For Hitch #1, Dan Solmon and Nastia Abramova of Fish TrACS 2012 visited Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Our visit began with flights from Boise to Jacksonville, FL, and then a drive westward to the Apalichicola area of Florida’s Panhandle.
Once in the Panhandle, we began a trip around Florida’s coast. Most of our refuges were in wetlands near the coast, or on small islands. Our first three sites required boats to access. On these islands we helped a biologist track red wolves via radio telemetry, explored a logging town ruined in a 19th century hurricane, and walked the brick paved roads of a fort built to defend Tampa Bay during the Spanish-American War.
After the Tampa area, we visited the endangered scavenging Key deer on Big Pine Key, and surveyed several semi-flooded trails on mountain, or rather swamp/marsh bikes. After a weekend in the Keys, we made a well-timed trip up Florida’s Atlantic Coast, as Tropical Storm Debby drenched the Gulf Coast sites we had just visited, and several Atlantic sites we were son to visit.
The northward part of our trip took us to more Florida wetlands, where we surveyed trails in cypress swamps, man-made mosquito impoundments, learned about ambitious past attempts to drain the Everglades and ambitious contemporary attempts to restore the Everglades, and saw nesting sea turtles crawl to and from the ocean. After finishing the Florida sites with our first hatchery, we crossed our driving path just west of Jacksonville and headed into Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. We were able to spend part of our second weekend in the swamp exploring the famous canoe trails. We pushed our boat through thick grass under blazing sun at times, and shaded up under dense cypress stands at other times. We finished out our weekend in beautiful, historic, and humid Savannah, GA and on “Savannah’s Beach”, Tybee Island.
Week three began with three refuges in the Savannah Coastal Complex, two in Georgia and one in South Carolina. Highlights of the Savannah Coastal Complex included learning the fascinating history of Harris Neck NWR: from plantation to small farms to Army airfield to corrupt sheriff’s personal fiefdom to National Wildlife Refuge. We enjoyed a hearty cookout with Harris Neck staff and SCA interns, too. We were fortunate enough to visit Wassaw NWR, whose islands have never been logged or farmed, despite being very close to Savannah and Tybee. Our time in the Savannah Coastal Complex ended with a Fourth of July survey of Pinckney Island NWR in South Carolina. Located just across Skull Creek from popular Hilton Head Island, Pinckney’s trail system offered an excellent bench from which to view two of Hilton Head’s three fireworks shows, without the crowds and traffic of the vacation island.
The hitch concluded with two inland refuges, Santee in South Carolina and Pee Dee in North Carolina. In Santee we saw a vast man-made lake, the largest in South Carolina. Many of the farmers in the flooded area were compensated for the flooding of their land in 1941 with chickens, according to Santee NWR staff. After two days of surveying at Santee, we moved over to Pee Dee, in North Carolina’s Piedmont region, where we saw hills and gullies for the first time in three weeks. We finished our last refuge just as the fireflies were beginning to flicker in the darker forests, and set off into the sunset towards a Charlotte, NC hotel, and then back to Boise.
During our three weeks in the southeast, we had a wonderful time enjoying new environments, food, and if you’ll permit me to be trite, true Southern hospitality. It was a wonderful trip, with many new trails, new signs, and new features mapped for the USFWS.