Why Georgia’s Beautiful Wetland Parks are Worth Preserving—and Visiting
By: Mal MacGregor
If you’re looking for some local family fun in Georgia, be sure to check out our wetland parks. If you’re not sure just what a “wetland park” is—don’t worry, you aren’t alone! Read on to learn all about them and the awesome outdoor activities for kids they offer. After reading this, you’ll know exactly how to plan a visit that you’ll remember for years to come.
What Is a Wetland Park?
Though you might not hear about them often, wetlands are actually quite common in Georgia. In fact, about one-fifth of Georgia’s surface area is all wetlands.
They’re kind of like a halfway point between dry land and a body of water. But if you want to get technical, wetlands are areas where shallow water covers the land for more than 14 days in a row during the growing season.
Basically, you might think of them as literally wet – lands.
Are Wetlands the same thing as swamps?
Well, not really.
You might have wondered if “wetland” is just a nice word for a swamp. But actually, it’s a broad term that includes multiple partially aquatic environments like:
- Wet meadows
- Salt marshes
- And yes, swamps!
So while swamps are a type of wetland, there are other types of wetlands, too. If you’re interested in other types of aquatic ecosystems, check out this article from Ocean Blue Project.
Why Visit a Wetland Park?
Visits to these local gems are actually pretty perfect for busy families. They offer great outdoor activities for kids without the need for a big, expensive trip to the outdoor gear store. You can do something as simple as taking a flat hike on a boardwalk, or something as involved as a guided kayaking tour into the wilderness.
Most wetland parks have boardwalks and walking trails. You can soak up a family stroll on them while you try to spot all sorts of eye-catching and unique wildlife.
And if your kids are older, many wetland parks also offer guided boat tours. You can take one, kick back, relax, and see all sorts of wildlife that you won’t come across in your neighborhood.
Best Georgia Wetland Parks to Visit
Okefenokee Swamp is the largest freshwater swamp in North America. Who knew, right? It covers 700 square miles. It’s so large that it takes up 3 counties in Georgia: Charlton, Ware, and Clinch counties.
To enjoy the Okefenokee Swamp, there are actually two locations to check out. One is Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross, Georgia. The other is Okefenokee Adventures in Folkston, Georgia.
These two locations are about an hour’s drive apart, so be sure to check which one you’re choosing!
Read on to learn the different outdoor activities for kids that you can enjoy at these locations
Okefenokee SWAMP PARK in Waycross, GA
If you’re looking for a wonderful, fun, and laid-back experience, this is the place for you. There are plenty of outdoor activities for kids of all ages to relish here, like a boat tour or a train ride. See if you can spot an alligator—-from a safe distance, of course!
General admission includes entrance to their Eye on Nature show, a guided tour on the Okefenokee Railroad, and a self-walking tour. If you choose to go this route, it takes about 4 hours in all.
Looking for something a little more adventurous? Check out their boat tours, railroad tours, Swamp Creatures Area, Walt Kelly Exhibit, or observation tower. If you take the train tour, don’t miss out on Pioneer Island.
Learn more at Okefenokee Swamp Park’s website.
Okefenokee ADVENTURES in Folkston, GA
If you want more than just a day trip, then Okefenokee Adventures in Folkston, GA is your best bet. It’s located inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Though you can do a short day trip here, they have a lot more to offer here, too.
They have film and exhibits at the Visitor Center where you can kick back indoors. You can bike the 7.5 mile Swamp Island Drive to check out Chesser Family Homestead, which was built in 1927. Most of their trails are stroller and wheelchair accessible, too.
Another option is to walk the boardwalk to the 50’ observation tower and count how many wild animals you can spot! They also have Camp Cornelia Café and picnic tables for snacks or lunch.
Does something more involved sound enticing? You can take a guided 90-minute boat tour, a sunset prairie tour, an extended excursion, or even an overnight wilderness outing.
There are plenty of activities for the whole family— biking, kayaking, canoeing, or camping on your own. You can bring your own gear, too. Or you can get in touch with Okefenokee Adventures at (912) 496–7156 to book a guide. You can also rent all sorts of items like bikes, Jon boats, canoes, solo kayaks, tandem kayaks, tents, sleeping bags, stoves, PFDs, and more. Click here for the Okefenokee Adventures website..
2. Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center
Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center in Midlands, GA is a wonderful free option to make memories with a nature walk.
Cay Creek provides an elevated boardwalk that’s less than a mile long. It’s wheelchair accessible, so you can bring a stroller if you’d like. Look out for the 15’ Tower in the wetlands. It’s awesome for birders! Over 100 species of birds have been spotted here.
As you wander down the boardwalk, watch the freshwater wetlands transition into brackish waters and saltwater marsh. Point out to your kids the changes you spot in the wildlife and plantlife as this transition progresses.
When it comes to outdoor activities for kids, I can’t imagine something more exciting than spotting a small, shy alligator in the distance trying to hide!
Here you can find a variety of lizards, snakes, birds, armadillos, beavers, deer, raccoon, and other wild animals.
There are over a hundred different species of plant life, too. See if you can spot Bay, Cypress, Oak, Palms, Palmettos, or the charming Magnolias.
There are public restrooms, free parking, and maps & brochures available. Admission is free, and it’s open year-round.
3. Newman Wetlands Center
Newman Wetlands Center in Hampton, Georgia is another excellent free option.
Here you can meander down a half-mile-long boardwalk as you take in the wildlife and fresh air. You can also bring your stroller on the boardwalk. It’s ADA accessible. On your walk, see who in your family can spot turtles, herons, or even a muskrat.
After you work up an appetite, there’s a picnic area to enjoy snacks or lunch. They also have a Learning Center offering exhibits, a classroom, and public restrooms. Be sure to check with them before your visit for any ongoing renovations.
Why Wetlands Matter
Though they might seem simple, wetlands play a pretty crucial role in our world.
In the past, people looked at wetlands as a bit of a dumping ground. It was common practice to drain them, and then dump polluting materials there. Unfortunately, this led to destruction of the wetlands habitat and damage to the wildlife and plantlife that call it home.
You might be wondering why wetland pollution really matters. What good do wetlands really provide? It’s a fair question.
Wetlands are essential to the healthy functioning of the planet. Here’s a small sampling of what wetlands can provide
One of the wonderful things about wetlands is that they actually improve our drinking water quality. I bet you didn’t expect that! It’s true. They’re like nature’s water filter.
Wetlands take in surface water, filter out the sediment, and then absorb pollutants. Afterward, the wetlands push the fresh, clean water to the next step in the water cycle. Eventually it makes its way to our cups and into our bodies where it nourishes and sustains us, just as it does for plants and animals.
Basically, wetlands improve the quality of groundwater. It might sound small, but it’s actually a pretty big deal. Here’s an example.
The Miami metropolitan area’s drinking water comes from the Biscayne Aquifer, which gets it from wetlands. Specifically, the wetlands in Florida’s Everglades recharge the Biscayne Aquifer. Pretty wild, right?
So everyone in the Miami metropolitan area has wetlands to thank for helping them get clean drinking water! And they aren’t the only ones. Wetlands do this all over the planet.
While wetlands’ ability to purify water is pretty special, fungi may be able to purify water, too. Ocean Blue Project and Ken Cullins (NASA) are researching strains of fungi’s potential for cleaning up aquatic microplastic pollution. It may be promising. You can learn more about fungi being used to clean up urban streams here, too.
It’s exciting and hopeful that we may be able to use fungi to purify our water. But let’s not forget that wetlands already do this, and just how useful that is.
Reducing Damage from Major Storms
Wetlands blunt the impact from major storms.
As storms roll in from the ocean, they lose momentum by first passing by wetlands on their way to dry land. Not only does this provide us physical safety, it also saves us tons of money by decreasing property damage from storms.
For an example, look no further than the salt marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. They reduce flooding and coastal erosion, which helps save lives and money that would otherwise be lost to property damage.
That’s pretty important if you ask me!
Prepare yourself, because this statistic is pretty shocking.
Roughly one-third of all of the plants and animals listed as threatened or endangered in the USA depend on wetlands to survive.
So all those years when the wetlands were treated as dumping grounds, the plants and animals that lived there were damaged.
I was surprised to learn some of the threatened or endangered species that rely on wetlands, like:
- Whooping Cranes
- American Crocodiles
- Several orchid species
- And more…
As you could probably guess, microplastic pollution affects wetland parks, too. Since wetlands help purify water, they end up with high concentrations of microplastics that they remove from it.
Microplastics are small particles that come from, well, plastic. And they’re all over the globe.
Microplastics are deep in the Mariana Trench, and up high in the rainfall landing on mountains. They’re trapped in ice in Antarctica. They’re in animals’ bodies that are as small as cute little invertebrates, or as large as intimidating mammals. They’re in our drinking water, and they’re in our beer.
They’re difficult to filter out, and take a very long time to decompose. Plus, as microplastics decompose, they release plasticizers and raw materials that were originally used to make the plastic. This could be damaging or toxic to plant and animal life, including us humans. We really don’t know.
But it’s not looking good.
But don’t despair.
You can make a big difference by eliminating single-use plastics. It’s not too challenging to accomplish this when you consider its great positive impact.
If you’re planning an outing to Georgia’s Wetland Parks, why not try using that adventure as your first day going without single-use plastics? It’s not too hard, and it can save you money, too.
Read on to get started eliminating single-use plastics with an outing to one of these local treasures.
Planning a Green Outing
I think you’ll be surprised to see how easy it is to plan a green outing, sans single-use plastics. This is a powerful first step to helping reduce microplastic pollution. That way we can improve our planet’s health and the lives of the plants, animals, and humans that live here.
When it comes to food and plastic, the easiest way to avoid it is to pass up on processed food. Luckily for us, most processed food is pretty unhealthy.
So by avoiding processed food, you get the double whammy benefits of preventing plastic pollution AND improving your own health. Can you believe it’s usually less expensive, too?
When you go to the grocery store, you can buy nuts, dried fruit, fresh apples, bananas, and snacks that don’t come in plastic. You can bring a reusable bag to the supermarket for your groceries.
If you’re packing a meal, simply pack it in reusable food storage containers.
It’s really that easy.
As I’m sure you know, many beverages come in a plastic bottle. But not all. You can opt for those, or you can keep it simple with water.
It’s so easy, healthy, inexpensive, and quick to bring your own refillable water bottle from home.
You can add fresh fruit or cucumbers to it, lemon juice or sweeteners, anything you want, really. It can taste pretty boujee, and super refreshing. It’s a simple way you can bring a healthy and refreshing drink with you while helping your wallet, your health, and the planet.
If you’re hankering for something more interesting than water, there are many beverages that come in glass bottles. Or, you can make whatever you want ahead of time at home.
For example, you can make sweetened iced tea at home with just some tea bags, sweetener, and water.
That’s All, Folks!
If you’re looking for outdoor activities for kids, I think that you’ll love the wetland parks in Georgia. You can enjoy adventures ranging in intensity from short walks on a boardwalk, to long wilderness excursions.
Kayaking, canoeing, and boat tours are some of the best outdoor activities for kids to enjoy in these unique and important ecological areas. Remember, these wetlands purify our water, help protect us from major storms, and provide homes for all sorts of wildlife.
Support Ocean Blue Project
If you want to help the wetlands combat microplastic pollution, try to eliminate single-use plastics. You can start with this trip. But there are other things you can do, too.
Check out Ocean Blue Project here. They’re an Oregon-based non-profit that works to clean and protect our environment. They’re on a pretty amazing mission to remove 1 million pounds of ocean plastic.
The planet’s wetlands—and all the life in it—will thank you!
Author Bio: Mal MacGregor is a Savannah-based SEO copywriter. When she’s not out exploring, she’s helping vegan brands grow their businesses.