Stephen Foster’s lease on Jones Island inside the massive wildlife refuge ends at its boat basin. That means tour guides can’t take boats through the canal for tours on Billy’s Lake, Minnie’s Run and other swamp waterways.
The state park staff has found a substitute; a 2-hour canoe trip that begins at a private landing downstream on the Suwannee River, which forms in the Okefenokee, said Tommy Turk, regional director of state parks. After an easy 1 1/2 mile paddle, the trip ends at the Suwannee River Visitor Center at the U.S. 441 bridge in Fargo, Turk said.
The river has some of the same features as the swamp, including an abundance of alligators, but it is also unique and unlike other blackwater rivers in Georgia, Turk said.
“We wanted to use our small tour boat, but the water is too shallow for that, so we can only use canoes,’’ Turk said.
One rainstorm could change that because it’s the time of year when the water level can pop up very quickly, he said.
Suzanne Tyson said there’s been enough interest that the park has taken out a group of paddlers each day since it started the trips.
Because it starts from a private launch, a guide is required, in this case a regular tour guide well versed in the plants and animals in the blackwater river, she said.
The closure of the refuge’s waterway has hurt visitation somewhat, Turk said.
Stephen Foster’s staff has contacted people with reservations to let them know in advance that access to the swamp has been cut off, Turk said.
“We’ve had some cancellations,’’ but the abundant rainfall has made it one of the best times in years to visit Southeast Georgia streams, especially the Suwannee, he said.
“This is the first time in six years we haven’t had to close for low water,’’ he said of river and swamp tours.
The park’s boardwalk, campground and cabins are also open, he said.
The canoe trip on the Suwannee requires a separate fee. For more information call (912) 637-5274.