Okefenokee Swamp
LocationSouthern Georgia
Northern Florida
Coordinates30°37′N 82°19′W / 30.617°N 82.317°W / 30.617; -82.317
Area438,000 acres (1,770 km2)
Designated1974

The Okefenokee Swamp is a shallow, 438,000-acre (177,000 ha), peat-filled wetland straddling the GeorgiaFlorida line in the United States. A majority of the swamp is protected by the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the Okefenokee Wilderness. The Okefenokee Swamp is considered to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia and is the largest "blackwater" swamp in North America.

The swamp was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974.[1]

Etymology

Aerial view of wetlands in Okefenokee

The name Okefenokee is attested with more than a dozen variant spellings of the word in historical literature. Though often translated as "land of trembling earth", the name is likely derived from Hitchiti oki fanôːki "bubbling water".[2]

Origin

The Okefenokee was formed over the past 6,500 years by the accumulation of peat in a shallow basin on the edge of an ancient Atlantic coastal terrace, the geological relic of a Pleistocene estuary. The swamp is bordered by Trail Ridge, a strip of elevated land believed to have formed as coastal dunes or an offshore barrier island. The St. Marys River and the Suwannee River both originate in the swamp. The Suwannee River originates as stream channels in the heart of the Okefenokee Swamp and drains at least 90 percent of the swamp's watershed southwest toward the Gulf of Mexico. The St. Marys River, which drains only 5 to 10 percent of the swamp's southeastern corner, flows south along the western side of Trail Ridge, through the ridge at St. Marys River Shoals, and north again along the eastern side of Trail Ridge before turning east to the Atlantic.

History

One of the canals in the Okefenokee Swamp

The earliest known inhabitants of the Okefenokee Swamp were the Timucua-speaking Oconi, who dwelt on the eastern side of the swamp. The Spanish friars built the mission of Santiago de Oconi nearby in order to convert them to Christianity. The Oconi's boating skills, developed in the hazardous swamps, likely contributed to their later employment by the Spanish as ferrymen across the St. Johns River, near the riverside terminus of North Florida's camino real.[3]

Modern-day longtime residents of the Okefenokee Swamp, referred to as "Swampers", are of overwhelmingly English ancestry. Due to relative isolation, the inhabitants of the Okefenokee used Elizabethan phrases and syntax, preserved since the early colonial period when such speech was common in England, well into the 20th century.[4] The Suwannee Canal was dug across the swamp in the late 19th century in a failed attempt to drain the Okefenokee. After the Suwannee Canal Company's bankruptcy, most of the swamp was purchased by the Hebard family of Philadelphia, who conducted extensive cypress logging operations from 1909 to 1927. Several other logging companies ran railroad lines into the swamp until 1942; some remnants remain visible crossing swamp waterways. On the west side of the swamp, at Billy's Island, logging equipment and other artifacts remain of a 1920s logging town of 600 residents. Most of the Okefenokee Swamp is included in the 403,000-acre (163,000 ha) Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The largest wildfire in the swamp's history began with a lightning strike near the center of the refuge on May 5, 2007, eventually merging with another wildfire that began near Waycross, Georgia, on April 16 when a tree fell on a power line. Named the Bugaboo Scrub Fire, by May 31, it had burned more than 600,000 acres (240,000 ha), or more than 935 square miles, and remains the largest wildfire in both Georgia and Florida history.[5][6]

In 2011, the Honey Prairie Fire consumed 309,200 acres (125,100 ha) of land in the swamp.[7]

Access

Map of Okefenokee Swamp

There are four public entrances:

In addition, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Okefenokee Swamp Park, provides the northernmost access into the Okefenokee Swamp near Waycross, Georgia.

State Road 2 passes through the Florida portion between the Georgia cities of Council and Moniac.

The graded Swamp Perimeter Road encircles Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Gated and closed to public use, it provides access for fire management of the interface between the federal refuge and the surrounding industrial tree farms.

Tourism

Many visitors enter the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge each year. The swamp provides an important economic resource to southeast Georgia and northeast Florida. More than 600,000 visitors from as many as 46 countries travel to the Okefenokee refuge each year to enjoy its unmatched wilderness. This tourism supports over 750 local jobs and contributes over $64 million to local economies.[citation needed]

Titanium mining operations

A 50-year titanium mining operation by DuPont was set to begin in 1997, but protests and public–government opposition over possibly disastrous environmental effects from 1996 to 2000 forced the company to abandon the project in 2000 and retire their mineral rights forever. In 2003, DuPont donated the 16,000 acres (6,500 ha) it had purchased for mining to The Conservation Fund, and in 2005, nearly 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) of the donated land was transferred to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.[8]

In 2018, Twin Pines Minerals LLC proposed another titanium mining operation near the Okefenokee Swamp. Over 60,000 people sent comments opposing the operation.[9] Later, in 2020, a new rule by the Trump Administration reduced what was protected under the Clean Water Act, removing about 400 acres (160 ha) in the proposed mining site from federal protections.[10] The updated plan would include mining 577.4 acres (233.7 ha) for titanium and zirconium, 2.9 miles (4.7 km) southeast of the Okefenokee Refuge.[11] However, in 2022, U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff blocked the proposed titanium mine after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned of severe potential damage to the wildlife refuge.[12]

The Okefenokee Swamp was listed as one of America's Most Endangered Rivers in 2020[13] and again in 2023 on account of the mining threats.[14]

Environment

The Okefenokee Swamp is part of the Southeastern conifer forests ecoregion. Much of the Okefenokee is a southern coastal plain nonriverine basin swamp, forested by bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora) trees. Upland areas support southern coastal plain oak domes and hammocks, thick stands of evergreen oaks. Drier and more frequently burned areas support Atlantic coastal plain upland longleaf pine woodlands of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris).[15]

The swamp has many species of carnivorous plants, including many species of Utricularia, Sarracenia psittacina, and the giant Sarracenia minor var. okefenokeensis. A species of mushroom-like fungus Rogersiomyces okefenokeensis J.L. Crane & Schokn. 1978 is found in the swamp.

An American alligator lounges on a log in the Okefenokee Swamp.

The Okefenokee Swamp is home to many wading birds, including herons, egrets, ibises, cranes, and bitterns, though populations fluctuate with seasons and water levels. The swamp also hosts numerous woodpecker and songbird species.[16] Okefenokee is famous for its amphibians and reptiles such as toads, frogs, turtles, lizards, snakes, and an abundance of American alligators. The oldest known alligator, named "Okefenokee Joe" after environmentalist Okefenokee Joe, died in September 2021, at almost 80 years of age.[17][18] The Okefenokee Swamp is also a critical habitat for the Florida black bear.

Recent events

Main article: Bugaboo Scrub Fire

More than 600,000 acres (240,000 ha) of the Okefenokee region burned from April to July 2007. Essentially the entire swamp burned, but the degrees of impact are widely varied. Smoke from the fires was reported as far away as Atlanta and Orlando.

Four years later, in April 2011, the Honey Prairie wildfire began when the swamp was left much drier than usual by an extreme drought. As of January 2012, the Honey Prairie fire had already scorched more than 315,000 acres (127,000 ha) of the 438,000-acre (177,000 ha) Okefenokee, sending volumes of smoke across the southern Atlantic seaboard and with an unknown impact on wildlife. With the drought still continuing, the massive Honey Prairie fire continued to burn at only 75% containment.[19] On April 17, 2012, the Honey Prairie Fire was finally declared out. Thousands of firefighters, refuge neighbors, and businesses contributed to the safe suppression of this fire. At the peak of fire activity on June 27, 2011, the Honey Prairie Complex had grown to 283,673 acres (114,798 ha) and had 202 engines, 112 dozers, 20 water tenders, 12 helicopters, and 6 crews with a total of 1,458 personnel assigned. Over the duration of the fire, there were no fatalities or serious injuries. Firefighters managed to contain most of the fire within the boundaries of the 402,000 acre Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, with only 18,206 acres (7,368 ha) burned outside the refuge.[20]

On April 6, 2017, a lightning strike started the West Mims Fire,[21] which burned about 152,000 acres (62,000 ha).[22]

In popular culture

References

  1. ^ "Okefenokee Swamp". nps.gov. National Park Service. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  2. ^ Handbook of North American Indians: Languages. Government Printing Office. January 1, 1978. ISBN 9780160487743.
  3. ^ Milanich, Jerald T. (August 14, 1996). Timucua. VNR AG. pp. 50, 202. ISBN 9781557864888. Anthropologist John Worth has suggested the Oconi, a group unrelated to the Oconee Indians of later times who spoke a Muskhogean language, were inland on the eastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.
  4. ^ Matschat, Cecile Hulse (1938). Suwannee River: Strange Green Land. University of Georgia Press. p. 7.
  5. ^ "Georgia Forestry Commission Home Page". Gatrees.org. Retrieved April 6, 2011.
  6. ^ "Massive Blaze In S.E. Georgia Jumps Fire Lines". Jacksonville, Florida: WJXT-TV. May 25, 2007. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2011.
  7. ^ "InciWeb: Honey Prairie Complex". InciWeb. Retrieved October 14, 2016.
  8. ^ Dunlap, Stanley (August 8, 2019). "Public pressure killed Okefenokee mining plans once. Will it again?". Georiga Recorder. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  9. ^ Marks, Josh (January 2, 2021). "LETTER: Sen. Perdue threatening to drain the wrong swamp, Georgia's world-famous Okefenokee". Madison Journal Today. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  10. ^ Peck, Rena Ann (November 4, 2020). "River watchdog: Federal clean water law changes threaten Okefenokee". Savannah Morning News. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  11. ^ "Twin Pines Minerals, LLC – Charlton County". Twin Pines Minerals, LLC. n.d. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  12. ^ Mecke, Marisa (June 3, 2022). "Army Corps blocks mine near Okefenokee, cites failure to consult Muscogee Creek Nation". Savannah Morning News.
  13. ^ Landers, Mary (April 14, 2020). "Okefenokee named among 'most endangered' rivers". Savannah Morning News. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  14. ^ Mecke, Marisa (April 18, 2023). "American Rivers names Okefenokee in Top 10 most endangered rivers". Savannah Morning News. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  15. ^ United States Geological Survey. "Land Cover Viewer" (Map). National Gap Analysis Program. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved February 8, 2013.
  16. ^ "Bird Checklists of the United States: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge". US Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on April 22, 2014. Retrieved March 28, 2015.
  17. ^ Paúl, María Luisa (September 11, 2021). "Okefenokee Joe, 'an amazing old' alligator named after a Georgia singer, has died". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  18. ^ "Okefenokee Joe, an alligator believed to be as old as WWII, passes away". FOX TV Digital Team. September 12, 2021. Retrieved September 19, 2021.
  19. ^ "Honey Prairie Complex". InciWeb Incident Information system. Archived from the original on January 25, 2012. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
    "Honey Prairie Complex Fires". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
    "Okefenokee's birds undeterred by fires". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  20. ^ http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/PDF/honey%20prairie%20fire%20declared%20out.pdf[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ "South Georgia wildfire forces evacuations; ash reaches Jacksonville". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. May 19, 2017. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  22. ^ "GA Firefighters Report Progress Against West Mims Fire In Okefenokee". Firefighter News. May 19, 2017. Archived from the original on May 18, 2017. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  23. ^ "Lure of the Wilderness". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  24. ^ Defunctland: The History of the Terrifying Splash Mountain Predecessor, Tales of the Okefenokee, retrieved May 15, 2023
  25. ^ "Deep in the Swamp". Goodreads. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  26. ^ "Stratosfear". Wikipedia. Retrieved January 25, 2024.

Bibliography

  • Afable, Patricia O. & Beeler, Madison S. (1996). "Place Names". In Goddard, Ives & Sturtevant, William C. (eds.). Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 17: Languages. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Worth, John E. (1998). Timucua Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida. Volume 2: Resistance and Destruction. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1574-X. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  • Nelson, Megan Kate (2005). Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp. Athens: University of Georgia Press. This is a readable book from a professional historian that covers the history of the human interaction with the swamp from about 1700 to the 1940s, very good background for those planning a visit.