The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge caught the upper edge of Tropical Storm Debby as it crossed Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday, which was enough to fill the swamp at a level not seen since February 2010.
The 628-square-mile refuge experienced extreme ranges in rainfall during the storm. A weather station south of Waycross, Ga., only recorded 3.2 inches, while the Eddy Tower station near the southern edge of the refuge in Florida recorded 20.6 inches. Weather stations inside the east and west entrances to the refuge each recorded 10.5 inches.
Water is refilling the spongy peat and spreading out throughout the swamp. The water level on the west side at Stephen C Foster State Park went from 113.46 feet above sea level to 115.20 by June 29. On the east side, the water level rose from 119.44 to 121 feet above sea level.
During the two-year drought, many of the trails along the 120 mile long system of trails became inaccessible to maintenance crews and were overgrown by plants or obstructed by fallen trees during and after the Honey Prairie Fire. With the high water level in the swamp, managers will gradually open up more trails for day and overnight trips.
Currently, canoe trails are free from most obstructions and open to Billys and Minnies Lakes out of Stephen C. Foster State Park; Kings Canal out of Kingfisher Landing; and the Suwannee Canal, Canal Run, Round Top, and a half mile of Chesser Prairie, accessible from the east entrance.
The first two boat ramps on the Sill are open. The ramp on the Suwannee River is flooded. Boaters are urged to stay on the designated trails, marked with white-topped posts, since it is easy to become disoriented in the swamp.
Canoe, kayaks and motor boats are available for rent at Stephen C. Foster State Park. Okefenokee Adventures rents canoes and kayaks. Guided interpretive boat tours are offered every day at Stephen C. Foster State Park, Okefenokee Adventures, and Okefenokee Swamp Park.