Chances are that you have not heard of it. Folkston is a small town with a population of around 2,500 people. I will admit that I am biased because I grew up there, but it actually has one of the most amazing natural attractions I have ever visited. The Okefenokee Swamp is the largest freshwater swamp east of the Mississippi River. It covers a massive area of land in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida.
The Swamp is an annual attraction for tens of thousands of tourists who are looking for an amazing trip without the hype of many tourist attractions. Folkston’s entrance, one of several, is not the most popular of the entrances. It is the best choice for nature lovers, however. A couple of the entrances are fairly commercialized, but the entrance is Folkston is a wonderful nature experience.
If you plan to visit, be sure to make time to go on the boardwalk. If you have never experienced a walk in the woods, then you are in for a treat. You will be walking over the boardwalk, of course, so you will not be traipsing through the woods on your own. The walk is about a mile long with shaded rest areas along the way if you need them. Once you reach the end of the walk, you will be able to climb a tower, from which you can look out over miles of beautiful swampland. You will be able to see all types of wildlife from deer to birds to alligators.
The Swamp is most famous for the alligators you will see lazing around even when people are nearby. A visit to the Okefenokee is not for the faint of heart. It is likely that you will see alligators up close. If you scare easily, then this trip may not be for you. (The same applies if you do not have healthy fears. You could get hurt.) For most people, however, seeing the gators up close and personal is a unique experience and one they will remember.
If you want to know more about the Swamp’s history, learn about wildlife, or see a stuffed gator, you can visit the entrance museum. The museum, which is free with a nominal parking fee, shows you about the history of the people who inhabited the lands in the past and will teach you about the types of birds and other creatures that share those lands. The Chesser Island homestead, named for one of the earliest families in the area, will allow you to see how people lived in the “old days.” You can see how people made meat using smokehouses, how they made and sharpened their own tools, and what the inside of their homes looked like. On certain days, such as at the Okefenokee Festival the second weekend in October, you will be able to see lye soap and cane syrup being made. You cannot duplicate these experiences by watching films or otherwise being a third-party observer; this opportunity is rare indeed. Instead, you can experience the fun of nineteenth century America in a wonderful natural environment.
Another option is to walk one of the many nature trails available at the Okefenokee. These trails are not guided, but they are not dangerous either as long as you stay on the trails already in place for you. Walking the trails will give you an idea of what it is like in nature. The Swamp is home to dozens of endangered species, such as the red-cockated woodpecker, which lives only in certain trees. The trails have notes along the way to let you know what types of wildlife you should be on the lookout for and to help you identify the ones you do see.
You also can opt for a guided boat tour by one of the seasoned guides working at the Swamp. You can ask questions and ride through the dark brown waters into the swamp. Tours are inexpensive and last for about an hour. You will learn about the peat moss, used to make fuel, and will see other animals that live in the swamp’s depths. This experience is one that nature lovers should not skip! It is rare that you can still find natural environments that are this pristine and elegant.
By Brandi Rhoades