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What Happened to the Okefenokee Swamp?

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Dave and I have some bad news to share with you. We will be unable to kayak through the Okefenokee Swamp. A large part of the Okefenokee Swamp burned in a wildfire in 2011. After talking to a park ranger, we found out that there are two reasons we would not be able to get through: down trees from the fire and low water levels. While we are disappointed, we are making the most of it. Although our route has changed a bit, we will still be able to paddle and walk to reach the Gulf Coast of Florida. This update is all about the Okefenokee Swamp, in honor of this amazing place that we won't be exploring by kayak anytime soon. We will paddle and walk along the southern edge of the swamp. We hope to encounter some of the wildlife that the Okefenokee Swamp is known for.

Okefenokee_swamp_habitat

Photo by Ryan Hagerty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is large – about 402,000 acres. It is filled with cypress forest, marsh, lakes and islands. The Okefenokee Swamp is about 7,000 years old. It is actually a peat bog inside of a huge depression that was once part of the ocean floor. Peat is formed by the decomposition (breaking down) of plants in water. In the Okefenokee, the peat is generally 5-10 feet deep. It has even been measured at 15 feet in some places. It takes about 50 years for one inch of peat to form at the base of the swamp!

Over 400 species of animals can be found in the refuge. Some of these animals are American Alligators, Florida Black Bears, Bobcats, Raccoons, White-tailed Deer, Red Wolves and even Panthers. Many birds live in the Okefenokee as well. Some of the birds found there are Sandhill Cranes, White Ibises, Barred Owls, Great Egrets and Anhingas. Alligators aren't the only reptiles in the Okefenokee. The Southern Five-lined Skink (a lizard), Florida Cooter (a turtle), Eastern Hognosed Snake, Cottonmouth Snake and Diamondback Rattlesnake can all be found in the refuge. Plenty of amphibians like Spring Peepers, Florida Cricket Frogs and Bullfrogs live in the swamp as well.

Swamp_in_Okefenokee

Photo by Ryan Hagerty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Okefenokee Swamp has a rainy season and a dry season. The rainy season is normally from June through September. Rainfall is an important source of water for the swamp. Flooding, drought and fire are part of the natural processes that occur in the Okefenokee. The fire that I mentioned earlier had a big impact on the swamp.

Lightning struck inside the Okefenokee Swamp on April 28, 2011. Fire spread in the peat. Peat bog fires are difficult to put out. They can even be difficult to find, because the fire can smolder below the surface. When this happens, the fire might not be seen for days before erupting in flames above the ground. This fire eventually burned 318,000 acres of the swamp. That is about 75 percent of the Okefenokee Refuge area!

We wish we could see the swamp now, but we understand that it would be difficult and dangerous to attempt crossing it. We will pass near by as we paddle up the St. Marys River, portage for 37 miles on a road and then paddle down the Suwanee River. We will try to learn more about the Okefenokee Swamp as we travel. Is there anything you would like us to find out? Let us know if you have any questions about the Okefenokee, swamps in general or this part of the country!

Okefenokee_NWR

This image was taken during a prescribed burn in the Okefenokee in 2003. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Further Exploration

Okefenokee Swamp:

http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/

http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/History.html

http://www.sherpaguides.com/georgia/okefenokee_swamp/wildnotes/

The 2011 Fire:

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/weatherhistorian/article.html?entrynum=34

http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/Wildland%20Fire.html

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