Swamp Island Drive
Swamp Island Drive at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Georgia. Published by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).
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7. The low growing, fan shaped, Saw Palmetto is common in the Southeastern United States. Seen throughout the Swamp Island Drive, the plant provides foraging, nesting, and protective cover opportunities for over 100 species of wildlife. Small mammals may take cover underneath the dense leaves, while berries provide nutrition for raccoons, gopher tortoises, black bears, and various birds. 8. The federally threatened eastern indigo snake, although secretive, is important in the food web. At lengths up to 8.5 feet, it is North America’s longest snake. 9. The long, narrow ponds along the left side of the road are called borrow ditches where material for the road was dug. You could say it was “borrowed” and never returned. They are rich in aquatic animal and plant life. Keep a lookout for a variety of wildlife species, but you may also see pitcher plants, butterworts, and sundews along the drive, as well as bladderworts in the water. There are many varieties of carnivorous plants in the Okefenokee. 10. Imagine returning home from a day in town in 1860. As you crossed the small stretch of swamp that you see on either side of the road, you would know you were almost home. A slight rise brings you onto Chesser Island where the W.T. Chesser family settled in 1858. 11. Chesser Island Homestead was built by Tom and Iva Chesser in 1927. Although sugar cane was this pioneer family’s cash crop, they also hunted, kept livestock, tended beehives, and had a substantial garden. Turpentine, made from pine resin, also provided an income. Swamp settlers were a self -sufficient and industrious people. Walking among this homestead, you get a feel for what it was like as an early settler on the edge of the Okefenokee. 12. The Chesser Island Boardwalk is a 1.5 mile (round trip) hike that leads to a 360° view of Chesser Prairie and Seagrove Lake. While strolling along the elevated platform, visitors may encounter an assortment of wildlife and plants, and will see evidence of the 2011 Honey Prairie Fire. Wildfires are a natural occurrence in the swamp, and actually benefit the swamp and the wildlife that live here. Visitors can take a rest at 3 covered shelters before heading up the 40-foot Owl’s Roost Tower. Winter 2020 Photo: Jay Blanton U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Swamp Island Drive 2700 Suwannee Canal Road Folkston, GA 31537 (912) 496-7836 www.fws.gov/refuge/okefenokee Facebook: @okefenokeewildliferefuge Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is one of over 560 refuges throughout the US. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Okefenokee Swamp as a refuge in 1937. The National Wildlife Refuge System administers a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. Swamp Island Drive is a little over 7-miles of driving, biking and/or walking loop. This guide corresponds to the numbered markers seen along the drive. Please keep the following in mind as you explore the drive and hiking trails: The best times for wildlife observation are around sunrise/sunset. Please be aware of seasonal refuge hours and be sure to be off the drive before closing. The speed limit is 15 MPH. Watch for wildlife, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Passengers must remain inside vehicles while moving. Prepare for biting flies, mosquitoes, and ticks. Keep an eye out for fire ant mounds. Feeding wildlife is strictly prohibited. Do not throw items at or disturb wildlife. Never touch an alligator! Littering is prohibited. Put all trash and garbage in the receptacles provided. Thank you! 1. Canal Diggers Trail– 0.7 mile—The deep ditch you cross is the Suwannee Canal, dug in 1891 in an attempt to drain the swamp into the to the Atlantic Ocean. The goal was to reach the cypress forests for logging and to create farmland. After 4 years, the company abandoned the project due to lack of funds and unstable sand banks caving in the canal. 2. Once covering 90 million acres in the southeast, fewer than 3 million acres of longleaf pine remain. Prior to becoming a refuge, most of the longleaf had been harvested from this area and replaced with faster growing pine species. The refuge is working to restore longleaf using selective timber harvests to thin areas and planting longleaf seedlings. Prescribed burning is used in these pine forests to maintain the open understory. 3. A slight elevation change creates this hardwood hammock where oaks and other deciduous trees grow. Black bears and turkeys feed on acorns and other fruit here. 4. This pond is a popular area to observe alligators. Courtship begins in April and mating occurs in May. Eggs are laid in June or July and the young hatch two months later. The sex of the young is determined by the temperature/location of the egg in the nest; warmer temperatures produce male young! 5. Although the bat box to the right was built to attract these nocturnal mammals, they have found adequate roosts in hollow trees and have never used it. The Upland Discovery Trail—0.25 mile— is a trail where you will see many trees with white bands on the trunks; these are cavity trees for red-cockaded woodpeckers. These birds depend on the longleaf pine forest, and require mature trees that are at least 60 years old. Loss of the mature longleaf pine forest is a major reason the species is endangered. Since these woodpeckers use living trees, it takes them longer to complete a cavity than other woodpeckers that use dead trees. A breeding pair is helped by the male offspring from the previous year to raise the chicks. 6. Visitors may see wildlife such as whitetailed deer, bobwhite quail, and wild turkey in wildlife openings. Many animals come to forage on the early growth vegetation. Predators such as black bear, bobcats, and barred owls may frequent the areas near dusk and dawn.