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South Georgia's Okefenokee swamp offers wild adventure for visitors

It's hundreds of thousands of acres with 12,000 American alligators

CHARLTON COUNTY, Ga. — You may have heard about the Okefenokee swamp in the news lately.

A company called Twin Pines wants to start mining on the edge of the swamp down on the Georgia-Florida border.

The wildlife refuge made news a few years back when it caught fire.

Today you can visit the swamp by going to Stephen C. Foster State Park, it's one of the state's wildest places in the southeast.

Mickey Garner takes in all the wildlife when he spends half a year as a camp host at Stephen C. Foster state park, which is located in the Okefenokee Swamp.

"We see deer turkeys, gators, and sometimes, a bear," he said.

John Mark Shelnutt is a ranger at the park, but think of him as a preacher shouting out the beauty of the Okefenokee from his black watery pulpit.

"Everything fits in together and everything has its place and everything eats everything, but it all works out,"  he said with a smile. "It's kind of being in a cathedral -- the channel is wide and open and all around you're surrounded by these 1- and 200-year-old cypress trees."

Even though a gator splashed right alongside our boat, as long as you use common sense, you can vibe right alongside the prehistoric creatures.

"As long as you don't bother them, they won't bother you -- you're perfectly safe kayaking or exploring out here," Shelnutt said.

Shelnutt says get ready, every time you go out, you'll see something different. We did a day trip and then saw completely different scenery the next morning..

You can't swim and the black water is off limits at night, but that's the time to turn your attention to land.

Stephen C. Foster is a certified International Dark Sky Park.

"If over half of the wildlife functions best in pure darkness, we should create that environment," Shelnutt explained,  "So we eliminated all of the lights, we took down the streetlights, so when you come out here, it's going to be totally dark. You'll be able to see more stars than almost anywhere in the Southeast."

But forget about streaming it on Facebook or TikTok -- you won't find cell service in this primitive land.

"That is the reason most people don't come out here to host," Mickey admitted.

"People come here to get away from it all because there is no cell phone service even if you wanted it, but you get to disconnect, unplug with your family, be on swamp time -- it is real," Shelnutt said.

And here's a really neat fact:  the swamp is only about two or three feet deep in most parts.

Pounds and pounds of organic decaying matter sits under the lily pads and grass.

"It's unlike any place you'll experience anywhere in the United States, so Florida is different, the bayous are different, but this place is quiet and it's majestic and endlessly explorable," Shelnutt said.

So chomp down on the experience that will have you looking with wonder at an environment filled with stuff you normally don't get to see.


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