read the log-book at our overnight oasis. A recent visitor had written: "If you see a 'coon, kill it. You'll be glad you did later." We get the hint: that raccoons invade the lean-to looking for food at night, which leads us to store our cooler of food in the nearby outhouse. Even though the outhouse has a doorknob, we wonder that night if the raccoons would be clever enough to figure out how to open the door.
Very impressive are the many insect-eating Trumpet Pitcher plants we see along the way during our paddling.
One interesting aspect of the swamp is the large number of cypress domes you can see on the horizon while canoeing.
A 438,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge. 353,981 acres were designated by Congress as a National Wilderness Area. It is the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Mary's rivers. The word "Okefenokee" comes from an Indian word meaning "trembling earth." According to a Bruce Ritchie article in the 10/29/96 Gainesville Sun, the Swamp was No. 2 on the list of areas outside of Atlanta that visitors to the 1996 Olympics wanted to see (Disney World was No. 1). The Swamp provides an excellent overnight canoe trip a mere 100 miles from Gainesville.
Indians lived in the area as early as 2,500 B.C.E. It was a favorite hunting ground for the Creek and Seminole Indians. In 1891, Suwannee Canal Company bought 240,000 acres of the Swamp with plans to drain, log, and farm it. Fortunately, this did not happen. The Company plans were brought to a halt by bankruptcy.
Birds at the Swamp include the bald eagle, osprey, sandhill cranes, wood storks, warblers, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The black bear and alligator is also found in the Swamp.
Approximately 400,000 visitors from all 50 states come to the Swamp each year. The swamp is one of the oldest and most well preserved freshwater areas in the U.S.
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