Growing up in Folkston, the Okefenokee has always been part of my life and part of my story.
As the largest blackwater swamp in the U.S., the Okefenokee is part of many stories of South Georgia communities and our identity. I am happy to support the efforts underway to designate our prized swamp as a World Heritage Site. The designation will be an opportunity to introduce many other people to the Okefenokee, so it can be part of their story too.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Okefenokee Swamp Park and other organizations have done a lot of work to nominate the site. These groups launched the Okefenokee Experience to offer a regional vison for how the communities around the swamp can work together to bring economic development and job opportunities to Charlton, Ware and Clinch Counties, and help secure the designation as a World Heritage Site. A great deal of work has gone into gathering the information and data needed to simply nominate the site. I’m a family man, pastor, and full-time employee, so I don’t have the time and expertise needed to get that work done alone. I am thankful for their initiative, because we need these groups to help open doors for investment in our community.
The data collection and laying of groundwork has been going on for about a year, but the effort is only beginning. From what I understand it will be a long process and will require a lot more work – investment from private foundations and governments and investment of the locals’ time, ideas, and energy.
From what I understand, local participation is an important part of the World Heritage process.
Now is the time for Charlton County residents to engage with our organizational partners to influence efforts to fulfill the Okefenokee Experience, promote the designation, and be part of the positive change for our future.
An easy way to engage now is for county residents to sign the petition to Save the Historic John Harris School. This distinctive school building is in disrepair, but with financial help it can become a welcome center and museum and part of the regional Okefenokee Experience. The petition encourages our County Commissioners to simply not tear down the school. By not demolishing the school, the County can redirect about $200,000 to other areas of need and can reserve the opportunity to make the historic school great again. Our regional and federal partners are making progress to bring in funding for the effort, but these things take time. We just need the Commissioners to grant us the time needed to secure the funds.
Secondly, I invite all my Charlton County neighbors to join me at a listening session to hear more about how Folkston and the John Harris School tie into the Okefenokee Experience and to share ideas for 1) how we would like the refurbished school used and 2) what we would like the regional vision to bring to Folkston. Date, time and location to follow as I continue to organize this fellowship. Please feel free to come and share your ideas along with us.
I am blessed to be from Folkston, a community so intimately tied to the Okefenokee Swamp. I am proud to call it home, and I want to introduce other people to this place. I believe we can benefit from the regional vision of the Okefenokee Experience and the World Heritage Site designation. But we must come together as a community to voice our ideas for implementing this regional vision and ensure positive change for our future.
Rev. Antwon Nixon
Outside the Walls 501c3