Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/617

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613
OKEFINOKEE SWAMP

cypress the most important timber is the pine on the islands, but there is still so much of the same outside of the swamp that this comparatively inaccessible supply has not yet been drawn upon for lumber or turpentine. For the various hardwood species which inhabit the swamp there has been as yet almost no demand, and even in the easily accessible small swamps in the surrounding pine-barrens they have scarcely been touched.

The vast quantities of peat in the swamp will doubtless be useful for fuel at some future time, when coal and wood become considerably scarcer than they are now. Capt. Jackson had some of the swamp muck analyzed and found 85 per cent, of it combustible.

Doubtless the most absorbing economic question with regard to Okefinokee Swamp is whether it will be feasible to drain it. The popular demand for indiscriminate drainage of swamps will apparently never be satisfied as long as Okefinokee continues to exist. The arguments against swamp drainage in general, set forth in a recent article,[1] need not be repeated here, but a few points which apply to this swamp in particular deserve to be mentioned.

As the swamp is about 100 feet higher than the St. Mary's Elver at the other end of the six-mile drainage ditch, it would seem a comparatively simple matter to empty it that way, until it is recalled that the surface of the swamp slopes slightly in the other direction, and most of the water discharges into the Suwannee River. Col. Hunter estimated in 1857 that the swamp could be drained for $1,067,250, but Capt. Jackson, soon after the dredging operations of the Suwanee Canal Company began, expressed the opinion that to drain the swamp thoroughly would require over 300 miles of canals, besides a considerable deepening of the drainage ditch, which is already about 100 feet wide at the top of the ridge.

It was expected that the swamp muck when drained would make a soil of surpassing richness, but experiments made with it where it was thrown up on the banks of the canal gave only negative results. This might have been anticipated from the nature of the surrounding country, which is completely covered with quartz sand, so that the few streams emptying into the swamp carry practically no mineral matter. The sour humus of the swamp might perhaps be dug out and used to advantage on strongly calcareous soils, but there are no such soils within a convenient distance.

A sudden draining of the swamp would be disastrous in several ways. In the first place, it would kill the fish and other aquatic animals, and would probably be detrimental to the health of the surrounding country in other ways. Then it would put an end to the production of cypress timber, for which the swamp seems to be best


  1. Southern Woodlands, 2: 46-67, August, 1908. See also Science, N. S., 28: 525, October 16, 1908; Literary Digest, 37: 890, December 12, 1908.