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Vanderford's Travel Column


St. Marys is one of the last wild, scenic rivers

Canoeing and fishing through one of the most beautiful, natural settings in the South on one of the last remaining wild, scenic rivers in our country is still possible. This unforgettable experience can be accomplished on the historic St. Marys River near Folkston, Ga. by even a novice paddler with a little planning.
 
The physical character of the St. Marys River changes tremendously over the 135 miles that it traverses from its beginnings near Ellicott’s Mound in the heart of the Okefenokee Swamp until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near the southern tip of Cumberland Island. Nevertheless, the beauty of this natural river, throughout its length, is too magnificent to be described with mere words. 
 
Just below its headwaters in the Okefenokee Swamp, the St. Marys River is a small, beautiful stream that is slow when the water is low and quite swift after rainy periods. Majestic cypress forests outline the St. Marys River as it flows over and around sugar-white sandbars in every bend. When the river is low, these wide, sandy areas are excellent for campsites.
 
On the Florida side of the river, the St. Marys River Canoe Trail has been officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails. It begins at County Road 121 Bridge, which is north of Macclenny, Fla. Wildlife is abundant along this wilderness trail, especially herons, egrets, ospreys, turtles, and occasionally a bear or deer. 
 
Other access points are also possible, but some of these are private and may require a fee for launching or parking. The absolute best place to kick off any trip on the St. Marys River is on the Georgia side at Traders Hill Recreation Area, which was originally an Indian trading post known as Fort Alert that became the county seat of Charlton County in 1854. This 32-acre recreation park on the St. Marys River has a boat launch, campsites, fishing and swimming area, and a place to simply enjoy the natural beauty of the river. It is close to the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, and can be excellent for watching a variety of wading and woodland species of birds that are often seen in the waters and trees around the park. Amenities include plenty of RV hookups, tent campsites, showers, a dumping station, and picnic tables. In addition, canoe rentals, nature guides, parking and shuttle service to and from any of the available canoe launch areas south of the Okefenokee Swamp are available.
 
More than 65 species of fish have been identified in the St. Marys River, but largemouth bass, many species of sunfish, and several types of catfish can be found inhabiting much of the middle and upper portions of the St. Marys. At the river’s mouth, the estuarine system (the wide, lower portion of the river where the river current meets the ocean tide) provides fishing enthusiasts with an abundance of redfish, spotted sea trout and flounder. Anglers may fish both sides of the river, but need a Florida or Georgia fishing license. 
 
In the past, the most popular fishing and canoeing area has been the second stage of the river. This section starts at Highway 2 near St. George, Ga, and continues for 35 miles with a wider berth and slower current which allows more maneuverability for fishing, canoeing or kayaking. Nevertheless, the river still maintains the scenic beauty and intimacy it had upstream and has many sand beaches that are perfect for picnicking or camping.
 
The breathtaking beauty of the pristine, tannic acid tinted, dark waters of the St. Marys River is highlighted by extremely contrasting ribbons of pure, white sands on either side, and surrounded by a kaleidoscope of interesting flora and fauna. Also, the fishery for sunfish and bass in the river is certainly worthy of any angler’s time. Add to this the solitude of rarely seeing any manmade structures, boats or people, and any nature lover will realize that this wild, scenic river is one of the last of its kind on the planet.
 

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at 770-289-1543, at jfish51@aol.com or at his web site: www.georgiafishing.com.



May 2018 column

The timeless world of Rio Parismina in Costa Rica

The rainforest is a paradise of plumage that swoops through the tall tangled trees spreading seeds in the forest amid animal and bird songs that constantly fill the air. These are the thoughts that in moments of solitude have filled my mind for more than 25 years.
 
It is often said that you can never go back in time and find the same magic that had peaked all of your senses when you wore a younger man’s shoes. In some respects because of the natural aging process and the ever-changing world ... that is true, but time makes some things even better!
 
More than a quarter of a century ago, Judy Heidt, a beautiful lady from Texas, came to the mouth of the Parismina River on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica to do battle with the huge schools of 100 pound tarpon that live there. She loved it so much that she purchased 50 acres of land with the idea of building a retirement home. She had so many requests from friends to visit that her retirement home idea expanded into carving out space for a first class fishing lodge in the middle of the rainforest.
 
To further expand the visitation among anglers to the new Rio Parismina Lodge, Judy invited me and numerous other outdoor writers to experience and photograph the fabulous fishing, the breathtaking beauty of the rainforest and the unforgettable culinary opportunities.
 
All of us spent at least 10 days partaking of the world class fishing and other unique experiences. We returned home with a diverse collection of photos and stories that we have used in numerous articles since that time.
 
Recently, Judy invited me to return to her paradise on the Parismina River and to spend a week with Carlos Prendas, who was the same guide I had 25 years ago. With visions of the rainforest and memories of one of the best trips of my lifetime, I couldn’t say ‘Yes’ fast enough!
 
On my first trip to the Rio Parsimina Lodge, my interests had been more about the fantastic fishing, but this trip would be different. With better cameras and a deep yearning to see and photograph the natural diversity of the ageless rainforest, my eyes were soon opened wide to a world I had only slightly seen 25 years ago.
 
My first morning began with the deep bellowing sound of a tiny howler monkey, who sounded like King Kong, perched high in a mahogany tree! This was the first of many shocks to all of my senses as the rainforest is never quiet and seems to both startle and entertain intruders with a constant kaleidoscope of ever-changing sights and sounds.
 
I could go on forever trying to convey the overflowing cornucopia of the beauty in the Costa Rican rainforest, but I must save space for the photojournalism that says so much more! So, feast on the pictures and if you want to live the experience, contact the Rio Parismina Lodge at: www.riop.com.
 


April 2018 column

Newfoulndland is a winter wonderland

It would be difficult to locate any place on the globe where the experiences of meeting and interacting with the people would stand alone as a good reason to visit, but Newfoundland is just such a place. The inhabitants of this winter wonderland have been described as: “A warm and welcoming people with a vibrant spirit and strong sense of self, who live remarkable lives in a remarkable place. They rely and thrive on their own ingenuity and on the kinship of each other.”
 
In a time when many people think only of themselves, it is so different to discover a people who are genuine, uncomplicated, creative, honest, spontaneous, and fun-loving to the bone! They never forget the really important things in life … family, good friends, and good times.
 
Beyond the wonderful populace and countryside that has changed little in more than a hundred years, the raw, natural beauty of Newfoundland is simply breathtaking…  especially during the winter and early spring! Beneath the untouched blanket of snow lies a geological tapestry that would rival any other region in the world. 
 
Throughout the globe, the Gros Morne area is highly regarded for its complex geology and stunning scenery. It was here that geologists proved the theory of plate tectonics. The Tablelands, a mountain of flat-topped rock of a kind usually found only deep in the earth’s mantle, is an awe inspiring sight.

Most of this area of Newfoundland is part of an ancient seafloor and preserved ocean avalanches that were exposed by the collision of the Earth’s tectonic plates 500 million years ago. Gros Morne National Park offers this unique geological history and during the winter, the snow and ice produces a winter wonderland.
 
The absolute best way to see and experience Newfoundland in winter is on snowshoes. Step out into the freshness of the clean, snow-covered world of Newfoundland and learn to love the very distinct sound of snow crunching underfoot as it echoes through the quiet evergreen trees. You will wander through small fishing villages and visit spectacular seaside vistas. Experience the movement of ice pans in snow covered harbors, watch moose wandering across frozen bays, and visit artfully painted lighthouses along picturesque shorelines.
 
The more adventuresome can climb the sloping heights of a mountain ridge in Gros Morne while floating above the ground on a pristine blanket of snow and ice. One can traverse entire lakes and ponds that are below the snow, and take photographs that will be cherished forever.
 
Most trips into this part of Newfoundland begin with a flight into Deer Lake, which is a thriving little community in the heart of the best skiing and snowmobiling areas. Once reaching the sleepy little village of Rocky Harbour, which is very close to Gros Morne National Park, individuals or families should experience the traditional food and hospitality of a real Newfoundland family.
 
A Newfoundland breakfast is filling when prepared in the local style complete with anything from Eggs Benedict to waffles. However, be sure to request a traditional Newfoundland, hot supper during your stay. Your palate will be treated to the unique tastes of salt meat, peas pudding, many vegetables, something called ‘fluffy duff’ and steamed pudding for dessert … .and, it is all cooked together in the same pot!
 
For mostly geological and geographical reasons, Newfoundland is often referred to as the Edge of the Earth. After a visit to this unique location, however, it is said that you might never find another place that makes you feel both lost and found at the same time. 
 
The people are hardy, warm and unforgettable, the sounds, smells and natural beauty of this land attacks your senses from every direction, and like so many who have come to Newfoundland before me, I will always have a special place in my heart for this gorgeous island that sits out on the edge of the Earth!

March 2018 column

The beautiful winter solitude of Nova Scotia

Thousands of expressively-written articles have appeared throughout the globe of the tiny villages and vistas along Nova Scotia’s “Lighthouse Trail” and “Evangeline Trail” during summer, but little has been said about winter in this gorgeous setting. For any lover of photography, solitude, wonderful lodging opportunities or palate-pleasing food and drink, wintertime in Nova Scotia is the best!

Even in winter, these trails follow a path through a breathtaking landscape of coastal beauty and historic charm that has captured the hearts and minds of travelers for generations. One can traverse a snow and ice covered shoreline that passes rugged coves, bays and islands that have been sculpted by the winds and waves for centuries. All along these incredible vistas, sojourners can pause in historic towns and weathered fishing villages that lie quietly waiting for the coming spring.

Much of the Lighthouse Trail follows a route where time seems to have stood still. Along this path, many of the trail’s namesake lighthouses can be seen and photographed in a winter setting that few have experienced.
 
Trips to Nova Scotia normally begin with a flight into the Halifax International Airport, which is northeast of the city. The most direct route from the airport to the Lighthouse Trail or the Evangeline Trail is via Highway 101 going northwest out of Halifax. Though numerous side trips could be taken, I would suggest the first stop be in the quaint little town of Wolfville, which is a picture perfect valley town. This was the site of the Acadian Deportation and the setting for Longfellow’s famous poem, “Evangeline.”

Many of the exiled French found their way south to Louisiana, where “Acadian” was transformed into “Cajun.” Those who remained in Nova Scotia, or returned from exile, have a distinct link to and love for the Cajun culture and unique cuisine.
 
The Evangeline Trail parallels the Bay of Fundy coast, passing through many historical villages that were built by early European settlers. This sojourn along the picturesque Bay of Fundy covers more than 400 years of settlement through valleys, farms and fishing villages that shows a wealth of diverse landscape, European charm and rugged natural beauty. The Bay of Fundy alone is worth the experience with its phenomenal tides that sometimes vary over 50 feet from high to low.

Even in winter, one of the most picturesque villages along the Evangeline Trail is Annapolis Royal, which is a beautiful community nestled in the Annapolis Valley, and originally inhabited by a native Mikmaq community. In 1605, however, the area became home to some of North America’s earliest European settlers. 
 
Annapolis Royal offers a waterfront shopping area, some great restaurants, a downtown area that has been designated a National Historic District and a great selection of lodging within walking distance of the downtown area with all of the eateries and an exciting arts and theatre community.
 
Before departing the Fundy coast, take a short drive south to Bear River and Digby. Both of these little towns are rich in history, but Digby is more famous for its tasty scallops, while Bear River is known for its arts and crafts.
 
From Bear River, it’s time to climb into the hills and visit Kejimkujik, which is the only inland national park in the Maritimes. It features abundant frozen lakes and rivers that are ideal for snow shoeing or cross-country skiing. The woodlands and gently rolling landscapes of the park have many beautiful trails.

From the high ground and wilderness of Kejimkujik, it is a beautiful drive down to Liverpool, which is known as the “Port of the Privateers.” One can wander through the galleries of famous local artists, visit the historic Astor Theatre or photograph an unspoiled Atlantic coastline dotted with six lighthouses. It is a destination with many interesting vistas.
 
As one turns north on the Lighthouse Trail toward Halifax, you will be thrilled by some of the best and most famous landscapes in Nova Scotia. During the summer months, the tourist traffic would be almost impossible to navigate, but throughout the winter, solitude is the norm.

Visitors can cross the LaHave River on a cable ferry and meander through the colorful buildings in the old town of Lunenburg, which is a UNSECO world heritage site. Lunenburg is the birthplace of the world famous schooner “Bluenose” and the newer, “Bluenose II” which remains an important tourist attraction in the town. Wooden boat building has always been an important business in Lunenburg, and the building of classic dories is still popular. Tourism, however, is now Lunenburg’s most important industry and many thousands visit the town each year. A number of restaurants, inns, hotels and shops exist to service the tourist trade including the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.
 
The original inhabitants of Lunenburg were primarily Germans from the southern Rhineland, and Swiss and French Protestants from Montbeliard. Many of these first families and their descendants still inhabit and influence the development of the town in modern times.

Slightly further to the north is the town of Mahone Bay that is known for great churches, gazebos and a gorgeous waterfront. This tidbit, however, prepares one for the first look across the water to the famous lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, which is part of a tiny, painted fishin village that was randomly erected around a perfect Atlantic inlet, and has become the most photographed place in North America during the summer months. Nevertheless, few have had the opportunity to capture its beauty during the magical winter period.

With a head and camera full of unforgettable pictures of a Nova Scotia that few outsiders have seen and wonderful memories of the friendly people that were encountered, I had to return to Halifax and a flight back home. Most of the time, I am ready and eager to hop that plane, but even a week isn’t enough time to absorb the raw beauty and history of Nova Scotia and its unique people. Therefore, even before I left, I made a promise to myself that one day in the future I would return to this Maritime Winter Wonderland!

February 2018 column

Ancient Georgia coastal forts saved the colonies

Nearly 300 years ago, the young British colonists were aware that a coming battle with the Spanish over land and sea rights along the Georgia Coast was imminent. Therefore, General James Oglethorpe began building fortifications like Fort King George in Darien and Fort Frederica on Saint Simons Island to thwart the Spanish advance.

With the Spanish fleet and 5,000 armed soldiers bearing down on his tiny stronghold on St. Simons Island, General James Oglethorpe tried desperately to keep them from landing. His diminutive fort at the southern tip of the island, however, couldn’t hold them back, so he spiked his canons and retreated to his main base at Fort Frederica. His next move would change world and American history!

After taking Fort St. Simons, the Spanish soldiers began marching up Military Road toward Fort Frederica on the morning of July 7, 1742 with about 180 men, but were driven back by the English in the Battle of Gully Hole Creek. This caused the Spanish to retreat toward their main army, but the English followed. Brilliantly, Oglethorpe positioned a company of local Highlanders from Darien in a wooded area overlooking a marsh that the Spanish would have to traverse. Though the ensuing battle has been embellished often, it is said that even though only seven soldiers were killed, the blood of the Spanish turned the marsh red ... thus the name: The Battle of Bloody Marsh.

Despite having an overwhelming numbers advantage, these two skirmishes caused the Spanish to hesitate long enough for Oglethorpe to plant a seed of doubt about the size of his forces. Action of English ships also led the Spanish to believe they were in grave danger, so on July 15, they retreated back to St. Augustine and never returned.

The oldest fort in Coastal Georgia is Fort King George constructed in 1721 as the southernmost British outpost to defend against the French, Spanish and Indians. It was destroyed by fire in 1726 and rebuilt the following year, then manned by a colonial company until 1732.

The modern reconstruction of the fort with its sturdy blockhouse, old sawmill and historic British cemetery has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located just outside the shrimping village of Darien, and the authentic restoration of the fort and grounds is well worth a visit.
 
Probably the most famous British fort is Fort Frederica that was built around 1736 to protect the village and control the inland passage up the Georgia Coast. It was constructed of earth, timber and rock tabby, and armed with heavy canon and British soldiers. The site of the fort and the village is preserved today as Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island. “When one visits Fort Frederica, they are reminded of what was once a thriving town with major significance in securing the future of the new colony,” stated Leslie Amerine, Georgia Visitor Information Center Manager. This is a side trip that is well worth the time to see.
 
The one Coastal Georgia fort that was built primarily to defend the port of Sunbury on the Medway River against the British during the Revolutionary War is Fort Morris. It is a very small earthen, rectangular bastion of no more than one acre, but in 1778 was manned by 200 men and 25 canon. When Fort Morris was finally attacked by superior English forces, the Americans were asked to surrender. According to Arthur C. Edgar, Jr., Manager at Fort Morris State Historic Site, Col. John McIntosh of the Continental Troops replied, “We, sir, are fighting the battle of America and therefore disdain to remain neuter till its fate is determined, so come and take it!”

Because of the bold challenge to the British colonel, he ordered a withdrawal to avoid heavy casualties on his men from the canon. By sundown the English were in full retreat, and the British invasion of Georgia had been defeated. Colonel McIntosh became an American hero for his courage and defiance at Fort Morris, and Georgia’s Legislature voted to honor him with a sword inscribed with his famous words, “Come and take it!”

Though not much is left to see at Fort Morris today, the site near Midway, Ga. has a museum, walking trail, picnicking, interpretive signs and the ruins. They are open Thursday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but closed Sunday and Wednesday.

Throughout Georgia history, forts built along the Georgia Coast protected colonists from the Spanish, French and Indians, and later attempted to ward off advances by the British during our War for Independence. The beauty is that many of these forts and sites have been saved or reconstructed so that all visitors can see and learn about our fabulous, but sometimes violent history

January 2018 column

Savannah's historic forts are worth a visit

Unknown to many Georgia residents, some architectural masterpieces were built as forts to secure Savannah and its port from Union forces before and during the War Between the States. These were phenomenal state-of-the-art engineering structures for their time that were practically obsolete before they were finished because of the advancement in the tools of warfare.
 
Slightly south of downtown Savannah on the river is Old Fort Jackson, which was constructed in 1808 and is the oldest standing brick fort in Georgia. It is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Since this gorgeous old fort is slightly off the beaten path, few visitors to Savannah ever have the pleasure of seeing or experiencing this historic treasure.
 
“While visiting Old Fort Jackson,” said Holly Elliott, Coastal Heritage Society PR & Marketing Director, “it’s easy to feel transported to a different century. Located at a strategic spot on the Savannah River, the site has a distinct vantage point of downtown Savannah, while being a comfortable distance away from the city’s crowds.”
 
Though Fort Jackson was used during the War of 1812, it is primarily known for being the headquarters of Confederate forces throughout the War Between the States. Every day, costumed interpreters give visitors an idea of what day-to-day life as a soldier was like, and two canon firing programs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. are very exciting.
 
Just a few miles farther south is one of the most complete and beautiful forts still in existence in America. Fort Pulaski National Monument on Cockspur Island near the mouth of the Savannah River is a true engineering masterpiece of the 19th century! It is a five-sided fortification that was begun in 1829, and the officer who is credited with designing its complicated channels and dykes that kept the waters away from workers was Lieutenant Robert E. Lee.
 
Named after Revolutionary War hero Count Casimir Pulaski, the fort was completed in 1844, but was minimally manned until the War Between the States in 1861. Even before the South seceded from the Union, Fort Pulaski was taken by a local Georgia militia.
 
In December of 1861, federal forces took nearby Tybee Island and began installing batteries of newly-designed rifled canon. They were ready and began shelling the fort with pinpoint accuracy on 10 April, 1862, and though the Confederate forces fought valiantly with their outdated canon, they surrendered in less than 24 hours.
 
The use of rifled artillery at Fort Pulaski forever changed military thinking about coastal defenses. Works of brick and mortar could no longer stand up against the powerful rifled cannon, and America would never again build a brick fortress to defend its harbors.
 
Though Fort Jackson can be enjoyed in a few hours, it would be impossible to take in all that Fort Pulaski has to offer. From my experiences of having visited this magnificent structure many times throughout my lifetime, I would suggest that you come as a family or group, bring a lunch and give yourself a whole day to become immersed in wonderful Georgia history!


 
 
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