Canoeing and Camping The southwestern Okefenokee Swamp
By William A. Logan
A couple years ago, while camped in the Stephen Foster Park of the Okefenokee Swamp, I met Chuck Littleton, a 27-year veteran of the Seminole County Sheriff’s Dept. and an avid outdoor lover like myself.
We both were there to canoe but the weather had not cooperated. Since then we have made several long distance canoe trips together and have become close friends.
February 25th of 1997, us and another canoeing buddy, Mac McCullough, again went to Stephen Foster with the intention of doing some canoeing but ended up sitting in the rain for three days.
November of 1997, Chuck called me one evening and said he wanted to try again this February, so Mac and I told him we were interested.
Checking his time off from work, and the weather, Chuck said it looked good for late February (again). He sent the deposits and necessary information for permits to the main Ranger Station near Folkston, GA.
A couple weeks later, he called and said he had the required permits and we were set for Tuesday, Feb. 23rd. I called Mac and filled him in on everything and he said "count me in."
As we were doing all the usual prepping for the trip, the weather looked like we would be spending more days sitting in the rain. In fact, the weather reports were actually scary the night before we left but we were determined to make it this time.
Mac lives in Mims FL. so I swung by and picked him up since he was on the way. We loaded his canoe and gear and hit the road by 10:00 A.M. going north on Hwy. 95 to 295, west on 10, and north at McClenny, taking the back road to Fargo, GA.
About the time we were coming off of 295, West of Jacksonville, the bottom fell out. With our wipers on full, we were still having trouble seeing. I pulled into the right lane and slowed to a crawl and was about to pull off when it eased up enough that the wipers began doing their job well enough that we could see.
The rain stayed with us for another 50 miles then slowed to a steady downpour. It was still raining when we arrived at the park around 3:30 P.M.. We just knew we were going to be setting up our tents in the rain and were not looking forward to it . . . but had grudgingly resigned ourselves to it.
We had agreed to meet Chuck at the park so we drove through the campground looking for his truck. We didn’t find him but found 60% of the campsites underwater.
Not finding his truck, we started for the office. As we entered the main road, we see Chuck, waving to us frantically from his truck to follow him. We did….. and when we saw him turn into the cabin area, we looked at each other in surprise.
They have only seven cabins. I already KNEW from past experience that it was practically impossible to get one without a reservation….. months in advance. Yet, here we were pulling into one…..
You can imagine how disappointed we were at losing that wonderful opportunity to set up camp in a pouring rain. Chuck said that when he asked if they had any cancellations, they had, and so he was able to get us a cabin. Needless to say, we were VERY pleased to get a roof over our head in this rain.
That evening, around 7:00 P.M. we were hit by a Mother of all storms. Lightning was cracking all around us every two or three seconds, there was extremely high wind, and the rain came down by the bucket. We had no idea how much rain fell but estimated it must have been five or six inches.
The major part of the storm lasted about an hour or more but the wind and hard rain lasted until around 4:00 A.M. Boy – were we happy to be inside.
About 9:00 P.M. Chuck went out on the porch to watch the rain only to be confronted by a very bold coon right on the porch. It had been smart enough to open the screen door and came right in looking for a meal or maybe getting out of the weather. If the cabin door had been open, the rascal would more than likely have come right in the cabin with us.
We surmised this guy had been fed many times by other cabin campers and he had no fear of people whatsoever. Next morning everything was a mess.
We opted to go into town for breakfast rather than cook so off we went into town (17 miles one way) Returning to camp, there were deer everywhere, at least two dozen foxes, and a couple dozen `coons along the road to the park. As we drove around inside the campground looking at the mess, again, deer were everywhere. In the campsites, alongside the road, and around the cabins.
Late that afternoon we saw several dozen more alongside the roads and around our cabin.
We were sitting on our porch watching the deer when the camp Supervisor, Sonny Marshall drove up. He told us that since the water was so high, we should be on the lookout for snakes. They were looking for high ground and we should be cautious.
As he was leaving, he turned and told us that he also had seen a bear and cub in the camp the day before. He said he found it looking in someone’s van early in the morning while they were still asleep.
He laughed and said, "it was a good thing they were sleeping, if they had woken up and found that bear looking at them, they might have had a heart attack." He told us that he had chased the old girl off and they had not seen her again.
The rain had subsided but it was still dreary, overcast and threatening so we decided not to put our canoes in but to take the swamp tour boat with Pete Griffin instead.
The cost was $8.00 and it was worth it. He described the flora and the fauna quite well giving the names of the different trees and shrubs along the route, and answering tourist’s questions about the swamp, alligators and some of it’s logging history, etc. We agreed it was an interesting short trip. Not like canoeing on one’s own…. but better than sitting in your cabin.
I should mention that the tour boat is a small pontoon boat that will hold about twenty….. and they have three tours a day.
The weather continued to be threatening and dreary all day.
That evening after supper, Chuck and Mac went out on the porch and I heard Chuck say….. "well hello there guys"….. so I went out to see who they were talking to, and found there were two `coons and a young fox….. believe it or not, I couldn’t believe my eyes! They were both looking for a hand out.
The `coons we understood….. but to see a fox right there with them was a real surprise. I would never have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes.
It is illegal to feed the animals. We knew this, but it is sure hard not to.
From past Ranger talks, the major reason is that the breads and sweets are very bad for the animal’s health, not to mention that it gets them in the habit of begging for food rather than hunting for it in the woods as they would normally. And there is also the danger of being bitten.
Knowing all of OUR normal foods are bad for them….. I had some fruits and nuts trail mix which is close to their regular diet. We put some out for them for a photo session and they were excellent models. We got plenty of good pictures and the animals got food which was good for them.
Later that evening, we found that they were back again at the screen door and if the door were opened, they would gladly come right in on the porch hoping to find something to eat.
All of these guys were extremely tame….. The danger I see here is that some inexperienced camper might let them get too close….. or even let his/her child try to feed them….. which could result in a bad bite or scratch. Hence the "don’t feed" policy.