Yesterday marked 30 days at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and we are loving it here. Three days a week we alternate working with a few other volunteer couples (Katie & Bruce, Vicki & Leroy, and Betty & Lynn). The staff (Gracie, Sarah & Susie) have been very welcoming and informative; we have experienced excellent training and orientation opportunities, including field trips to some of the other entrances of the Okefenokee such as Kingfisher Landing and today we went to Swamp Park (north entrance near Waycross, Georgia).

Last week Ken and I took a side trip north to Ludowici, Georgia where I lived 39 years ago as a young military wife and mother of two (Cori was three and Kimberly was born in the military hospital nearby). Ken was patient with me as we drove around town while I tried to recall my past and find the location of the mobile homes we rented and the convenience store where I once worked part-time (after I would put my babies to bed). While much has changed, I believe we were successful in our search and found the lot where we lived. Cori wanted to know if the fire ant hill was still there and Kim wants to know how many times I am going to mention her age (39 years old)?!

Yesterday we took a drive up to Jekyll Island, which was an exclusive hunting club in the late 1800s for the rich and famous (e.g., Goodyear, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Pulitzer, etc.). This too, was a place I had visited 39 years ago and it was fun to go back and see it again. We took a fascinating 45-minute carriage tour of the property and enjoyed our tour guide’s thorough knowledge. The “cottages” built by these wealthy men have been preserved beautifully on the island that became a Georgia State Park in 1947.

The Okefenokee… We are located at the main entrance (on the east side). Here, there is a Visitor Center, a Homestead that dates back to 1927 (Chesser Island Homestead), a Boardwalk, and a 40-foot observation tower. My volunteer duties include working at the visitor center where I greet guests and inform them of the sites and trails, start the movie for them, and sell souvenir-type items. In addition, I have trained to conduct tours at the Chesser Island Homestead, which is located along Swamp Island Drive. Ken’s volunteer work consists of recycling responsibilities and maintenance projects (minor repair work). We like that we do not work side-by-side because it gives us a break from one another and we have separate experiences to talk with each other about, which makes for good dinner conversation.

Our RV is situated in the area we call Volunteer Village and we are very comfortable in this environment. Laundry facilities are nearby as are the other volunteer couples, so it’s a cozy community. Last weekend we had tornado warnings and we left the RV and spent some time in a couple of different buildings located a quarter mile down the road. I was a nervous nelly about the whole thing and the day took an emotional toll on me, but Ken finally understood my worries and became quite supportive. We also had great support from our volunteer coordinator (Gracie); she checked in on us via text and kept us informed on weather conditions. It was nice to know that she was looking out for us and providing moral support. And, at the end of the day we made it through just fine.

Swamp Island Drive is a wildlife drive experience. The paved road is perfect for bicycle riding, walking, or driving personal vehicles. It’s a 7-8 mile roundtrip scenic drive with Longleaf Pines and Saw Palmettos on either side of the road. The borrow ditch and pond are obvious sites where one might spot a baby alligator or a full grown giant sized alligator. We spotted a raccoon on our last bicycle ride and once when we were out on the Boardwalk. We have many more hikes to take, but we did walk a couple of miles on the Longleaf Pine Trail.

This place is great for taking photos and I have already taken many, so I hope you enjoy looking through those attached to this post. You might notice photos of the blooming bushes (Azaleas and Camellia) while everyone back home is still experiencing freezing weather.

We are looking forward to visits from friends (Laurie, Robin & Jerry, and hopefully Connie & Rich). Anyone else wanting to catch a glimpse of one of the 25,000 alligators they have here should call soon because we are booking up, lol.

We are hoping for an early springtime for Missourians…

Yours truly,

Dorothy & Ken

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