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Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
IUCN Category IV (Habitat/Species Management Area)
Location Georgia and Florida, USA
Nearest city Folkston, Georgia
Coordinates 30°51′3.4307″N 82°18′57.9348″W / 30.850952972°N 82.316093°W / 30.850952972; -82.316093Coordinates: 30°51′3.4307″N 82°18′57.9348″W / 30.850952972°N 82.316093°W / 30.850952972; -82.316093
Area 402,000 acres (1,627 km²)
Established 1937
Visitors 400,000 (in 2007)
Governing body U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a 395,080 acre (1,598 km²) National Wildlife Refuge located in Charlton, Ware, and Clinch Counties of Georgia, and Baker County in Florida, United States. The refuge is administered from offices in Folkston, Georgia. The refuge was established in 1937 to protect a majority of the 438,000 acre (1,772 km²) Okefenokee Swamp.[1] [2] The name "Okefenokee" is a Native American word meaning "trembling earth." [3]

A wildfire which began with a lightning strike near the center of the Refuge on May 5, 2007 eventually merged with another wildfire which had begun near Waycross, Georgia on April 16 due to a tree falling on a power line. By May 28, more than 580,000 acres (2,300 km2) had burned in the region, or more than 900 square miles (2300 km²). [1] [2]

Nearly 400,000 people visit the refuge each year, making it the 16th most visited refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System. [1] It is the largest in acreage of any that is not located in a western state. In 1999, the economic impact of tourism in Charlton, Ware, and Clinch Counties in Georgia exceeded $67 million. [1] The refuge has a staff of 16 with a fiscal year 2005 budget of $1,451,000. [3] The refuge also administers the Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Contents

History

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

The swamp has a rich human history including Native American settlement, explorations by europeans, a massive drainage attempt, and intensive timber harvesting.

Native Americans inhabited Okefenokee Swamp as early as 2500 BC.[4] Peoples of the Deptford Culture, the Swift Creek Culture and the Weeden Island Culture occupied sites within the Okefenokee.[4] The last tribe to seek sanctuary in the swamp were the Seminoles.[4] Troops led by General Charles R. Floyd during the Second Seminole War, 1838-1842, ended the age of the native americans in the Okefenokee.[4]

The Suwanee Canal Company purchased 238,120 acres (963 km²) of the Okefenokee Swamp from the State of Georgia in 1891 to drain the swamp for rice, sugar cane, and cotton plantations.[4] When this failed, the company began industrial wetland logging as a source of income.[4] Captain Henry Jackson and his crews spent three years digging the Suwannee Canal 11.5 miles (18.5 km) into the swamp.[4]

Economic recessions led to the company’s bankruptcy and eventual sale to Charles Hebard in 1901.[4] Logging operations, focusing on the cypress, began in 1909 after a railroad was constructed on the northwest area of the swamp.[4] More than 431 million board feet (1,020,000 m³) of timber were removed from the Okefenokee by 1927, when logging operations ceased.[4]

The Okefenokee Preservation Society, formed in 1918, promoted nationwide interest in the swamp.[1] With the support of State and local interests and numerous conservation and scientific organizations, the Federal Government acquired most of the swamp for refuge purposes in 1936.[1]

In 1937, with Executive Order 7593 (later amended by Executive Order 7994), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the refuge, designating it as "a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife." [1] The establishment of Okefenokee Refuge in 1937 marked the culmination of a movement that had been initiated at least 25 years earlier by a group of scientists from Cornell University who recognized the educational, scientific, and recreational values of this unique area.[1]

In 1974, to further ensure the protection of this unique ecosystem, the interior sections of the refuge were designated a National Wilderness Area.[4]

In 1986, the Okefenokee Refuge was designated by the Wetlands Convention as a Wetland of International Importance. [1]

Geography

Map of Okefenokee NWR

Okefenokee NWR has an approved acquisition boundary of 519,480 acres (2,102 km²), which is 123,480 acres (500 km²) larger than its current area.[1] Approximately 371,000 acres (1,500 km²) of the Okefenokee Swamp wetlands are incorporated into the refuge. 353,981 acres (1,432 km²) within the swamp were designated as the Okefenokee Wilderness, a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System when the Okefenokee Wilderness Act was passed in 1974, making it the third largest wilderness east of the Mississippi River.[1]

The Okefenokee Swamp is a vast bog inside a huge, saucer-shaped depression that was once part of the ocean floor. [4] The swamp now lies 103 to 128 feet (39 m) above mean sea level.[4] Peat deposits, up to 15 feet (4.6 m) thick, cover much of the swamp floor.[4] These deposits are so unstable in spots that trees and surrounding bushes tremble by stomping the surface. [4] Native Americans named the area "Okefenokee" meaning "Land of the Trembling Earth". [4] Swamp habitats include open wet "prairies," cypress forests, scrub-shrub vegetation, upland islands, and open lakes. [5]

The Okefenokee Swamp is one of the world's largest intact freshwater ecosystems. [5] It has been designated a Wetland of International Importance by the United Nations under the Ramsar Convention of 1971.[5] The swamp is compared through research to wetlands worldwide.[5] It is world-renowned for its amphibian populations that are bio-indicators of global health. Water from the Suwannee River Sill area is used as a standard reference by scientists throughout the world. [5]

The slow-moving waters of the Okefenokee are tea-colored due to the tannic acid released from decaying vegetation. [4]The principal outlet of the swamp, the Suwannee River, originates in the heart of the Okefenokee and drains southwest into the Gulf of Mexico.[4] The swamp’s southeastern drainage to the Atlantic Ocean is the St. Mary’s River, which forms the boundary between Georgia and Florida.[4]

The swamp contains numerous islands and lakes, along with vast areas of non-forested habitat.[4] Prairies cover about 60,000 acres (240 km²) of the swamp.[4] Once forested, these expanses of marsh were created during periods of severe drought when fires burned out vegetation and the top layers of peat.[4] The prairies harbor a variety of wading birds: herons, egrets, ibises, cranes, and bitterns.[4]

Controlled burn at Okefenokee NWR

Refuge staff manages 33,000 acres (130 km²) of uplands which are being restored to once-abundant Longleaf Pine and wiregrass habitat.[5]

Refuge staff and volunteers work to preserve the natural qualities of the swamp, provide habitat for a variety of wildlife, and provide recreational opportunities for visitors.[5] They also conduct prescribed burns in upland areas; thin forests, create wildlife openings, plant longleaf pines; and monitor, manage, and improve wildlife populations and habitat.[5]

The Okefenokee is a rainfall-dependent system, and when periods of drought occur, the area becomes susceptible to wildfire.[6] A 20/30 year cycle of drought and fire has allowed the Okefenokee to exist as the unique wetland it is.[6] These periods cause changes in the abundance of certain plants (more grasses growing in exposed areas,) the nesting success of certain wading birds (failure in extreme drought), and the location of some species of wildlife (fish migrate into deeper lakes and channels and are followed by predators.)[6]

Wildlife and protected species

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

With its varied habitats, the Okefenokee has become an area known for its abundance of plants and animals. There are 621 species of plants growing in the swamp.[6] Animals include 39 fish, 37 amphibian, 64 reptile, 234 bird, and 50 mammal species.[6] The Okefenokee Swamp is world renowned for its amphibian populations that are bio-indicators of global health. [1]

Wildlife species include wading birds, ducks, alligators and other reptiles, a variety of amphibians, bobcats, raptors, white-tailed deer, black bears, and songbirds. [5]

The swamp habitat also provides for threatened and endangered species, such as Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Wood Storks, Indigo Snakes, gopher tortoises and a wide variety of other wildlife species. [1] [5]

Facilities

Canoeing in the Okefenokee NWR

There are opportunities for hiking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, boating, photography and wildlife observation.

Visitor center

The Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was built in 1967, with an auditorium addition in the early 1980s.[2] The 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) building is cedar-sided with open, vaulted ceilings and flagstone floors.[2] It houses exhibits, Okefenokee Wildlife League bookstore sales area, office space for staff and volunteers, storage, and a 100 seat surround sound auditorium.[2]

Chesser Island

In the late 1800s, W.T. Chesser and his family settled a small island on the eastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. He settled on a 592 acre (2.4 km²) island, now known as Chesser Island. [2] The Chesser homestead still stands on the island. The last of the Chessers left the island in 1958, but many members of the Chesser family remain in the local area. [2]

Fishing

Lakes and slow-flowing water trails, called "runs,"cover much of the Okefenokee. More than 60 lakes dot the refuge, with depths ranging from a few feet to 15 feet (4.6 m). The largest, Billy's Lake, is 3 1/2 miles long and 100 to 250 yards (230 m) wide. Fishing is permitted year round in accordance with Georgia State fishing laws. Using live bait fish or trot lines is prohibited.[2]

Canoeing and boating

There are 121 miles (195 km) of trails in the swamp, of which 70 are open to day-use motorboat 10 horsepower (7.5 kW) and under. Seven overnight shelters are available in the swamp's interior.

Trails

  • Swamp Island Drive - a 9-mile (14 km) driving, biking and walking loop. Scattered throughout the drive are walking trails, wildlife openings and hardwood plots. Additionally, the drive leads you to the Chesser Homestead, Boardwalk and Observation tower.

Access

There are three major entrances to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, each with its own facilities and special character. From the open, wet "prairies" of the east side to the forested cypress swamps on the west, Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife. Entrance fees are required at each entrance.

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Federal Register Volume 70, No. 147, pp 44355-44357 - Tuesday August 2, 2005
  2. ^ a b c d e f g U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, URL retrieved June 15, 2006
  3. ^ a b U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Refuge Overview, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, .pdf, URL retrieved June 15, 2006
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/refugehistory.htm
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j http://www.fws.gov/Refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=41590
  6. ^ a b c d e http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/okefenokee_amphib_fish_mam_rep98.pdf

External links

See also


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

North America : United States of America : South : Georgia : Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is in the state of Georgia in the United States.

Understand

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a National Wildlife Refuge, featuring a large area of swampland and coastal forests. The park attracts large amounts of people from all over the country. With many visitors, the park is very well traveled and often mistaken for a National Park. More then 400,000 visitors visit the park each year.

History

The park was founded in 1936 in order to preserve the swamp that it sits on. Most of the land is bog and swamp like in nature. Before it was established as a park the land was used for logging operations by a now defunct company.

Landscape

Swamps, bogs, islands and Pine Forest make up the brunt of the park. The park covers a total of 402,000 acres (1,627 km²) of land with some 30,000 more acres outside park limits.

Flora and fauna

The Okefenokee Swamp is home to many wading birds, such as herons, egrets, ibises, cranes and bitterns, though populations fluctuate with water levels. Okefenokee is famous for its amphibians and reptiles such as toads, frogs, turtles, lizards, snakes as well as the abundance of American alligators and it is a critical habitat for Florida black bear.

Climate

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge can be considered to be in a semi-tropical climate zone. While temperatures during the Summer are generally humid and hot, winter temperatures are normally around 11.6°C (52.9°F). The Park often sees some wildfires during the dry season, and in 2007 experienced one of its worst fires of all time. Tropical cyclones also impact the swamp and park quite often.

Get in

Getting into the park is a rather easy ordeal.

By air

Jacksonville International Airport (IATA: JAX), 2400 Yankee Clipper Drive, [2]. Has regular flights to many US cities with major carriers such as Delta, US Air, Continental, American, Air Tran and Southwest. Hilton Head Island International Airport (IATA: SAV) [4] has a delightful glass-covered square with benches and shops in the center of the terminal, echoing the public squares in Savannah's Historic District. Rental cars, Grayline shuttles, taxis, and other ground transportation are on the lower level to take you to Savannah.

By Car

The Parks Main Entrances are all easily accessible off of I-95, US.441 and US.301

Fees/Permits

The Park charges an entrance fee at each of its main Entrance Gates. The Fees are as follows:

  • One Day Pass - $5.00
  • One Year Pass - $12.00
  • Various other passes for tour groups or seniors exist, so ask a ranger about these rates.

Get around

Before taking a canoeing trip please read Wilderness backpacking

Canoeing is one of the most common modes of transport through the park. Motor boats can also be used as a means of transport in the many wilderness areas of the park. Cars and bicycles are allowed in some areas of the park.

  • The Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center is a must see for any trip to the park. It can be easily reached through the Eastern Park Entrance.
  • Chesser Island features a 1927 homestead made from yellow pine. You can explore the homestead, and the rest of this historic and natural area.
  • Swamp Island Drive, a scenic route meant to be uses as a bike or automobile route. Along the drive are areas to stop off for hiking, wildlife viewing and other areas of natural beauty.
  • Stephen C Foster State Park, a small state park within park boundaries.

Do

There are plenty of great activities at the park for anyone from the casual tourist to the seasoned hunter.

Hiking

Hiking Trails into the Okefenokee offer hikes through upland pine forests and across unique wetlands. Opportunities to view deer, squirrels, gopher tortoises, box turtles, snakes, and a wide variety of birds. Pets are permitted on trails, however they must be restrained on a 10-foot or shorter leash. [1]

Fishing

The Okefenokee is home to 39 species of very unique fish. The fisher can expect to hook a few of the most common species in the swamp. [2]

Hunting

Deer and feral hog can be hunted in fall and winter. Turkey is fair game in spring. Also a number small game, like quail, rabbits and squirrel can be hunted. Make sure your hunting licenses are good for use in the park and surrounding area. [3]

Eat

Vending machines can be found in the park. Check nearby towns for other food services.

Drink

Vending machines can be found in the park. Check nearby towns for other food services.

Sleep

Lodging is available in all major nearby towns. Resorts, hotels and camping can be easily found.

  • Spencer House Inn (Bed and Breakfast), 200 Osborne Street (Take Country Rd 108), (912) 882-1872, [4]. checkin: 3-7 pm; checkout: 11 am. Spencer House Inn is in St. Marys, Georgia. Spencer House Inn is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has 14 guest rooms each with a private bath. A full breakfast is served each morning. The Inn is within a short walk to the ferry to Georgia's Cumberland Island National Seashore. $124-210.  edit
  • Hampton Inn The Hampton Inn Kingsland is located about 20 miles from the park off of I-95. A large outdoor pool is on the property, and deluxe breakfast is provided for free.

Camping

Regular camping sites can be found within Stephen C. Foster State Park, a state park located within the NWR's borders. Sixty-six mix-use campsites can be reserved at this park, and offer a great base to begin exploring the swamp. http://www.georgia.reserveworld.com/CampGroundInfo.aspx?i=194&p=R

Backcountry

Backcountry camping is allowed in the form of canoe trips offered by the park. Trips differ by experience, and are only held when water levels are safe. http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/Trips.html

Stay safe

It is key to understand some safety issues in order to enjoy your time at the park. Alligators are common in the area, and are known to be dangerous and can attack humans. Do not get to close to an alligator. Follow proper park guidelines to avoid harmful situations involving park wildlife. Due to the size of the park it is easy to get lost in. Much of the land set aside is Wilderness area meaning no human development can take place there. If you do get lost, remain calm and get to dry land as soon as possible.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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