Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Stephen Foster State Park ( the one in Georgia) is smack in the middle of the Okefenokee NWR and seventeen miles from anywhere. With its tall slender pines gently swaying in an 80 degree breeze, in an almost deserted campground on grassy shaded lots, it is a very pleasant place to be. That the surrounding 300,000 acres looks like a war zone is really disorienting. The huge fires of 2007 and again last April (when smoke clouded the streets in Montgomery and Jacksonville) have left the verdant swamp looking like it was hit by a napalm attack.
The road in traverses a long “pine island” which burned completely. Salvage loggers have cleared the dead trees and left only the few pines whose roots were not cooked. At the edges of the island, cypress still standing may leaf out in the spring, or not.
We took a boat ride with ranger Michael who, like his dad before him, has spent his life here telling laconic tales to tourists. We motored along through a mile of tumbled trees, their blackened root balls staring at us. Huge trees on the pine islands felled by winds after their roots cooked in the deep hot peat fires lay across smaller trees. The alligators, and there are hundreds, lie like jack straws among the downed, blackened trunks along the shores of Billie’s Lake.
The fire is still burning miles north of here and underground where it will drop the level of the peat layer so far that, when the rains finally come, this “Prairie changing” fire will rearrange the whole topography. Cypress stands will become wet prairie and a whole new cycle of peat building and island building will begin “unless the fires come back again.”
We are seeing all this before the greening of spring has begun, with the black trunks exposed and the the skidder trails still in the pines, but there are signs.
A view from the Boardwalk…
…The part that didn’t burn.
Some parts remain untouched…
…but we weren’t.