Okefenokee Swamp Park has expanded its reach into the 440,000-acre national wildlife refuge.
The conservation education organization, in operation at the north entrance of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge for nearly 75 years, has signed a 10-year agreement to be the concession manager at the east entrance to the swamp, located 7 miles south of Folkston. The swamp park is known for its lily-decked water trails, reflective waters mirroring overhanging trees, and trails leading to islands, lakes, forest and prairies.
Okefenokee Adventures, the concessionaire offering boat tours, canoe and bike rentals, and other services at the east entrance the past 20 years, will continue to provide the same services in what is described as a collaboration between the two groups to enhance both entrances.
“We are excited at the opportunity to partner with Okefenokee Adventures in expanding and enhancing visitors’ access and experiences around and into this special corner of the universe,” said Dr. William Clark, chair of the OSP board of trustees.
Kim Bednarek, executive director of Okefenokee Swamp Park and Okefenokee Adventures, said both locations are being upgraded with new boats and visitor experiences as part of the new concession agreement.
An agreement to offer a multi-day, multi-entrance pass for approved visitors is in the works, and details should be released later this month, Bednarek said.
Additionally, “experience packages” are being created in coordination with local accommodations, she said.
The merger of the two groups will strengthen the public’s access and enjoyment at both entrances, said Patrick Simmons, executive director of the Waycross Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“This partnership will definitely have a direct impact on increased tourism in the Waycross area, and increased tourism has a positive impact on the local and regional economy,” he said.
Michael Lusk, refuge manager, expressed his support for the new agreement.
“Having a concessionaire that we can trust to represent the beauty and majesty of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is an important part of serving the public and helping them appreciate this truly amazing American treasure,” he said.
Chip Campbell, who owned and operated Okefenokee Adventures the past two decades, said the new agreement will enhance the visitor experience.
“We have talked for years about how our different Okefenokee entrances could better work together to serve our visitors, as well as how we might collaborate on issues of common concern and speak for the Okefenokee community as a whole,” he said. “Bringing Okefenokee Adventures under the umbrella of the area’s oldest nonprofit conservation education organization, the Okefenokee Swamp Park, Inc. brings it all together in a partnership that works for all of us who love the swamp.”