Foster State Park, Fargo
Foster State Park is on the west side of the Okefenooke Swamp.
The park is located on a spit of higher land that extends back
into the swamp, called the pocket. Canoe access to the actual
swamp is via a very short canal that leads out into Billy's Lake.
If you go East, you can explore on Billy's Island, Minnie's Lake,
or Big Water. If you go West, you reach an area they call "River
Narrows", which is exactly what happens.
used to be the site of a lumber town that housed the workers who
clear cut the swamp in the early 1900s. At one time, there was
a population of 600 people on Billy's Island. Now it is quiet
there, only a small cemetery remains, a reminder that a family
homesteaded the island at one time.
Lake and Big Water
before you get to Billy's Island, there is a turnoff to the north.
Paddling the winding channel to Minnies Lake, it is easy to imagine
the swamp as it once must have been. The cypress here have had
over sixty years for the saplings to reach from the water to the
sky. The breeze and bird calls the only sounds besides the drips
from your paddle. The bright yellow of the water plants, and the
blues and yellows of the wildflowers, reflect in the black water
of the swamp.
This area is a clear channel bounded on both sides by water lily
pads and cypress trees that grow close together and diffuse the
light from the sky above, so you feel like you are paddling up
the nave of a cathedral. This is one of the prettiest places I
have ever paddled.
stepping on a pygmy rattler getting out of my canoe at the platform
on Minnies Lake makes me aware that the Okefenokee is still a
you go West on Billy's Lake you reach an area they call "River
Narrows", which is exactly what happens. One minute you are
paddling on a fairly narrow lake, and the next you are paddling
a narrow stream, that winds and twists through the cypress trees.
This is what I enjoy - out of the hot sun, into the shade, and
something different to see around each bend of the stream. River
Narrows comes out at the Suwannee Sill which is an earthen dike
that retains the swamp's water and helps prevent flooding of the
land to the west of the swamp. There is a spillway here that is
the actual start of the Suwanee river as a stream.
you go west on Billies Lake when you leave the canal, just before
you get to Rivers Narrows there is a turn off to the north. This
entrance to the Brown Trail (frequently closed) rapidly takes
you into a dense area of the swamp. For most of this trip, it
is easier to use a short paddle instead of a double blade. The
way is marked so there is no fear of getting lost, but this is
junglely. Definitely dinosaur territory. In a couple places we've
heard gators grunting close on either side to remind us of that
fact and once even saw one slapping its tail when we surprised
it at a small pond in the trail.
you reach the sill, it makes a good place to stop and stretch
your legs, then you can paddle down the sill to river narrows
and back to the park.
State Parks and Historic Sites - for information on camping
and cabin reservations at Stephen Foster State Park. Remember,
the state park is within a Federal refuge. A timed gate closes
the entrance to the refuge in the evening and does not open until
morning. Please check the gate times with the park and plan accordingly.
Okefenokee Section - A general reference to the swamp, with
maps and information on the east side.
trips through the swamp require a permit. To make a reservation,
call (912) 496-3331.
you are interested in crossing the swamp in a canoe and need someone
to help shuttle your vehicles, call Sheila Carter at Kingfisher
and Beyond, Folkston, Ga. (912-496-4834). She is from a local
family with a long history in the area. Very knowledgeable and
reliable, besides offering reasonable rates. That way your vehicle
is safe at the park when you get there. Works out great.
Okefenokee Album by Francis Harper makes excellent reading
for anyone wanting to know more about this mysterious swamp and
the people who lived there. In a lot of ways, their culture resembles
that of the hill people of North Carolina and West Virginia -
small, tightly knit communities, hunting, fishing, and farming
Water Data from Suwannee River at the Sill