Gators Galore on Swamp Trip
Folkston, GA--Ten Fellow Travelers met at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area for a three-day journey throught the Okefenokee with camping at Round Top and Suwannee Canal. No one was late so the canoes were taken off the vehicles and trailers and loaded with gear. Paddling was underway by about nine-thirty. The weather was great.
Art Shelfer and Ronnie Marchant took the Canadienne, Brown Moseley paddled his kayak, Greg and Sean Ferrell used their Wenonah Adirondack, Rick Metz and Sam Brown manned the Escape,Roy and Eric Moye used the Penobscot 17, and Charlie Stines soloed the Prism.
The Suwannee Canal was covered in duckweed. The canal itself is one of the less interesting parts of any Okefenokee trail. It is a man-made channel but serves as the gateway to the eastern areas of the swamp. It is much like paddling down any blackwater river. The canal is lined with trees and swamp shrubbery. There were several alligators, some turtles, and quite a few birds. By 10:40 AM the travelers had reached the three mile marker. The paddling was comfortable and insects were no problem. Charlie got a little behind fiddling with changing the batteries in the GPS but the five mile marker was reached by about 11:30. Plans were for a lunch stop at the Coffee Bay day use shelter which was temporarily available as an overnight stop because so many of the trails were closed due to drought.
The merry paddlers ate gourmet lunch snacks at Coffee Bay. Some fishermen came during lunch. It was a pleasant stop and the usual alligators were there begging unsuccessfully for treats. The toilet facility was in about as clean a shape as an outhouse could be.
The group left just before one. Art and Ronnie managed to get stuck on a log but were helped off by the Moyes. The voyage continued down the Orange Trail toward the intersection with the Purple Trail which leads to the Round Top shelter. The seven mile marker was passed at 1:25 and the eight mile marker was just twenty minutes further on. There were lots of fish jumping and a couple hitched rides in the canoes. The canal was thick with alligators. At 2:08 the paddlers came to the nine mile marker which is almost at the beginning of the Purple Trail.
The Purple Trail is unlike the canal. It traverses Chase Prairie and is a winding, narrow, and shallow trail which is often clogged with water lilies and vegetation. There were several wood storks in the first mile. It took about forty-five minutes to paddle to the first mile marker and about thirty more minutes to reach the two mile marker. The paddlers arrived at the Round Top shelter at 3;40. It was a welcome sight and was well-maintained. The men sat around the shelter in folding chairs awaiting supper time. Rick and Sean tried their hands at fishing and landed a few bowfins.
Roy and Eric have earned the reputations as the chefs of the gang. Supper was their duty and they performed it well. A dish of dirty rice with sausage, chicken, and some fiery hot sauce was the fare.
After cleaning up the supper mess the guys pitched the tents and sat around telling lies and enjoying a pot of coffee. The sandhill cranes were there and a few were seen but many more were heard. There were also a lot of wood storks. The sunset was delightful. Finally everyone turned in for a good night’s sleep. The alligators were underneath the shelter and they constantly splashed and shook the platform.
The morning came and the King made a pot of coffee. Sam Brown prepared breakfast and it was a new one for the Fellow Travelers. It was shrimp and grits with cinammon buns. The alligators and wood storks were still out in force, and there were a few sandhill cranes.
Brown needed to leave early to participate in Jay’s (his son) wedding. No one else was in a hurry to leave especially since the Round Top shelter is preferable to the one at Canal Run. Greg and Sean left about 9:30, Charlie left around ten, and the others were not far behind. The three mile marker was seen at about 10:20 and the four mile marker was reached about 10:55. The group was fairly well dispersed by that time with the Ferrells being well ahead and Art and Ronnie being considerably behind. The Purple five came up about 11:30. There were several wood storks roosting in the trees and there were some hawks and vultures. A few fish still jumped into the boats and there were a lot of alligators. The fall weather was near perfect for canoeing.
The group gathered at the Blue Trail junction around noon. After a few snacks the men began paddling the Blue Trail. It is a scenic part of the swamp and is the crossroads for the trails to Bluff Lake, Round Top, Floyd’s Island, and the Canal Run shelter. The trail is short but passes through prairie areas, some really pretty pools, and through some canopied trails. It took about thirty minutes to canoe the first mile.
The flotilla continued until the Blue Trail reached the junction of the Orange Trail which is practically at the shelter. Everyone arrived at the Canal Run shelter at about 1:25 and wondered how the next few hours would be killed. Ronnie decided it was a good time for a nap and most everyone agreed. The alligators continued to swim around the shelter. Rick, Sam, Sean, and Greg caught some more bowfins and at least on catfish.
Supper was on Ronnie but it really was on Kim. It was a very good beef stew. The refuge had a fire ban in place due to the dry weather so Dutch oven cooking was not allowed.
After consuming supper the campers erected the tents. Charlie had a little difficulty because an alligator kept snapping at his tent pole when it went over the side of the platform. It took a convincing whack to the alligator’s head to convince him to leave the pole alone. The rest of the night was spent swapping stories. The weather was again conducive to good sleep.
The coffee was ready at about 7:30. Art was in charge of breakfast which was designed by the late Jimmy Dean.
After that the tents were taken down, the canoes loaded, and the ten mile journey up the Suwannee Canal was underway a bit after nine thirty.
The canal was literally clogged with alligators. Sean Ferrell said he counted over 250 on the trip. In less than an hour more than two miles of the return trip had been completed. The canoes were at Coffee Bay by about 11:08. The paddlers stayed there almost an hour and then began trekking toward the take-out. At 1:58 the canoes passed the one mile marker and encountered the first tour boat. The trip was completed about 2:30 PM.
It was a very good trip. The water conditions were low but not so much as to make the trip difficult. There were no rookies on the trip.