By James Malphrus, writer of JCM Adventure Journals. Featured image: Alligators’ fork. Photo credit: James Malphrus.
This post features three excerpts from adventures on Chickasawhatchee WMA.
It was a Wednesday and we wanted to ease the stress of the work week with a little catch and release action: we were going fishing. Rebecca and I had our gear and had been riding from pond to pond for a half hour striking off our usual haunts because: “Access to that one is too muddy right now.” “The lily pads are covering the whole pond.” “We’ve barely caught any fish in that one, and they were all little.” It was time to call an audible.
In recent months we’ve spent most of our Sundays on public lands, and as a precursor to such romps, we usually talk about where we’re going the week before, giving us time to do a little research to familiarize ourselves with the target location. We had talked about visiting Chickasawhatchee Wildlife Management Area, but we weren’t planning on it being that soon, we hadn’t done any research, and we were already on the way.
It started something like: “I’m sure there’s a pond out there, wanna try it?” Her sarcastic agreement was license enough to head out of town. She didn’t notice right away; I had mentioned a few other possible fishing locations that were out on the southwest end of town. But as I encouraged her to look up maps of the site, she realized I was serious—by then we were leaving Albany. And racing the sunset.
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That midweek foray had piqued our interest. We made up our minds—and when Sunday came, we went back to Chickasawhatchee for a closer look. We left before dawn, as we often do, and arrived ahead of the sun. The pre-historic feel of Mud Creek Road, the same road Rebecca and I had made our escape by, was dwindling within the pre-dawn light.
The week’s end had afforded us time to research the space, examine maps, and plan for our adventure. Our first objective would be a main road hike through the areas synonymous with the namesakes of both the road and the WMA—we were going to hike Seven Bridges Road through Chickasawhatchee Swamp.
Chickasawhatchee Swamp occupies roughly 335 square miles of South Georgia’s coastal plain. It is among the largest fresh-water swamps in the Southeastern United States—taking second after the Okefenokee in Southeast Georgia and North Florida. Chickasawhatchee is unique: the collection of spring and surface water tributaries unite in bottomlands where the limestone bedrock is soft and thin, giving the deep-water swamp a relatively direct connection to the local aquifer.
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We spent much of the day following the road as it wound between fields of wildflowers and fluttering butterflies—occasionally stopping to take a short jaunt up a firebreak or along a pond. We found untamed forests and wetlands with life teeming at every edge! We found Limpkins, Night Herons, Blue Grosbeaks, Yellow-Breasted Chats, Mississippi Kites, Barn Swallows, Eastern King Birds, Great Horned Owls, Summer Tanagers, Eastern Towhees, White Ibis, Green Herons, Red-Tailed Hawks, Yellow-Billed Cuckoos, and so many others I can barely recall! We spotted White Tailed Deer, Wild Hogs, Alligators, Yellow Bellied Sliders, and frogs too quick to identify. And enjoyed the whimsical fluttering of countless butterflies! Macklin (Monarch), Ruby (Queen), Hot Thomas (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail), Clarence (Pipevine Swallowtail), Mortimer (Common Buckeye), and Roxanne (Gulf Fritillary) to name a few.
In short—Chickasawhatchee Wildlife Management Area is a beautifully wild place that we’re looking forward to visiting many times in the years ahead and it is tremendously beneficial to both the human life and the wildlife in our region. I would encourage anyone with a wild heart to visit this space with a conservationist’s resolve—the only traces we should leave are footprints.
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http://jcma.today/2020/09/chickasawhatchee-wma-a-photo-record/ contains 50 photographs taken during our trips through Chickasawhatchee WMA.