Due to the spread of wild fires, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge had been shut down for over a month. Well, lucky for us, we can now officially say they are back in business. Although the fires caused extensive damage in the swamp, they also added more unique characteristics to the land & wilderness area. The smoke affected many surrounding towns including our own St. Marys. Many firefighters went to work on the fires, battling night and day to try to contain them. We had a few good rains that also helped to put the fires out. With the re-opening of Okefenokee NWR, not everything is available yet but there are many things to do from guided boat/kayak/canoe tours to driving/walking trails. Reservations are required for the guided kayak or canoe tours, please call at least 24 hours in advance. The park opens a half hour before sunrise and the first guided boat tour will depart around 9am; the last boat leaves around 5pm and the swamp closes at 7:30pm. Tours last about an hour and generally there is one every hour. If you are interested in canoeing or kayaking on your own, Okefenokee Adventures has resumed rentals. Private canoes and kayaks may be launched but, at this time, the refuge rangers do not recommend the use of private motorized boats because of the low water levels. The Okefenokee and its prairie is a great authentic swamp homestead. While visiting the swamp you could run across many kinds of critters from American alligators to great blue herons to cute and playful otters. It really is a different and special experience now because of the fires. You can see first hand how the fires altered the swamp and how fast it is recovering – there is even some green growth showing through the burn. If you decide to stop and have some lunch, there is the Camp Cornelia Café. They serve sandwiches, salads and vegetarian fare and they can also prepare group meals, as well as cookouts and shrimp boils. It takes about 45 minutes to get to Okefenokee from St. Marys. For more information and prices on all these activities go to www.okefenokeeadventures.com. The visitors center, where the films and exhibits are, is open daily from 9am to 5pm. If you have any questions, please call the visitors center at 912-496-7156.
P.S. Do not forget your cameras as you never know what you might see.