Wednesday, August 5, 2015

2004 Okefenokee Swamp Safari with Elderhostel

This Elderhostel was hosted by Georgia Southern University and was based in Waycross, Georgia. There are three entrances to the 438,000 acre Okefenokee Swamp which straddles the Georgia-Florida border. We had wonderful accommodations, meeting room, and food at the Waycross, GA Holiday Inn.

The western entrance is from Fargo, Georgia, in Stephen Foster State Park. You may hike the park's elevated boardwalk trail or take a motorized boat tour through Billy's Lake, and conditions permitting, out to Billy's Island where there was a village and later the timber operation. You can also canoe or kayak the entire length of the swamp following marked water trails. We took the boat ride and hiked on the island

The northern entrance is in the Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross and is operated by a private, non-profit organization. Despite the chilly weather, we saw over a dozen alligators our first day. The weather turned even colder the next few days and we saw no more gators as they sought refuge in their warmer underwater dens.

The Swamp Park offers boat and rail tours and is also a wildlife rehabilitation site. We toured the rehab center and in the photo below I am holding a very young alligator.

The East Entrance is run by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and offers access to Chesser Island and its refurbished cabin seen below in which the Chesser family lived on their 592 acre island. The structure has been furnished with period pieces and tools and gives a glimpse at life on the island back in the early 1900s.

One evening we were entertained by The Roddenberry Family Singers, a local group whose mother (in the red blouse) grew up in the swamp. One of the daughters was also our guide on a canoe trip in the swamp. They taught us about the old Southern style of singing called "shape notes" and sang a number of hymns for us.  Then they invited us all to join in, and several of us men knew the bass and tenor parts to the hymns and sang those. Afterwards, several of the Roddenberrys were tearing up, and when asked why, they answered that they are so used to hearing just four part female singing that the addition of the male voices had impacted them profoundly.

Here our entire group poses for our group shot.

on floor (l to r): Jeni and Barbara
seated: Jeanne, Mary Lou, Dorothy, Pat J., Pat. C., and Sylvia
standing row 1: Joyce, Dot, Ruth, and Jim P.
row 2: Roy (our host), June, John, Shirley, Marge, Bob, Del, Dorothy, and Norm
back row: Greg, Frank L., Henry, Robin, Don, Howie, and Bob C.
(not pictured: Dr. Don Berryhill, our incomparable interpreter, guide, and expert on all flora and fauna)

As a special treat, our host, Roy, arranged for us to visit the country's busiest railroad hump yard, the Rice Yard, and we talked with the superintendent and his assistant, toured the control tower, and watched as new trains were "built" using the hump yard. I videoed the operation and put this movie on YouTube.

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