I had a chance to go to South Georgia with a paddling group that had not heard my jokes or stories (some lies) and paddled and camped the Okeefenokee Swamp from Apr 2 to Apr 4 with a group called The Fellow Travelers (TFT). Now let me digress, the TFP is not a club, they have no dues, no officers, no bylaws, no constitution, and three rules: No motors, No drunks, no women. This last rule was changed to No "ugly" women as some of the wives and/or girlfriends liked to paddle. They have a King, Charlie Stines from Moultrie, GA who is a three county assistant DA and runs his own newsletter and website. I met the group at Stephen Foster State Park, 17 miles North of Fargo, GA at 0800 Thursday morning.
After getting acquainted we unloaded the gear and canoes from TFT pink canoe trailer. Charlie brought his Wenonah Prism Solo for me to try out; it is 16'6" long, fast and sleek. Charlie paddled an Old Town Penobscot 16 solo with a middle seat. The rest of TFT included Ron & Ronnie Marchant from Lawrenceville, GA paddling an aluminum Grumman; Greg Baker, from St Augustine, FL, and Donald May, Moultrie, GA, in a tandem Wenonah, Rick Metz, from Kennesaw, GA and Roy Moye from Winter Park, FL, paddled an Old Town Canadienne.
We left the park at 0915 and paddled out the narrow channel to Billy's Lake heading toward Minnie Lake. We stopped at Minnie Lake day use only shelter for lunch after 3.7 miles. The forecast called for heavy rain this day and night but so far we were lucky, until we finished eating. Before getting back on the water we all donned our raingear. We turned left heading toward Floyd's Island, our first night stop and camp paddling in the rain with thunder and occasional lightning.
We were probably about less than a half of mile from Floyd's Island and a tree blocked the channel. Some portaged around but a couple of us were lucky as Ron III climbed out on the log and helped a couple of us go under with the canoes but we had to crawl across the log to get back in. The canoes had to be pushed down in order for the bow and stern to get under the log. We made it to Floyd's Island at 3 pm and 9.2 miles, still raining heavy. There were two carts on Floyd's Island to help carry the gear up to a cabin built back in the 1920's by the Hebert Lumber Company when they owned the swamp. The cabin was built for execs to stay when they wanted to hunt and fish and has a nice front porch and little back side porch with four rooms. The main room has a fireplace and table with the other rooms used as bedrooms. We unloaded our gear got our sleep mats out and placed them on the floor in the bedrooms. Since the fire pit and surrounding ground area was flooded we sat on the porch until supper telling tall tells and lies.
Charlie fixed the first nights supper in a Dutch oven in the fireplace with charcoal. The meal was a delicious stew, along with coleslaw and rolls; a really hearty meal for the weather. We ate on the porch watching the rain come down in buckets. The rain finally stopped about 2 am. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, sausage, grits, cooked by Rick was really good. This meal along with the coffee was cooked on Charlie's award winning four burner stove that ran off a small propane bottle, not the small green ones but larger. The toilet at Floyd's Island is down the portage trail where we had to put in the next day and I only wished it was closer to the cabin as the trail was flooded.
We left Floyd's Island at 1000 in clear skies and headed out the small channel to Chase Prairie, a large open area filled with lily pads and on a stretch of grass a big alligator. We saw some herons or egrets. After .9 miles we entered the Suwannee Canal headed for the Canal Run Shelter, our next nights stay. We arrived at Canal Run Shelter at 1210 pm, 4 miles from Floyd's Island, a nice easy paddle. We had the rest of the afternoon to eat lunch and sit on the platform telling stories.
Rick tried out Charlie's solo canoe to fish then came back to try out the Prism and fish. We had a great supper of rice and chicken, fixed by Chef Greg, along with some brownies his wife had sent. This meal was cooked in the fire pit on charcoal in the Dutch oven. While at the platform a small (6 ft) alligator cruised back and forth looking for a treat in front of the platform. Later that night the tents were set up on the platform with just enough room, although at this shelter, there is a little dry ground with a bench and fire ring and possibly room for two tents although everyone opted to sleep on the platform.
The next morning, Roy was supposed to fix breakfast, breakfast burritos, I think, however the propane bottle empty and the stove did not have an adapter to put a small green propane bottle to it. We were glad there was enough propane for the morning coffee otherwise a mutiny might have taken place. We ate whatever we had, including some sausage left over from that previous morning. Someone suggested throwing the sausage to the gator, however I would have gone in the water to fight the gator for it, it was eaten by us. Greg threw an apple core in for the gator and he came in fast hoping it was a more delectable piece of food, the gator just nudged it. We left Canal Run Shelter heading for Billy's Island.
Going to Billy's Island you paddle down a small channel sometimes as wide as the canoe with trees overhanging the canal. Some places the canal was filled with lily pads and grass that you had to push through. The canal comes out into a small open area and several gators were seen sunning on logs. We made it to Billy's Island at 1130, a 5 miles paddle from the Canal Run Shelter. At Billy's Island we ate lunch and thanks to Ron Jr and Ron III who had enough to share as this fat boy did not plan his meals accordingly and thought all I was going to eat was four Slim Jim's.
After lunch we headed for Stephen Foster, we arrived about 1:30 pm and 2.1 miles from Billy's Island. When everyone arrived, packed the gear and loaded the canoes and said our goodbyes heading out. Total trip miles were 20.3 miles. A beautiful paddle, despite the rain and running out of propane.
Hope The Fellow Travelers allow me to paddle with them again as I did not get to tell all my stories and lies, but now have some new ones to tell the ones up here in NC who have heard all the old ones.
Stephen Foster Park has cabins and camping facilities; there is Gator Motel in Fargo, GA
Canoes: Wenonah, Grumman, Old Town
There are fees and permits required, contact the Refuge office in Folkston, GA at 912-496-3331 within two months of day of the trip for more info and fees.
From Waycross, GA, take Hwy 84 to Homerville, GA then take Hwy 441 to Fargo, GA, outside of Fargo take a left on Hwy 177, you will see signs for Stephen Foster State Park, the park is 17 miles down this road and dead ends at the park.
DeLorme Atlas of GA to get there; Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has a map of the trails