Paddle to Billy’s Island

An excerpt from my Okefenokee Journal on March 11, 2015:

American Bittern in the prairie grasses along Billy’s Lake; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 11, 2015. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.
Wednesday, 12:17 PM – Grabbing our life vests (but neglecting seat cushions, as we would later regret), we loaded our canoe and headed up the channel toward Billy’s Lake. As we floated by, a beautifully camouflaged American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus, popped his head up from the grasses to spy out the intruders.
​Remembering the advice of a friend from years ago, we headed toward Billy’s Island. My old friend had spent a good bit of time exploring the island and found several critters, including an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. On our trip, however, hiking was restricted to a 1-mile loop in the immediate area of the dock. A Park Ranger had told us that a slightly deranged man had disappeared in Billy’s Island a couple of years ago, prompting a failed but expensive search and rescue mission. Days later, the man was found walking barefoot on Interstate 75, nobody knowing how or when he left the swamp. But the majority of the island was made off-limits to hikers.

The island was named after an American Indian that had resided in the Swamp. In later history, following the Civil War, the island was settled by the Lee family; some of whom still inhabit the island in a small graveyard. On our short hike we saw the rusty machinery left from the last century’s efforts of logging the Okefenokee. Other than a deer wading knee-deep in the swamp, the seemingly ever-present Catbirds, and some carnivore scat, we weren’t as lucky as my friend who had related that he found a baby gator and a rattlesnake on the island years ago.

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