Special to the Enterprise
William Clark III passed along one of the park’s serpentine and legless future additions to visitors during the Okefenokee Swamp Park Recovery, Rebuilding and Rediscovery (OSPREY) Project event, Saturday evening — and a Brantley company will play a major role in getting it there.
“We are just one more grant away from digging a trench from the outside world to bring interactive, fiber optic internet cable to the swamp. When we can do that, we will be able to broadcast interactive educational programming about the Okefenokee from here to the world and back,” said board chair Dr. William Clark.
Clark said that at this year’s meeting, they forwent the usual snake show during that specific part of the tour to instead pass along a piece of fiber optic cable to show Society members what their donations – with help from Brantley Telephone Company, a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation, CSX, the Ware County Board of Education and a lot of planning – were about to allow the swamp park to accomplish.
As it turns out, the park will be finally realizing a long term goal of feeding fiber optics to the Waycross entrance of the park allowing the group to finally stream its many classes around the world for the first time in history.
“The railroad and so many other industries and individuals have helped us to become a small city, but it is the Okefenokee Swamp Park that has put Waycross on the map. And now we are ready to take the opportunity to educate the traveling public and classroom students around the world about this unique ecosystem to the next level” said Clark.
The internet project has gone through many plans in the past with a tower even being proposed to route internet into and out of the park. But one of the park’s biggest attractions – it’s untouched seclusion – also worked against park officials who wanted to help spread knowledge about the swamp and its many creatures since they couldn’t send or receive a signal.
The next option, then, was running fiber optics out to the park and thanks to a low price on the operation from Brantley’s local telephone company, Clark said Saturday, that will happen. The new cable will mean not only that classes will be able to be taught across the world from on site at the park, but visitors will get a new dimension when coming in to explore with phone-scannable QR codes expected to be used around the park.
The codes would connection via wireless internet to informative sites to give visitors more information on park plants and wildlife – including the scaly green inhabitants for which it has long been known.
Clark said during the presentation that admission has done well in recent years after the slow recovery of the park from major fires and has covered the common costs associated with operation.
But donations from organizations through the OSPREY Project have helped the park maintain and expand its offerings from roof repair to the construction of new classrooms.
The park has since also added a new observation tower to replace the long-remembered structure lost in the fires.
In both making these upgrades and continuing forays into education, the park had also helped continue expansion of services founded by the park’s long-time resident expert – Don Berryhill who had worked for many years to bring Okefenokee education and resource sharing into the surrounding school systems.
Berryhill spoke during the event and met with the public as well.
The night served as a chance for donators for the community, around the region and even around the country to see what they had helped build and what was to come.
While rain slowed down some festivities, visitors were still treated to boat tours of the park, an alligator feeding and a meal of their own that included swamp favorites such as fried gator tail and frog legs – all catered by Peach Pit owner and Brantley native Jimmy Carroll.
The park was founded in October of 1946 and has since attracted millions of visitors from around the world as a unique window to the swamp.
But in recent years, major fires that have rampaged through the swamp have destroyed some of the parks most well known attractions including parts of the boardwalk and the observation tower.
Because of the 2007 and more recent 2011 fires, the non-profit organization has for the first time in over 60 years requested help from the public to rebuild and according to park officials, the public has been very generous in their support.
“At one point, closure of the Park was discussed. But our community responded by helping fund a recovery from the fires and continues to support ongoing improvements,” Clark said.