Sam Burnham, Curator
Down in the low country the marsh, the river, and the ocean all meet up. It’s a thing of beauty. It makes for good pictures but a camera can’t really capture it. Along the Georgia Coast, various circumstances have protected such environments. Government designations as well as private owners declining the opportunity to overdevelop have ensured such natural beauty lives on.
Crooked River State Park in Camden County is one such location. Visitors have the option of cottages or camping and the permanent residents provide an excellent location to escape that hustle of modernity. The flora, fauna, and landscape provide a taste of what is found on Cumberland Island. Trails give hikers access to the maritime forest as well as breathtaking views along the riverbank. The boat ramp gives boaters access to fishing as well as another perspective on the landscape.
The river is wide here. The water is slow as it reaches the end of its journey to the sea. Some of it is more fatigued by such an odyssey and tarries along the bank forming a coastal marsh. This is where one might encounter one of Georgia’s leftover dinosaurs. The American alligator thrives in this environment. Even if you don’t see a gator, you’ll notice their slides or tracks. They’re never far away. Without obstruction, the view over the marsh seems endless and one wonders if there is really an ocean out there or if the marsh stretches to Morocco. This has to be seen in person to be appreciated. The vastness is lost in photos.
Back on solid ground expect an encounter with yet another dinosaur. This is the natural habitat of the gopher tortoise. These reptiles wander at will. Drive carefully as this is their home and you are their guest. They’ll oblige you with excellent photo opportunities if you give them their space. These creatures are quicker and more graceful than the fables suggest. Just don’t run them down trying to make them prove that.
These tortoises are threatened due to loss of habitat. This is problematic because these animals provide shelter for others. Gopher tortoise burrows can be up to 70 feet long and 20 feet deep. With such a burrow, other animals in the long leaf pine habitat take up residence in them as well. Various snakes, including the Eastern Indigo, as well as mammals, lizards, and insects take shelter from weather and fire in tortoise burrows. Scientists have even discovered insect species that have never been seen outside of a gopher tortoise burrow. Nicknamed “nature's landlord,” the gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species meaning that it provides more for its overall habitat than its population would warrant. This is a pivotal animal in the survival of the long leaf pine habitat.
These animals live about 90 years in the wild but don’t reach sexual maturity until around age 20 so they aren’t a sustainable food source. This isn’t good for them as they are reportedly quite tasty and were called “Hoover chickens” during the Great Depression, being used for meat where few other options existed.
All that to say, these animals were a highlight of the trip.
There is a lot to see in this park. Hiking, biking, boating, fishing, camping, they even have a miniature golf course. A stop here would be a great addition to any visit to the Georgia Coast.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire