Five days after the storm, snow remains in shady spots, like this swamp in the Altamaha floodplain.
South Georgia Snowstorm, 2018
Banks Lake is a natural blackwater lake characterized by shallow water and cypress trees. Located just east of Lakeland, it was owned for much of the 2oth century by the family of Governor Ed Rivers.
Joshua Lee operated a grist mill here in the mid-1800s. When he dammed the Carolina bay on his property, the lake was created.
Unsubstantiated sources suggest that Governor Ed Rivers’ family attempted to develop the area in the 1920s and that his estate threatened to drain and log the lake in the 1970s, but regardless, the property was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1980, assuring its preservation. In 1985, the Conservancy sold the lake to the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who redesignated it Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
With around 20,000 visitors per year, Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the least crowded parks in the system. It almost feels like a roadside park because, effectively, it is. There are docks and a short boardwalk and an outfitter on site. A gentleman I met on the dock told me that fishermen tie strips of cloth to trees to find their way around. It’s apparently quite thick with cypress.
Banks Lake is part of the Grand Bay-Banks Lake ecosystem, the second largest freshwater wetland in Georgia, after the Okefenokee Swamp.
The refuge, managed by the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, does not have on-site staff. Fishing is allowed, for those with valid licenses.
For information on this natural wonder of Georgia, please visit the refuge website.
Perhaps due to to its lyrical name, the Ichawaynochaway is one of the best known waterways of Southwest Georgia. (Locals often shorten the name to Nochaway). But it’s also one of the longest “creeks” in the state, cutting its way through nearly 84 miles of red Georgia clay. It rises near Weston, in Webster County and flows through Stewart, Randolph, Terrell, and Calhoun counties before joining the Flint River in Baker County. Perhaps dry runs in the summer months are the reason it isn’t called a river, but when viewed at high water in wet seasons it’s as much a river as any other in the region.
There’s debate as to the origin of the name, but it’s a Muskogee word. Some suggest it refers to either beaver or deer but the more popular theory asserts that it means “the place where deer sleep”. The latter seems likely, considering it runs adjacent to some of the best hunting lands in Georgia.
The blackwater Seventeen Mile River can be hard to find, largely due to the fact that it’s considered an “ephemeral river”. This means that it’s dry as often as it’s wet, often more so. Much of it is located on private property, as well. The best place to see this natural wonder is at General Coffee State Park.
If you’re a fisherman, the best time to visit is after a good period of rain. As a navigable stream, the Seventeen Mile River is nearly impenetrable, but several open “lakes” provide good places to fish.
Gar Lake, seen here, is one of the easiest to access.
The park prides itself on being one of the best kept secrets in the state. Its protection has enabled rare plants with limited ranges like the Green-fly Orchid (Epidendrum magnoliae) and Narrow-leaf Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia tenuifolia) to survive. Native and introduced ferns are abundant here, as well.
Macrothelypteris torresiana, known as Torres or Mariana Maiden Fern, is fairly common here. Though widely cultivated for its beauty, it’s a non-native and therefore considered invasive.
Woodwardia areolata, or Netted Chain Fern, is a widespread native and likely much more recognizable.
Evidence of the naval stores industry can be found scattered around the river, as seen in the “catface” scar on this pine.
Several long boardwalks provide easy access to the river and swamps and make for one of the most peaceful walks in South Georgia.
Many would just call this a swamp. I think of it as a piece of paradise.
Cypress is dominant here.
The knees are visible everywhere, especially in the dry beds interspersed throughout the landscape.