Monday, October 31, 2016

A Big Wheel RV Park, October 14-22, 2016

Rating:  4.0 on a scale of 5

Location: As we made our way to FL for the winter from NC, this seemed to be an interesting stop as we wanted to visit Cumberland Island National Seashore. The ferry to the island runs from St. Marys waterfront area. This park is located across from Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and is about 1/4 mile from Crooked River State Park. We also found that Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was about an hour drive, so convenient for us from this location. Also, the park is a very quiet, peaceful area of St. Marys. There is very little traffic here and it is a relatively short distance from I-95. 

Lot size: We had a lovely, shaded, pull through site with full hook ups. Some RVs appears to be full time residents, but the we were in an area where RVs came for just several nights. We had plenty of room for our tow dolly and car. 

Amenities: This park has free wifi that was decent most of the time. There is no cable TV offered but we were able to get multiple channels by air. There is a nice off-leash dog park area. 

There is a laundry (3 washers and dryers), kitchen and bathroom in a building that was located near our site. 

A small catch and release pond is located near the RV/boat storage area. 

Propane is also sold here.

Cost: $255

Management: The folks at this place are delightful. Due to Hurricane Mathew our schedule changed, and I called to see if we could check in several days early. They were very accommodating and we were able to arrive on 10/14 avoiding the SC coast altogether after the storm. We received multiple packages while we were here and had no issues whatsoever. They were very friendly and provide some input about things to see and do in the area that we appreciated. 

General Comments:  This park is what we expected, but I will say that we really liked our shaded lot. The one complaint was that the roosters woke us up pretty darn early in the morning. As an early riser, John would always get up. For me, though, I just went right back to sleep. There is also a very friendly kitty that lives here. Our doggy, Sadie, was enchanted by her! We would stay here again. Overall, I really liked the ambiance of the park.


Historic St. Marys, GA, 10/18 and 10/21/2016

The town of St. Marys is the gateway to the Cumberland Island National Seashore. The Visitor Center for Cumberland Island is located on St. Marys' waterfront. The only way to get to the island is on a ferry authorized by the National Park Service (shown below). 

I had made reservations well in advance to assure we could get there during our week-long stay. But, alas, this is the sign we saw when we went to the Visitor Center: Cumberland Island National Seashore closed until further notice.

Hurricane Mathew ruined our plans (a very minor inconvenience, of course, in relationship to the massive damage suffered by many in FL, SC, and NC) to see it. We learned that the dock was seriously damaged, lots of downed trees, and other issues were still being assessed on the island by the park service. Our reservation fees were refunded a couple of days after the planned trip. Their website ( reports that the island reopened for limited operations effective October 28, 2016.

We walked around the waterfront area as it was a lovely day. The City of St. Marys Waterfront Pavilion provides great views of nearby StMarys River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway. Nearby is Langs Marina. We always miss Destiny, our 36' Trojan Sport Fisherman Yacht, (that we sold when we started full time RVing) when we are in a place like this! There are also public docks for boaters traveling the Waterway. Check out this beauty!

The Riverside Cafe ( with both indoor and outdoor seating (dogs allowed on porch) looked inviting, so we decided to have lunch. The Greek salad with grilled salmon, a special for the day, was divine! There are several other restaurants in town along the waterfront.

The St. Marys area was first explored in the mid-16th century as part of the settlement of Spanish in Florida. The town was was established in 1787 by 20 charter members who each got four town lots and one marsh lot (4 acres each). It was recognized as a town in 1792 and made a port of entry to the US in 1799. St. Marys was the Camden County seat from 1869 until it was moved to Woodbine in 1923. In addition to its proximity to Cumberland Island National Seashore, it is also the location of the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base

Near the waterfront, historic St. Marys is a lovely small town. There are several historic churches include the First Presbyterian Church (established in 1808 and still active) and Christ Episcopal Church (established in 1812 and also still active). 

Several Bed and Breakfast Inns can be seen on the main road to the waterfront. Below is the Sandford-Goodbreed House (c 1885) and the Spencer House Inn (1872) decorated for Halloween. 

Our last night in St. Marys (a few days later), we returned to the waterfront for our "farewell" dinner at Lang's Marina Restaurant ( First, though, we went to the St. Marys Waterfront Park next to the restaurant. This is such a peaceful setting with the fountain, shaded playground, pavilion and pier. 

After dinner we caught the lovely sunset over the river.

The light after the sun is down is my very favorite. Breathtaking. 

We expect to be in this area again in the not-so-distant future to visit Cumberland Island National Seashore. Maybe next time we will stay in Jacksonville, FL, as it is not too far away from here. Regardless, we enjoyed our stay here.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, 10/19/2016

Nearly all of the Okefenokee Swamp, located in southeast Georgia, is protected by the 630-square mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Of that, approximately 354,000 acres are designated as a National Wilderness Area. Once part of the ocean floor, Okefenokee is a huge bog within a saucer-shaped depression that contains one of the most well preserved freshwater ecosystems on the globe. Two rivers start at the swamp; on the eastern side is St. Marys River that flows to the Atlantic Ocean and on the western side is the Suwannee River that flows to the Gulf of Mexico.

Our first stop, as always, was at the Richard SBolt Visitor Center that is located at the main entrance where you can obtain information about the refuge and exhibits about the swamp. Of course, the alligator is one of the most common animals you will see here.

This area of the refuge is the Suwannee Canal Recreation CenterBoat tours are available from Okefenokee Aventures (located next to the Visitor Center) where there is also a small cafe. They offer a 90-minute guided tour ($19.50/per); sunset tour ($28.50/per); a four-hour extended tour ($95/per); overnight canoe trips ($295/one night or $395/two); and, canoe, kayak, gear, and bicycle rentals. See their website for additional information at

The Suwannee Canal Company began building the Suwannee Canal in 1890 with the intent to drain much of the swamp into the St. Marys River leaving fertile fields. With mounting costs after digging three miles of the canal towards river, the company focused on creating the canal into the swamp by dredging to harvest virgin pine and cypress trees. The company went bankrupt in 1894 as the expense outweighed profits by a wide margin. Today, however, the canal provides access to the beautiful swamp for visitors. 

The short Cane Pole Trail (.7 mile round trip) is also located near the Visitor Center. In addition to seeing several blue heron, we caught a quick glimpse of this beautiful pileated woodpecker. This alligator was on the opposite of the canal but swam over to check us out. He kept followed us a short distance as we walked along the banks of the canal (and we think he was interested in our sweet doggy, Sadie!

As we continued down the dog-friendly trail along the canal, Sadie got to make a new friend...this little girl just wanted to keep petting her!

Prairies in a swamp are open, freshwater marshes. As we continued along the trail, we came to the Mizzell Prairie, so named for a family that settled here in the 1840s. They raised cattle and hogs; planted sugar cane, sweet potatoes and corn; and hunted and fished in the swamp. Families with farms lived at Okefenokee well into the 20th century. The prairies, covered with grasses, water lilies, and other aquatic plants, are quite beautiful. 

There are canoe paths along the canal as well. As we returned to the Visitor Center, that darn alligator was still there waiting for us (or really, I think he was waiting for our dog!) 

We hopped in the car to continue our tour of Okefenokee via the 7-mile auto tour along Swamp Island Drive (pamphlets available at the Visitor Center). The first part of the drive is through a longleaf pine forest. There are various stops identified in the brochure along the way.

This lake was dug to provide sand to help build the road. Nearby is a bat house, but bats have never used it and, instead, prefer hollow pine trees found throughout the area. 

There is also a long ditch on the left side of the road that was also dug to help build the road. Today there are beautiful lilies growing in them and lots of alligators and turtles, too. On an opposite bank we were excited to see one of the three species of carnivorous plants found here, a pitcher plant

WT. Chesser and his family settled on this island in the mid 1800s. The lived on the food they could catch, shoot, and grow here. Sugar cane (syrup) and turpentine were cash crops. Chesser and his wife had seven children and two of their younger sons settled in the swamp near their parents (one had 13 children, the other 9). Tom Chesser, a grandson of the original Chesser, and his wife, Ida, built the homestead that is seen here in 1927. The family never had electricity but purchased a propane refrigerator in the 1940s, a gasoline washing machine, and had a battery-operated radio. (Wow!)

The corncrib was used to store corn (the primary cultivated crop in the swamp) that was consumed by both livestock and the family. Sugar cane was a cash crop used to make syrup. The cane stalks were fed into through rollers and the juice squeezed from it by a mule pulling the sweep of this sugar cane mill. A 60-gallon boiler in the syrup shed was filled with the raw sugar cane juice and boiled continually for several hours yielding about six gallons of finished syrup. 

Chickens and hogs provided an important part of their diet. Black bears were predators that sometimes visited the hog pen, but were usually chased away by the swampers. 

A large, hollowed-out, cedar log was used for the well. The durable wood was well suited for this purpose and kept the well from collapsing in the sandy soil. There is a short trail to the homestead from the road. The area is dog-friendly which is always nice for us.

Our final stop on the Island Swamp Drive was the Chesser Island Boardwalk, a 1.5 mile round trip walk to the Owls Roost Tower (40' observation deck). Note the blackened skeletons of trees from the last major fire, the Honey Prairie fire of 2012. The previous boardwalk was destroyed then and this new one (of recycled plastic and wood) was dedicated in 2013. Intense wildfires occur about every 20 years in the swamp. The fires clear the swamp into open pastures and then regenerate. 

There are three shelters along the boardwalk that provide a place to rest and and get some shade. Be sure to bring plenty of water to drink, wear a hat, and bring bug spray. There are tower viewers (no charge) at the second one. Pets are not permitted on the boardwalk, so Sadie had to stay in the car. It was so hot, John stayed to take care of her. 

Owls Roost Tower is in a nicely shaded area of trees covered in Spanish moss. A word of caution, I saw lots of spiders with large webs on the way up (and, oh, how I hate spiders!) 

There are sweeping views of Seagrove Lake and Chesser Prairie from the top. Tower viewers are also available there. Many water fowl could be seen in the distance.

Retracing my steps on the boardwalk, I saw lots of lizards, some turtles, and this snake slithering through the water (can you see him?)  

But, mostly, I enjoyed the stunning views of the prairies. I never knew a swamp (although it is technically a "bog") could be so beautiful.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our visit here. When we made our itinerary to visit St. Marys, GA, last year; it was to go to Cumberland Island National Seashore. We did not realize Okefenokee was so close (about 45 minutes to the eastern entrance). The Swamp Island Drive and various stops along the way were fantastic. There are several other hikes that we did not do the day we visited. Also, the Stephen C Foster State Park ( is located on the western part of the swamp and has both hiking and canoe trails. For additional information about the Wildlife Rufuge, check out their website at