We
had a great time, good water levels, and perfect weather on our
five-day GCA camping and paddling trip to South Georgia . All trips
were on black water in cypress and tupelo swamps rife with flowering
plants and swamp critters. We had numerous sightings of gators, deer,
raccoons, beaver, herons, ibis, turkeys, owls, ospreys and egrets.

From
April 22nd to the 24th Priscilla Dixey and I (OC-2) and Katie O’Neill
paddled overnight trip #8 in the Okefenokee Swamp. Trip 8 traverses
the most beautiful part of the swamp and allows one to put in and
take out at Stephen Foster State Park and to camp on terra firma
where campfires are allowed. The first day we paddled 8.8 miles up
the Middle Fork of the Suwannee through Minnie’s Lake and a
towering cypress forest to Floyd’s Island . We spent the night
inside the 80 year-old Hebard cabin, which was saved in the
devastating 2006 swamp fires. Everywhere we saw evidence of extensive
burning, but most of the large trees seem to have survived and we
found the swamp green and flourishing.

The
Red Trail has been closed since the fires, as all four of its
platforms burned. However, a larger day-use platform at Minnie’s
Lake has been rebuilt, and the National Wildlife Refuge staff is
allowing it and the Coffee Bay ( Suwannee Canal ) day-use areas to be
used for some permitted overnight camping. Also the Big Water
overnight platform had just been rebuilt near its original site, but
work had not yet started on a relocated Maul Hammock Wilderness Canoe
Shelter.

We
very much enjoyed our overnight stay on Floyd’s Island , where we
feasted, sipped wine, visited in front of a roaring fire, and played
cards till late at night. We were able to view at close range a
docile herd of deer foraging nearby and enjoyed our hikes about the
island.

Our
second day took us the 4.1 miles to the campsite on the berm at Canal
Run, where we set up our tents on the new, much larger covered
platform. We then explored the general area, which is within the
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge’s day-use boundaries but where
we saw only one other canoe. Again we stayed up late feasting,
talking and enjoying the swamp noises and the myriad of overhead
stars. The bull alligator that has lived for many years at Canal Run
watched us most of the time but only grunted once and for only a few
seconds. During my last overnight stay there he had bellowed
continually for a half hour beginning about 3 a.m. !

Our
third and most demanding day took us down the tight, serpentine East
Fork of the Suwannee 7.6 miles past Billy’s Island , which we
explored, and back to Stephen Foster SP. After having lunch together
in Fargo , Katie and Priscilla returned to Atlanta and I drove to
Reed Bingham State Park on the Little River near Adel, where I camped
the next two nights.

The
next morning ( April 25, 2009 ) I met GCA members Howard Hall and
Allan Wadsworth at Reed Bingham SP for our trip on the Little River,
which was full and coffee latte colored, running 5.16/509 cfs on the
USGS Adel gauge. We ran upstream of the park 6.7 miles (by GPS)
between Welander’s access points A ( Kinard Bridge ) and B (
Roundtree Bridge ). The going was tight and technical for the first
couple of miles, and we had to carry around two small logjams and
squeeze under or around several others. After Warrior Creek entered
on the right after about two and a half miles the stream was open and
unobstructed. The riparian forest was beautiful and seemingly
completely natural with the exception of one small streamside cabin.
We saw no one until just before the take-out.

I
also paddled up Warrior Creek about a half mile and found it
unobstructed and with considerably more flow than the Little. One
could access this headwaters section of the Little River by putting
in at Vickers Bridge on Warrior Creek to avoid some of the deadfalls
on the Little upstream of their confluence.

As
in the Okefenokee, we saw many large aquatic birds, but the gators on
the Little, and also on Spring Creek, were much shier and we
generally heard them fleeing before we saw them.

Howard
paddled a touring kayak, and Allan and I used 16- foot open canoes.
In the tight places Allan used a singlebladed paddle, but in the open
areas he used a doublebladed paddle and paddled his ABS Mohawk as a
kayak. (Contrary to popular usage and traditionally according to the
International Canoe Federation, what makes a canoe a kayak or a
Canadian canoe (O-1, C-2, OC -1, etc.) is not its design or
outfitting but the way in which it is paddled.) Our trip took about 3
hours.

Later
the same afternoon I explored the nearby Withlacoochee River just
east of Adel, Georgia, paddling about two miles upstream and about a
mile downstream of Georgia Highway 37, Otey, Sehlinger and Welander’s
access point A. The McMillan Road gauge registered 6.03/315 cfs, an
ample but not high level. Highway 37 was well chosen as the highest
practical access point for paddling the Withlacoochee , since I found
the river open and unobstructed downstream and quite the opposite
upstream. Upstream the river was small, very winding and densely
wooded. I had to squeeze under or around numerous deadfalls and haul
over four in two miles. Farmed fields were often near to the west,
from which direction recent strong winds had felled many trees across
the stream. Nevertheless, the difficulties I encountered paddling
were well worth the effort, as I was treated to frequent wildlife
sightings, including large flocks of turkeys and ibis and three
surprised alligators, and the river was truly beautiful.

On
Sunday, April 26th, Allan Wadsworth and I met Bainbridge native Dale
Brock at our take out, the U. S. Hwy. 84 bridge (Access point D) over
Spring Creek, whose Iron City gauge read 7.23/721 cfs, a fairly high
level. Dale had run Spring Creek several times and noted that during
the summer the creek was usually crystal clear, exposing its many
limestone springs. This day it was somewhat stained but still very
beautiful. We put in at Lane’s Bridge (Access C) and enjoyed an
easy, seven-mile paddle back to Hwy. 84.

For
our final mile, after a railway bridge, the otherwise pristine stream
was lined with many large upright pilings near the right bank. Dale
advised that these were used by a now defunct timber mill, which had
logs dropped from the railway bridge and kept them for extended
periods tied in bundles to the pilings to season them in the creek
waters.

After
I lunched in Colquitt with Dale, I explored the upper reaches of this
beautiful creek and went to the Miller County Sheriff’s Department.
I learned that a large river left landowner downstream of White’s
Bridge ( Access Point B ) had posted the land there and for a few
miles downstream of that bridge and had been attempting to excluded
paddlers from this portion of Spring Creek. The deputy with whom I
spoke did not think anyone was trying to stop people from paddling
the creek between Access Points A and B or from two miles upstream of
Access C to Lake Seminole . I later viewed no trespassing signs at
White’s Bridge and barbed wire which had been stretched across the
stream downstream of it but had been broken, no doubt during a flood.
I also visited in Colquitt a riverleft park just upstream of the Hwy
91 bridge ( Access Point A ). A Miller county deputy had told me that
boaters used this park and its large parking lot to access the creek
at this point, as there is no parking allowed at the Hwy. 91 bridge.

On
my drive home I explored a mile of Chickasawhatchee Creek upstream of
Ga. Hwy. 37, where the Elmodel USGS gauge read 2.92/463 cfs and the
current was very fast but the water quite clear. I was anxious to put
in, as the stream was very beautiful, the afternoon was waning, and I
had a long drive home. I made the mistake of forgetting to use insect
repellent, perhaps because mosquitoes had not been a problem on any
of the other streams during my trip. I found Chickasawhatchee Creek
teaming with wildlife, such as ibis, little green herons, and very
hungry mosquitoes. I had to work hard against the swift current
to paddle upstream in my sleek Sawyer Oscoda, and with my slow
headway I was an easy target. On the quick trip back downstream,
however, I mostly outran the hungry insects.

The
creek drains Chickasawhatchee Swamp , the second largest wetland
complex in Georgia . Since 2000 The Nature Conservancy has purchased
more than 20,500 acres to protect this pristine wetland and has then
transferred much of it to the Georgia Department of Natural
Resources. The DNR now manages it as the Chickasawhatchee Wildlife
Management Area, which encompasses most of the streamside land
between Georgia Highways 62 and 37. The rest of the creek in this
stretch is protected through conservation easements. This WMA is home
to bald eagles, wood storks, gopher tortoises, and many other rare
plants and animals and should offer a wonderful extended paddle.
(Bring your Off!)

by
Roger Nott
From The Eddy Line, September 2009