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Swamp of dreams

AUGUSTA — The Phinizy Swamp Nature Park turns a man-made wetlands into an educational and recreational wonderland.

And a day trip to Phinizy Swamp sparks wonder about a similar facility planned on the Congaree River in Richland County.

Owners of the Green Diamond property on the Congaree still need to determine whether they can make a constructed wetlands environmentally safe and financially worth the effort. If hikers, bikers and bird lovers in the Midlands spend some time at Phinizy Swamp, they will come away pulling for Green Diamond to make it happen.

The 1,100-acre park south of Augusta features several large ponds designed to allow nature to filter contaminants out of water from the nearby municipal sewer plant. While the wetlands are artificial in creation, there’s nothing artificial about the cattails, grasses and cypress trees or the variety of wildlife they attract.

Hikers can explore several short interpretive trails around the visitors center. Pick up a trail guide with educational information about the many stopping points along the trail.

Bikers get an interesting view, too, gazing down from the miles of berms separating the ponds. The gravel, dirt or grass roads on the berms are ideal for mountain bikes and wide-tire beach cruisers.

Wildlife flocks to the ponds. Just a hop from the Savannah River, the park serves as a hotel for hundreds of migrating species. This is one of the few places bikers can bird-watch while pedaling along.

Several species of ducks scattered as I rolled past each pond on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon. Two red-tailed hawks squawked angrily overhead. Barred owls called from the few forested areas. A great egret swooped down, as if expecting a handout. A variety of warblers filled the air at one bend in the trail.

If you slow down, you might spot gators, otters or turtles in the ponds. Bobcats lurk in the woods. Reptiles are everywhere.

If you want exercise, you can ride for miles without worrying about vehicles. It’s a great place for a kid learning to ride.

Phinizy Swamp is a project of non-profit Southeastern National Science Academy, which runs field trips at the park for thousands of students each year.

The general public gets a field-trip experience at Swamp Saturdays, a free program offered at 9:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of each month. Other nature programs are sprinkled throughout the calendar.

Phinizy Swamp is the kind of place parents might want to take young children several times each year. Of course, Midlands residents aren’t likely to make the drive to Augusta that often. If the Green Diamond proposal works out, though, the drive to a similar facility could be much shorter.

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.

PHINIZY SWAMP

A 1,100-acre education and recreation facility south of Augusta

DIRECTIONS: Take I-20 west into Georgia to exit 196A (I-520). Take I-520 to exit 10 (Doug Barnard Parkway). Turn right and go about 1 mile before turning left on Lock and Dam Road. Go about half a mile and turn left at the park sign. The parking area is just ahead on the left.

HOURS: Noon to dusk weekdays and dawn to dusk on weekends and holidays

COST: Entrance is free; there are some fees for special programs.

INFORMATION: (706) 828-2109 or www.naturalsciencesacademy.org/PhinizySwamp.htm

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