In Their Own Words
by Jay and Erin Blanton

When you picture camping in a swamp, it may not sound like fun….the idea seemed intimidating to us when we first heard it! After we actually experienced it, we saw firsthand how amazing it is. We paddled 3 miles to the Cedar Hammock Canoe Shelter in late October 2019, during my Artist in Residency at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It was only one night, with a few refuge volunteers, but we were hooked! 

Less than a month later, we booked a three night paddling trip, staying at three different canoe shelters in the swamp. We paddled over 25 miles on that trip- it’s not as tiring as it sounds! Since then, paddling through the Okefenokee has become a Thanksgiving tradition that we look forward to every year!

There’s almost something magical about paddling through untouched wilderness, not seeing any people and not hearing any distant vehicles for days at a time. 

This is our happy place; it's peaceful and relaxing and you go days at a time without seeing other people! We can't wait to get back out in the canoe!

The alligators, snakes and spiders aren't bothersome! The birds can be a little noisy, but that's all.  

As we approached the camping platform, we noticed it was completely covered in leaves; there was a large river birch tree over the platform that had vivid fall color!

I'm surprised that more people aren't aware of just how vivid the fall colors are inside of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge! If more people knew just how vibrant the colors can be inside the swamp in the Fall, they would come from all over to see the cypress trees during their peak. 

When we were in middle school, a man named Okefenokee Joe would come every year to our school and teach us about local wildlife…At the time, we didn't really understand, we just thought the animals he brought were really cool…It was only years later when we were able to spend time in Swamp ourselves that we realized how important the message was that Okefenokee Joe was trying to spread. 

Our first trip sparked an appreciation for the peace, solitude and dark skies in the swamp that's kept us coming back for more every year... it's become a yearly tradition!

While we were at the Okefenokee during our Artist in Residency, we met a lot of great people who shared their travel experiences with us. It helped us realize there's a whole lot out there that we could explore and photograph. Neither one of us grew up traveling and didn't really think it was an option for us, but that has changed because of our experiences at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Now we love exploring state parks and federal lands whenever we can. We even went to national parks when we visited Ireland a couple years ago.