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Florida

History & Ecology: Okefenokee Swamp, Amelia & Cumberland Islands

Alongside naturalists, discover the idyllic landscapes and unique wildlife of the Barrier Islands and Okefenokee Swamp. Plus, visit historic towns and learn about Civil War history.
Rating (5)
Program No. 11603RJ
Length
6 days
Starts at
1,499
Florida

History & Ecology: Okefenokee Swamp, Amelia & Cumberland Islands

Alongside naturalists, discover the idyllic landscapes and unique wildlife of the Barrier Islands and Okefenokee Swamp. Plus, visit historic towns and learn about Civil War history.
Length
6 days
Starts at
1,499
Program No. 11603 RJ
Prefer to enroll or inquire by phone? 800-454-5768
climate
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Prices displayed below are based on per person,doubleoccupancy.
DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Sep 26 - Oct 1, 2021
Small group
Starting at
1,499
Oct 3 - Oct 8, 2021
Small group
Starting at
1,499
DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Sep 26 - Oct 1, 2021
Small group
Starting at
1,849
Oct 3 - Oct 8, 2021
Small group
Starting at
1,849
6 days
5 nights
13 meals
5B 4L 4D
View Full Itinerary

At a Glance

Deep in the tangled swamplands of Okefenokee, prehistoric alligators wade through black water lakes in the shade of the cypress trees. Along the backwaters and beaches of Amelia and Cumberland Islands, terns and plovers nest, and storks and egrets dry their feathers in the Georgia sun. Encounter the vivid natural and human history on two beautiful barrier islands and the amazing Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge as you spot rare birds, dolphins, manatees and other wildlife in the marshes, forests, beaches and rivers with a local expert. Take a field trip to Cumberland Island to learn the history of the natives, missionaries, plantation owners, enslaved people and wealthy industrialists who lived there. And journey by trolley through historic Amelia Island to observe the uniquely gracious homes of another century.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Frequent getting on/off boats, trolleys, vans and buses. Walking up to 1.5-2 miles on two days. Standing and stairs, uneven walkways. The Cumberland Island visit will be a 4 mile hike or opt for a 2 mile hike on the island. No transportation on Cumberland.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Spend a full day exploring the wildlife, landmarks and landscapes of Cumberland Island National Seashore with a local expert.
  • Venture deep into the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp on a two-hour boat ride and 1.5-mile boardwalk exploration to learn about black water lakes, pond cypress and the American alligator.
  • Meet a soldier in period costume to learn the fascinating history of Fort Clinch, an important 1800s fortress for both Confederate and Union forces.

General Notes

Select dates are designated for small groups and are limited to 24 participants or less.
Featured Expert
All Experts
Profile Image
Kevin McCarthy
Kevin grew up in Gloucester, Mass. and settled in Fernandina Beach in 1968. He spent 41 years sailing the waters of northeast Fla. and southeast Georgia. He holds a 100 ton master’s license and developed his knowledge of the wildlife and history exploring the waters that surround Amelia Island, Cumberland Island and St. Mary's, Ga. Generations of Kevin’s family have been shrimpers, and he shares with participants his knowledge of shrimp farming and the future of the shrimp industry in the U.S.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Patrick Leary
Patrick Leary View biography
Patrick Leary is a lifelong naturalist and birder who is committed to coastal bird conservation, and conducts surveys and monitors populations of shorebirds year round. He is a contributing member of the American Oystercatcher and Red Knot Working groups, and collaborates with researchers studying Piping Plovers on the continent and in the Bahamas. Pat contributed to Florida’s initial Breeding Bird Atlas and has co-authored a local bird guide.
Profile Image of Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy View biography
Kevin grew up in Gloucester, Mass. and settled in Fernandina Beach in 1968. He spent 41 years sailing the waters of northeast Fla. and southeast Georgia. He holds a 100 ton master’s license and developed his knowledge of the wildlife and history exploring the waters that surround Amelia Island, Cumberland Island and St. Mary's, Ga. Generations of Kevin’s family have been shrimpers, and he shares with participants his knowledge of shrimp farming and the future of the shrimp industry in the U.S.
Profile Image of Ron Kurtz
Ron has been an Amelia Island resident for more than 30 years. After attending Hiram College, he graduated from New York University with a degree in educational theater. He served as the director of the Amelia Island Museum of History and wrote a highly regarded history of the island, now in its sixth printing, as well as a series of children's books. Ron has lectured on the history and architecture of the first coast for the Historic Preservation Trust as well as the Smithsonian Institution.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
The Golden Age of Amelia Island, Revised
by Suzanne Davis Hardee and Kathleen Davis Hardee Arsenault
Late 19th Century history/Adult
Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses
by Charles Seabrook
In Cumberland Island, Charles Seabrook uses his talent as an award-winning environmental writer to describe the island's natural bounty and to tell its long and intriguing history. You'll meet Catherine "Caty" Greene Miller, the widow of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene and the woman who inspired Eli Whitney to invent the cotton gin. She was also the inspiration behind Dungeness, the 30-room tabby mansion built on Cumberland Island in 1803. Another strong woman who currently resides on the island is Carol Ruckdeschel, a naturalist who was the subject of a John McPhee profile in the New Yorker in 1974. GoGo Ferguson and Carol were great friends until they disagreed on the future of the island. Their ensuing feud reveals the continuing debate among residents, conservationists, and developers about how the island should be managed. In Cumberland Island, Charles Seabrook provides a fascinating look into the history of one of America's greatest natural treasures.
Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp
by Megan Kate Nelson
This innovative history of the Okefenokee Swamp reveals it as a place where harsh realities clashed with optimism, shaping the borderland culture of southern Georgia and northern Florida for over two hundred years. From the formation of the Georgia colony in 1732 to the end of the Great Depression, the Okefenokee Swamp was a site of conflict between divergent local communities. Coining the term “ecolocalism” to describe how local cultures form out of ecosystems and in relation to other communities, Megan Kate Nelson offers a new view of the Okefenokee, its inhabitants, and its rich and telling record of thwarted ambitions, unintended consequences, and unresolved questions. The Okefenokee is simultaneously terrestrial and aquatic, beautiful and terrifying, fertile and barren. This peculiar ecology created discord as human groups attempted to overlay firm lines of race, gender, and class on an area of inherent ambiguity and blurred margins. Rice planters, slaves, fugitive slaves, Seminoles, surveyors, timber barons, Swampers, and scientists came to the swamp with dreams of wealth, freedom, and status that conflicted in varied and complex ways. Ecolocalism emerged out of these conflicts between communities within the Okefenokee and other borderland swamps. Nelson narrates the fluctuations, disconnections, and confrontations embedded in the muck of the swamp and the mire of its disorderly history, and she reminds us that it is out of such places of intermingling and uncertainty that cultures are forged.
Amelia Island
by Rob Hicks Dr (Author), Amelia Island Museum of History
Tiny Amelia Island, in the northeast corner of Florida, was once among the most important ports in the western hemisphere. Before Florida was granted statehood, the island served as an international gateway between Spanish Florida and the English colonies that would later become the United States. Where Spanish monks and pirates once roamed, the island eventually developed into a significant seaport that exported the rich resources of Florida's interior in the late 1800s. This era was known as the Golden Age of Amelia Island and the town located on its north end, Fernandina. The railroad that connected Amelia Island to the Gulf Coast was largely responsible for the Golden Age, as it brought a burgeoning economy and many of the South's most prominent and wealthy figures. Today the island is best known as a resort community but retains the influence and charm of its remarkable past.
Cumberland Island: A History
by Mary R. Bullard
Cumberland Island is a national treasure. The largest of the Sea Islands along the Georgia coast, it is a history-filled place of astounding natural beauty. With a thoroughness unmatched by any previous account, Cumberland Island: A History chronicles five centuries of change to the landscape and its people from the days of the first Native Americans through the late-twentieth-century struggles between developers and conservationists. Author Mary Bullard, widely regarded as the person most knowledgeable about Cumberland Island, is a descendant of the Carnegie family, Cumberland's last owners before it was acquired by the federal government in 1972 and designated a National Seashore. Bullard's discussion of the Carnegie era on Cumberland is notable for its intimate glimpse into how the family's feelings toward the island bore upon Cumberland's destiny.
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6 days
5 nights
13 meals
5 B 4 L 4 D
DAY
1
Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Fernandina Beach, Florida
D
Residence Inn by Marriott Amelia Island

Activity note: Check-in from 4:00 pm.

Afternoon: Program Registration: After you have your room assignment, come over to the Road Scholar table in the conference room to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing your name-tag, up-to-date schedule that reflects any last-minute changes, and to learn when and where the Orientation session will take place. If your arrival is delayed, please ask for your packet when you check in. Orientation: The Group Leader will greet everyone with a warm welcome and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer any questions you may have. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local conditions/circumstances. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: In the hotel meeting room, we’ll enjoy a catered buffet meal. Coffee, tea and water are included. Additional beverages available for purchase.

Evening: After dinner, in preparation for our trip to Cumberland Island, we will sit back, relax and watch a breathtaking video introducing us to this beautiful and enchanting Island.

DAY
2
Cumberland Island Full Day Field Trip
Fernandina Beach, Florida
B,L,D
Residence Inn by Marriott Amelia Island

Activity note: Getting on/off a ferry by embarking from land to the ferry by a ramp; the ride is about 1 hour. Be sure to bring at least two water bottles and wear comfortable walking shoes. Once on Cumberland Island, we will be walking the entire way, which is around 4.3 - 5 miles. The terrain is flat with crushed seashell.

Breakfast: Hot breakfast buffet served daily with fresh fruit, eggs, biscuits, waffles, pancakes, baked goods and breakfast meats with coffee, tea, fruit juice and water.

Morning: We will leave early to travel approximately 30 miles by motor coach to the Cumberland Island National Seashore located at St. Mary's, GA. We'll then board a ferry for a 45 minute boat ride to Cumberland Island, the state's southernmost and largest barrier island. We may even see dolphins and other wildlife on the way! Each person will have to carry their picnic lunch that is provided so bring a back pack. At the end of the day, we will board our ferry at 4:45 pm where our motor coach will meet us once again in St. Mary's. We'll need to take everything with us that we might need for the entire day. There are no stores on Cumberland Island and all trash brought on must be taken off, which includes our lunch trash. The day hike will take us along the river road and across the maritime forest onto the beach. It is a slow hike with an expert. There is one bathroom stop along the way at our lunch break area.

Lunch: We will carry our lunches with us so be sure and bring a back pack. Lunch will consist of a sandwich, fruit, cookie and water.

Afternoon: Continue Cumberland Island field trip. We’ll board the ferry at 4:45 pm for our return trip to Fernandina Beach.

Dinner: Hotel buffet.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
3
Amelia Island History, Field Trip, Ft Clinch, Island Ecology
Fernandina Beach, Florida
B,L,D
Residence Inn by Marriott Amelia Island

Activity note: History in the classroom. Trolley field trip around Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island getting on and off the trolley at select points of interest. Visit to Fort Clinch after lunch. Fort Clinch was built for war, not for safety! Stairs are steep and narrow, railings are absent, and walkways are uneven with many trip hazards. Two large ramps give visitors access to the rampart and gun deck with its 10-inch smoothbore cannon.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: Today will be a day of fascination and historical adventure. Through an expert led history in the classroom, learn about the history of the eight flags of Fernandina. First populated by the Timucuan Indian tribe, the area eventually became known as the “Isle of 8 Flags” because, since 1562, it has had the flags of France, Spain, Great Britain, Spain (again), the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States flying over it at one point or another. Afterward, on our trolley field trip, we will explore the downtown historic district of Amelia Island as our expert shares the story of the visionary whose exhilarating dream so stirred his neighbors that they agreed to move their entire town to the site of a plantation he owned, thereby creating "New" Fernandina in the 1850’s. From the "giant" Timucua Native Americans, to Spanish and French explorers, to the lawless spirit of pirates, to the dignified air of Victorian-era residents, Amelia Island has been home to diverse cultures that have left a truly exciting heritage. Expect the rare privilege of observing the uniquely gracious and historic homes of another century. Allow yourself to get in touch with efforts to preserve the nearly extinct, pristine architectural styles within a small, gifted American town struggling to retain its fragile sense of family and community as well as its birthright and historical integrity.

Lunch: At a popular local restaurant, located inside a charming historic downtown building, we’ll enjoy a delicious meal selected from a limited menu. An eclectic palette of colors, furnishings and a large garden patio shaded by huge oak trees will invite us to a fun and unique culinary experience. Water and tea are included with your meal. Additional beverages for purchase.

Afternoon: Fort Clinch State Park is a 1,086 acre outpost of pristine beaches and dunes, nature trails, ponds and salt marshes and the island's only campgrounds. Named for General Duncan Lamont Clinch, an important figure in Florida's Seminole War of the 1830's who also fought in the War of l812, the fort is one in a system of permanent coastal fortifications. Construction began in 1847 and was occupied briefly by the Confederate forces while it was still being built until it was eventually overrun by the Union troops. It has been meticulously preserved and will provide us with a glimpse as to what life was like over 150 years ago. While here, a re-enactor dressed in period uniform will take us back in time on a field trip around the fort while vividly describing what our ancestors may have experienced here. Inside Fort Clinch, visitors can tour five Bastions, Guard Rooms, a Prison, Enlisted Men’s Barracks, Bakery, Blacksmith Shop, Storehouses, Hospital, Kitchens, Lumber Sheds and Galleries. Every room inside Fort Clinch is furnished to re-create a depiction of the site as garrisoned by the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers in 1864. Close your eyes for a moment and you can almost hear the roar of the cannons!

Dinner: Hotel buffet.

Evening: Presentation on island ecology in hotel meeting room.

DAY
4
Amelia Island River Cruise, Free Time
Fernandina Beach, Florida
B,L
Residence Inn by Marriott Amelia Island

Activity note: Getting on/off a boat; vessel is wheelchair accessible; the boat is covered and may be closed to protect guests against inclement weather.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: As we cruise the backwaters of Amelia Island and Cumberland Island on a covered pontoon boat, enjoy the spectacular views while watching for rare birds, dolphins, manatees and other wildlife. We’ll glide back in time along the rivers, creeks and marshes that surround Amelia Island. Commentary along the way is provided by a local expert.

Lunch: On the riverfront at a well known restaurant, we’ll enjoy a meal featuring local specialties. Meal includes an entrée and dessert, coffee, tea and water. Additional beverages for purchase.

Afternoon: At leisure. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. You may wish to venture to the Amelia Island Museum, the historic village, or just relax on the beach. You are .3 miles from hotel to beach. The hotel has a shuttle from the hotel to town.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
5
Okefenokee Swamp
Fernandina Beach, Florida
B,L,D
Residence Inn by Marriott Amelia Island

Activity note: Getting on/off a boat; the covered boat ride is approximately 1.5 hours into the swamp; vessel is wheelchair accessible. Lunch on-site at the swamp.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: Officially identified as a “Wetland of International Importance,” the Okefenokee Swamp is composed of a wealth of various habitats including a multitude of black-water lakes, pine & oak forests, and freshwater marshes (locally called “prairies”) with floating flowering islands amid flooded lowlands covered by cypress, black gum, and shrubs. This enormous peat bog is host to a lively human history of “swamp culture” as well as to an infinitely beautiful and complex ecosystem of flora and fauna with perhaps the most notable residents of which being Florida black bears and American alligators. An expert will lead our field trip into the Okefenokee Swamp, one of America's most famous national wildlife refuges. If you are a birder, don't forget your binoculars as there are sure to be opportunities for viewing red-cockaded woodpeckers, sandhill cranes, owls, and others. Whatever your interest, have a camera with you as Okefenokee is one of the most picturesque and photographic places! Sunscreen, bug spray, water, snacks, are recommended for EVERYONE! Plan to wear sneakers or closed-toed shoes because you are going to be walking on the boardwalk (1.5 miles round trip) plus you will be taking a boat trip into the swamp. A hat and sunglasses will probably be something you don't want to forget. It is always recommended to be prepared for changing weather conditions in case an afternoon storm pops up!

Lunch: In the swamp, we’ll have a cookout lunch complete with a favorite local dessert.

Afternoon: We’ll then take a drive along Swamp Island Drive to explore the19th to early 20th century farmhouse located deep in the swamp that was home to a family for several generations. Fortunately, the property was saved from the fire of 2011 and has survived the constantly wet conditions of the environment, thereby sustaining the legacy of the “swampers” who once lived there. The boardwalk is 1.5 miles roundtrip. There will be a few benches to rest along the way.

Dinner: Enjoy a plated dinner at a local restaurant. Coffee, water and tea included. Additional beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Continue the fun visiting newfound friends on our final evening together.

DAY
6
Shrimping Industry, Program Concludes
Fernandina Beach, Florida
B

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: A local expert on shrimping will join us and speak about what is currently happening in the world of the industry. He comes from a family of shrimpers and will share some of the often surprising goings-on regarding how shrimpers make a living. This concludes our program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Please join our Facebook page and share photos of your program. Visit us at www.facebook.com/rsadventures. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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