Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is located in South Georgia, near the border with Florida. Recently my friend and I visited to paddle around the swamp and drive around swamp island and walk the Chesser Island boardwalk to try and see some wildlife. The refuge is 630 square miles and encompasses nearly all of the swamp and was designated as a refuge in 1937 by President Roosevelt. It is one of the best preserved freshwater ecosystems in the world and some of the swamp is a national wilderness area. In the western part of the refuge there are is a cypress swamp but in the east it opens up to a prairie land. If you rent a kayak from Okefenokee adventures its is a short trip to see both regions of the swamp. The swamp is births the St. Marys river and the Suwannee river. Okefenokee is a native american word which means land of trembling earth. Most of the “solid” ground is actually peat that is floating. This floating peat is called batteries. Overtime the batteries grow larger and area able to support trees and large animals. The swamp was formed in a saucer shaped depression that used to be a part of the ocean floor.
Many people do not realize that fire plays an important role in the swamp. Without fire the swamp would simple become a hardwood forest. Today prescribed burns reduce the amount of fuel available fire fires. In areas where there is a natural fire regime and humans stop these fires there is a build up of organic materiel. When a fire does break out because there is more fuel, the fire burns hotter than it normally would, damaging the seed bank in the soil. This can permanently damage the ecosystem. One of the most recent fires in Okefenokee occurred in 2011 in the Honey Prairie which burned down the former boardwalk on Chester Island. This was not due to a build up of fuel however, as the parks service lets fires that were caused by lighting burn which maintaining the safety of people and structures inside the park. The new boardwalk has a built in sprinkler system. Over the 7,000 years that the swamp has existed fires occur an average of every 20 years. Currently the swamp is regenerating from the fire. Notable from the young pond cypress trees (Taxodium ascendens) that are sprouting. Trees that sprout from old stumps are common and actually grow faster than seed generated trees. This stump sprouts are called coppices.