Wacona Elementary School is in Waycross, Georgia.  Waycross is also home to the Okefenokee Swamp.

Basic Facts:

The Okefenokee Swamp is an area of land that covers more than 600 square miles.  Two well known rivers begin in the Okefenokee:  The St. Mary's River and the Suwannee River.  The St. Mary's River flows all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.  The Suwannee River flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

A very long time ago, the coast of Georgia was in a different place.  It was much farther inland, and the part of land that is now the Okefenokee Swamp was just the ocean floor.  A sandbar developed out in the ocean, and it cut off this area from the rest of the ocean.  This made a kind of pool of water that was separate from the ocean, and that pool filled with rainwater and runoff water, and became a pool of fresh water (instead of the salt water it used to be).

Over the years, leaves, dead plants, and other things fell into the water.  These things began to pile up, making layers of peat.  This peat is five to ten feet deep in places, but underneath, there is still water.  You can walk on the peat, but it will sometimes shake.  This is where the name "Okefenokee" comes from.  The Okefenokee Swamp gets its name from Native American words that mean "Land of the Trembling Earth".

The water in the Swamp looks dirty, and is a very dark brown color.  Even though it looks unclean, it is actually pure and safe to drink.  There is tanic acid in the water (the acid comes from the peat), and that makes it dark, but it doesn't hurt humans or animals to drink it.  The water also looks a lot like a mirror when the sun reflects on it.

Features of the Swamp:

The Okefenokee has four features:  the prairies, the houses and hammocks, the lakes, and the islands.

Prairies are parts of the Swamp that are open.  They contain a lot of shallow water and tall grass.  There aren't any trees in the prairie areas.  Many birds and other animals live in the prairies.  Click HERE to see the swamp prairie.

The houses and hammocks are scattered throughout the swamp.  Early settlers in the swamp noticed small clusters of trees and underbrush scattered throughout the swamp.  They called these clusters "houses and hammocks."  Click HERE to see a picture of one of these spots.

There are many lakes scattered throughout the Okefenokee.  Sixty of these lakes are big enough to be named.  Some are forty feet deep! Others are only two or three feet deep.  Billy's Lake is the largest lake in the swamp.  Click HERE to see a picture of Billy's Lake.

There are around seventy islands in the Okefenokee.  Some of the most well known and visited islands are Chesser Island (at the eastern entrance), Cowhouse Island (at the northern entrance), and Jones and Billy's Islands (at the western entrance).  Some of the islands are just small bits of land covered by cypress trees.  Other islands are larger, and are places where people settled and lived long ago.  Click HERE to see pictures of the buildings on Chesser Island.

Settlers and Native Americans:

A lot of settlers lived in the Okefenokee.  Some of the more well-known ones were Obediah Barber, Lydia Smith Stone Crews, and the Chesser family.  All of the settlers were intelligent, hard working people.  They had to be in order to survive living in the swamp.

There were also Native Americans in the swamp.  Billy's Lake and Billy's Island are named for Billy Bow-Legs, who was the last Chief of the Land of the Trembling Earth.


The Okefenokee has seen a few changes over the years.  In 1891, the Suwannee River Canal Company bought most of the Okefenokee.  They planned to drain the swamp and use the land for growing sugar cane, rice, and cotton.  They dug a canal into the swamp, but then they had to declare bankruptcy, and they never finished their plans.

The land was bought by the Hebard family.  They did a lot of cypress logging in the swamp.  This continued until 1927.

In the early 1900s, a man named Francis Harper started studying the Okefenokee.  He loved the land, the birds and animals, and the settlers who lived there.  He decided to fight to protect the area, to keep it as natural as possible.  Harper's work helped save the Okefenokee more than once.

In 1937, the swamp was sold to the United States Government, and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was created.  Since then, the Okefenokee has remained untouched, except for the occasional controlled burn.

There have also been a few swamp fires caused by lightning or other things.  These fires do some damage, but the swamp recovers from it.


There are a lot of animals that live in the swamp.  Some of them are alligator, black bear, white tailed deer, sandhill crane, osprey, anhinga, egret, heron, otter, water moccasin (or cottonmouth), raccoon, gopher tortoise, snapping turtle, diamondback rattlesnake, copperhead, coral snake, bobcat, wild turkey, red tailed hawk.


There are also a lot of plants in the swamp.  Some of them are pitcher plant, bladderwort, sun dew, saw palmetto, sassafrass, cypress trees, Golden Club (or neverwet), blackgum trees, bay trees, water lily.


To see a map of the Okefenokee, click HERE.

Okefenokee Swamp Education and Information Center
Okefenokee National Wildlife Federation
Obediah's Okefenoke
Okefenokee Swamp Park
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Crypt - Okefenokee Swamp
Okefenokee Wildlife League
GORP - Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Okefenokee Joe
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge 
(requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to open)
The Great Okefenokee Swamp
Natureworks Swamps
Canoeing the Okefenokee
Swamp Life Animal Printouts
Okefenokee FAQs


This page created by Lori Miller, Technology Instructor
at Wacona Elementary School, July 2002.
Updated July 15, 2003.

Graphics from: