By Hannah E Jones
Last weekend, nine Folkston County families embarked on their first-ever camping trip. For two days and nights, the parents and children engaged with nature in ways they had never done before—sleeping in tents, eating meals by the fire, and trying out various outdoor activities in the Okefenokee Swamp when Part of a program designed to help people connect with nature.
Camp Charlie is a camping weekend primarily aimed at families who want to experience the great outdoors with their children but lack the knowledge and resources. The program was created by the Georgia Wildlife Federation (GWF) in 2012 and is offered approximately once a year. Camp Charlie’s aim is to increase residents’ appreciation for nature, a crucial first step towards conservation.
those years Camp Charlie was hosted by GWF in partnership with Sow seeds outside the walls, Friends of Georgia State Parks and Okefenokee Adventure.
“Camping seems to be one of them [activity] that intimidates people, and it can feel more intimidating than it actually is,” said DeAnna Harris, GWF Conservation Resource Manager. “By the end of the weekend, not everyone may start camping with their family, but they can join a specific activity — hiking, an outdoor BBQ, anything. The hope is to engage and connect people with nature in ways they haven’t been before.”
On Friday, November 4, the nine families, along with several volunteers and representatives, gathered at the South Georgia campsite and shared a campfire dinner. The next day, the families learned about the cultural and ecological importance of the country through a presentation Cherokees of Georgia Representative and Okefenokee Adventures.
They got active, too — trying out outdoor classics like fishing, bird watching and canoeing, followed by an evening cruise through the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. For many of the campers, this was the first time they had cast a line or paddled an oar.
“Our focus was really to connect the people of Folkston to the swamp,” Harris said. “The goal is that everyone wants to go out on their own.”
Trying something new, especially in an area known for its alligator population, takes courage. Sowing Seeds founder Antwon Nixon can understand that – this was also his first time camping.
“I don’t know anyone who camps. A lot of us don’t do things because we’re not exposed to them, so naturally we tend to say no,” Nixon said. “But having a new thought can change your whole life. Camp Charlie was something I saw as bridging the gap – bringing the community together, taking families out of the budget and enjoying the great outdoors instead.”
Nixon recalled one woman over the weekend proclaiming she was “here for everything,” even activities that were completely new to her. In fact, she tried them all and even led her family’s canoe trip, despite having learned how to do it a few minutes beforehand.
“Once you’ve tried something, you can overcome the hurdles,” Nixon said. “It wasn’t just a camping trip for me — it was a spiritual trip, a community trip.”
He added: “The turnout was incredible. When I saw everyone taking it and asking when the next one is, it showed me that the [trip] worked.”
Fostering a local appreciation of the swamp and its natural wonders has been particularly important of late, and Twin Pines Minerals is committed to this mine within three miles of the swamp. Nixon hopes this camping trip was a step towards more education and action.
“I’d really like to see the whole community come together and get involved [the Okefenokee Swamp]’ said Nixon. “Too often we see money dictating everyone’s decisions. people are [making decisions] under our noses and we don’t even know it. But once you do, I feel obligated to do something.”