Friday, June 15, 2012

Stephen C. Foster State Park - Fargo, Georgia

Boat Tours lead into the Okefenokee Swamp
Located 18 miles from Fargo in the edge of the famed Okefenokee Swamp, Stephen C. Foster State Park is one of my favorite Georgia State Parks.

Popular with lovers of the massive 438,000 acre swamp and the night time skies of the South alike, the park is named for 19th century American composer Stephen C. Foster, who penned the much loved Florida State Song, "Suwannee River" ("Old Folks at Home"). It covers 80 acres and is located on a natural island in the Okefenokee.

While most visitors come for its guided boat tours; boat, canoe & kayak rentals, and the access it provides to the water trails that wind through the swamp, the park is actually a great place to learn about the history and ecosystems of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Interpretive Center at Stephen C. Foster State Park
An often overlooked feature (on the day I visited I had the place to myself) is the park's interpretive center. Basically a museum of the natural and cultural life of the Okefenokee. The displays include animals, snakes, insects and birds (some of them live, others mounted) along with both audio and written descriptions of them and their importance to the ecosystems of the swamp. Other displays explain how the swamp was formed and help visitors understand its natural importance.

The interpretive center also features artifacts, maps, historic photographs and other displays that detail the cultural history of the swamp, from prehistoric times to the modern era. There are exhibits on the Native Americans who once lived in the Okefenokee, on the Second Seminole War and on the early settlers and loggers who once made lives for themselves in the "Land of the Trembling Earth." Among the artifacts on display are weapons, tools and an original Okefenokee moonshine still.

Boat Rentals and Guided Tours leave the Park Marina
 The park also offers the Trembling Earth nature trail, a primarily boardwalk trail that winds through the edge of the Okefenokee. Interpretive panels point out a variety of animals, trees and plants while also explaining the history of the swamp.

Because the park is located so far from the lights of towns and cities (18 miles from the nearest town, Fargo), it is known for its spectacular night skies. For stargazers, it is a great place to come and watch meteor showers and just see the stars. The park has a variety of activities that help visitors learn about the skies at night.

To learn more about Stephen C. Foster State Park, please visit

To learn more about the Okefenokee Swamp, please visit

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Okefenokee Swamp - "The Land of the Trembling Earth" in Georgia & Florida

Okefenokee Swamp
One of the five largest swamps in the world, the Okefenokee Swamp covers 438,000 acres in Georgia and Florida. It is on the tentative list to become a World Heritage Site.

There are three main entrances to the Okefenokee and each is a gateway to a mysterious and beautiful region that is rich in both natural and cultural history. Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo serves as the western gate, Suwannee Canal Recreation Area near Folkston is the eastern and Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross is the northern.

The origins of the word "Okefenokee" are as mysterious as the big swamp itself. One long popular legend holds that the name is a Creek Indian word meaning "Land of the Trembling Earth." There is probably a lot of truth to the legend. In the Hitchiti language of the Lower Creeks, the word Econfinoka translates literally to "trembling earth." Econfinoka sounds very similar to Okefenokee when pronounced out loud.

"Land of the Trembling Earth"
The Chehaw Indians of South Georgia spoke the Hitchiti language and a chief of Chehaw named Tustenuggee Hadjo gave U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins this explanation in 1796. Hawkins spelled the word "Akinfinocau" and said it meant "quivering earth."  He also pointed out that a similar word in the Choctaw language that he spelled "Okefinacau" meant "quivering water." While the latter looks closer to the modern spelling, the Choctaw did not live in Georgia so the name is probably of Lower Creek origin.

Hawkins paraphrased the chief in his journal:

Alligator in the Okefenokee Swamp
...He had seen most of the border of the Okefinacau, and once attempted with some young lads to pursue a bear he had wounded; they went in several hours, and were compelled to return. The whole earth trembled under them, and at several places, where the surface was pressed with the foot, water would spout out. One of his lads sunk in so deep that he called for help, and they took him out. There are some large cypress, but the growth mostly dwarf. Some of the Tallassee people had been in much farther than he had; they saw some ponds, many aligators, turtles and snakes, particularly a small snake with a button at the end of the tail like the rattlesnake; they saw a considerable number of them, and some times 20 or 30 in one view, coiled up on the small grassy nobs; two of these people were killed with the bites of them. He knew of one man who attempted a settlement near this swamp, but he gave it up because the tygers killed his hogs, cattle and sometimes horses. - Benjamin Hawkins, 1796.

The "tygers" referred to in the chief's account were panthers. 

The chief's description of how the "whole earth trembled under them" is based on reality. The Okefenokee Swamp is formed in a vast shallow bowl, the bottom of which has accumulated layers of peat over the centuries. Trees take root in this peat bog and it is actually possible to make them shake by jumping up on the ground. 

To learn more about the Okefenokee, please visit our new Okefenokee Swamp section at