GH Tours Blog

Lovetown USA Visiting Kingsland

Kingsland Ga has been all a-twitter with talk of the Oprah Winfrey Network coming to town. The anouncement was made this past week that they will be coming back the week of November 28th. This is really exciting news for a small town on the Georgia Coast. When in the area, get of of I-95 and see what Kingsland has to offer.

"Our community has the opportunity to be featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network's upcoming Lovetown USA television show, but to achieve that we need many people to submit casting applications. You don't have to live in Kingsland to be a part of this program. It's our entire community! If you are single or know someone who is single, please take a look at a chance to change your life.

You can stop by the Kingsland Welcome Center during normal business hours to complete a casting application for submission. We will be happy to assist in completing the application and to answer any questions you may have. We can also take a photo of you to be submitted with your application and turn everything into the network for you! It doesn't get much easier than that!"

Through Their Eyes - Okefenokee Fires

Through Their Eyes

Professional Reflections on Fires Present and Past within the Okefenokee Swamp
Written by Jim Burkhart, Honey Prairie Fire Information Officer


Refuge staff took advantage of recent circumstances to interview two life long residents of Fargo, Georgia who had major personal involvement with the historic fires of 1954-55 and were also intensely interested witnesses to the historic fires of 2007 and 2011 on the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Barney Cone, now 93 years young, worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1950 -1977. Although his career accomplishments are most noted for his law enforcement efforts to catch and deter poachers, Barney spent a major portion of his career performing maintenance duties as well as forestry related functions like prescribed burning and fire line preparation. He often worked maintenance projects alone and had some “harrowing experiences“  that were “too close for comfort”. Barney operated the only tractor/plow unit the refuge owned during the 1954-55 fires. He once had to plow a clearing around himself and his tractor and start a backfire to avoid a wildfire that had surrounded him. He was quite familiar with the interior reaches of the swamp, having spent a major portion of his time patrolling the swamp and numerous hours in surveillance and undercover attempting to apprehend poachers and trespassers using the refuge illegally. Barney was also very personable and developed a close personal working relationship with all of the refuge neighbors. He was a valued “refuge ambassador “ who worked tirelessly with the large commercial timber companies (Langdale, Superior Pine, Rayonier, etc.) that surrounded the swamp.  His mind is still clear and his memories are very vivid and detailed as he conversed about his experiences with these fires.

J.T. Steedley, just a hair over 80 years of age, worked for the Langdale Corporation for most of his life including periods of his childhood.  He grew up with members of the Langdale family and that activity afforded him an opportunity to pursue his love of forestry locally. His company career spanned a fifty-two year period working the commercial pine plantations in and around the Council, Ga. area.  Mr. Steedley often worked alone and experienced some close calls in his career. He mentioned several occasions when he dropped everything and ran as fast as possible to avoid being trapped by fire. His beloved tractor was also retired along with him and restored to near original condition. The tractor is on display in the Georgia Forestry Commission main office in Macon, Ga.   Mr. Steedley was also able to vividly detail his various fire assignments in and around the 1954-1955 fire period.  Many of his comments on past, recent , and current fires were very similar to Mr. Cone’s despite being interviewed separately.

Both of these firefighting veterans were very candid in their comments regarding the similarities and differences where they had first hand experience versus their observations of the fires of 2007 and 2011. Similarities mentioned include: weather; equipment; burn out; prescribed burning; cooperators; surveillance; food and water; calculating acreages and predicting routes of travel; safety concerns; and public concern.  Differences discussed included: Incident Command System; Logistical Support; Meteorology; Surveillance Technology; Fire Information; Communication and Computer Improvements; G.O.A.L.; Free Ranging Cattle; and Emphasis on Pulp Wood.


  1. Weather – all three incidents occurred during prolonged droughts.  Both of these retired firefighters agreed that fire activity during the incidents was very unpredictable and at times fuels seemed to explode almost simultaneously. Drainages and dry creek beds which are normally choked with vegetation growing in water were very dry and volatile. These same areas seemed to be where the fire was able to move most rapidly in which ever direction the wind and drainage carried it.
  2. Equipment- heavy equipment like tractor plow units were very scarce everywhere. The Georgia Forestry Commission and the Florida Division of Forestry were the primary sources for this type of equipment. The larger commercial timber companies (Langdale, Superior Pine, Rayonier) also owned some heavy equipment and employed full time staff to operate them,
  3. Use of Burn Out – referred to today as Strategic Fuel Reductions, this technique involves the burning off of fuel in front of an approaching head fire. This technique is used to slow down the forward progression of a head fire and limiting the occurrence of spot fires.

Slower forward progress enables tractor plow units to pinch off the head fire by narrowing the path of fuel available to burn. Barney commented that “I believe that burn outs were used around here before I was born”.

  1. Prescribed burning- this is another technique that has been around for a long time. Barney commented that “although the refuge staff burned the uplands around the swamp regularly (about every 3 years) it was not until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that the refuge staff began to prescribe burn the swamps interior islands. Mr. Steedley offered that “ prescribed burning in the fifty’s and sixties was easier to accomplish because the trees were taller and older. These trees were specially grown and sold as poles as there was less emphasis on pulp production at that time. What also helped were “free range” cattle grazing most everywhere and there were very few places with “ladder fuels” (shrubs and climbing vines growing  several feet into the air)tall enough to let the flames get into the crowns of the trees where they would affect growth rates.”
  2. Cooperators- both of these savvy outdoorsmen were in agreement that without neighbors willing to share resources and work together for the common good the results of these fires could have been truly devastating. When fighting wildfire in the woods timber companies, state firefighting agencies from Georgia and Florida, refuge staff and private citizens were sharing whatever they had in the struggle to protect each other and the resources at risk.
  3. Surveillance – the majority of their intelligence was gained through “seasoned veterans” working on the ground. Fortunately, state firefighting agencies had access to fixed wing aircraft that they flew regularly and thanks to the development of radio transmitters the pilots could talk pilot to pilot or pilot to ground with specific instructions about what the fire was doing and where it may be heading. “Airplanes and radio communications improved our efficiency and made it safer for the men on the ground” commented Mr. Steedley.
  4. Food and water – “Every once in a while someone would show up with some food for the crew but basically if you did not carry it in with you then you were planning to be hungry and thirsty” commented Barney Cone.
  5. Calculating acreages burned and probable routes of fire travel – Barney said “We were fortunate to have access to aerial photographs of the forested areas. Based on land marks we knew on the ground we could calculate acreages burned and at the same time be familiar enough with the forest plants to be able to predict the path of least resistance through drains and across ponds and ditches. Our supervisors were very adept at using these aids to plan short and long term strategies”.
  6. Safety – “Everyone was worried about fire catching them” said Mr. Steedley.  “Your safety gear was a pair of leather boots, some matches, and probably a homemade “fire pot” or drip torch. If your tractor got stuck you used your boots to run out of danger. If you and your tractor were surrounded by fire you put the plow down and made a huge bare circle around your position. Then you used the matches and your “fire pot” set up a back burn to keep the head fire away from you. It sure didn’t hurt to have the Lord on your side in those moments of panic” commented Barney.
  7. Public concern - Commercial forests were beginning to drive the economy of the area as more and more residents were abandoning the family farm units and congregating in surrounding communities where jobs in retail sales and light and heavy industry provided a better and more consistent family income.  “Smoke has always been a concern with people and since we had only crank up telephones and few if any televisions, wildfire messages were often distorted as they were passed along much like backyard gossip. Rumor control to avoid panic was often a real problem to deal with” commented Mr. Steedley.



  1. Incident Command System -Mr. J.T.Steedley  commented that “I have seen great change for the good in the amount of equipment and people that fight these large fires today. The Georgia Forestry Commission and the Florida Division of Forestry have always been there helping us but now there are people and equipment from all over the country and everyone is well trained and working closely together”.
  2. Logistical support - Mr. J.T.Steedley commented that “ I don’t know what you call it but most of these folks are much better prepared and equipped to fight fire for long periods of time. They have a lot of folks supporting their work with good food, plenty of water, good safety gear and good training before they ever get out there. All of my fire training and safety gear came as a result of strong working relationship with Mark Crow from the Florida Division of Forestry but that was long after the fires of 1954-55.”
  3. Meteorology - Weather forecasting is much more advanced today.  Most everyone has access to local, regional and national forecasts through television and computer websites. “Our fire behavior specialists were just “old timers” who had accumulated years and years of experience watching and fighting fires in this area” commented Mr. Steedley.

Today’s Fire Behavior analysts and fire modeling efforts work off of data supplied from local, regional, and national forecasts along with known local conditions including annual rainfall, vegetation types, fuel moisture, etc. and utilize sophisticated computer programs to arrive at predicted rates of spread, flame length, travel path, etc.

  1. Surveillance technology - Major improvements can be seen in this area. Helicopters provide a stable platform for fire observation, firefighter safety, infra-red mapping, etc.  In addition,

Satellite imagery, GPS tracking and mapping options are used.  Barney Cone commented  ”We were always real happy to hear and see the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Piper Cub circling overhead. It was the best information we could expect.”

  1. Fire Information - Although rumor control can still be a problem today, use of daily updates, news releases, bulletin boards, public meetings, Joint information centers, and computer generated emails are all used to keep the public informed and keep rumors under control. Mr. Cone commented “ I still hear the occasional rumor but its nothing like it used to be.”
  2. Advanced levels of communication - Continued development of radio and cell phone coverage coupled with computer advances have added a new level of communication within the fire fighting organizations as well as the world that surrounds the fire. Mr. Steedley commented “I have my own cell phone now but I know there is a lot more going on than I want to have to deal with.”
  3. Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners - According to Barney and Mr. Steedley “the 54-55 fires were all about neighbors sharing the work load”. Today, local landowners along with State and Federal agencies have banded together in a loose knit organization that focuses on common goals such as protecting local and community resources while keeping wildfires within the perimeter of the swamp.  Barney Cone commented “ I was pleased to hear that dip sites located on private as well as government owned lands are now available around the swamp perimeter. It was difficult and sometimes impossible to find water to fight fires during 1954-55.” Dip sites surrounding the perimeter of the refuge make it much faster and safer for a helicopter to get a bucket full of water and return to the burning area.
  4. Free Range Cattle Grazing - This program ended in the mid to late 1970’s.  Barney Cone and Mr. Steedley both commented that the cattle grazing eliminated huge volumes of “ladder fuels” (shrubs and climbing vines)that allows a ground fire to transfer up into the crowns of pine trees where it can move rapidly with the wind while killing the tender growing tips of the commercial pine trees.  In addition to fuel reduction both retired firefighters credited free range cattle for increased populations of quail which they both hunted for years but are sadly missing today.
  5. Emphasis on Pulp Wood - Mr.Steedley pointed out that Slash pine grown during the 54-55 fires was primarily taller, older timber that was grown for poles.  He also noted that production of turpentine, primarily from long leaf pine, once had a strong connection to the economy of the area. The demand for turpentine and products of turpentine like black gunpowder, early forms of plastic, medicinal salves, etc. are now just about non-existent. “These turpentine trees were also used to make cross ties which were sold to the railroads throughout the Southeast” commented Mr. Steedley. The pulp wood industry in South Georgia started and grew strongly after these fires of 1954-55. It continues to have a significant influence within the local economy today.

Droughts, wildfires, prescribed burns, burnouts have been and will continue to be common components in dealing with the “Southern Rough” habitat of Southeast Georgia and North Florida. Within this landscape large public landholdings like the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the adjoining Osceola National Forest will continue to write their “fires stories” and stimulate the development of future technology to cope with the consistent habitat challenges posed by “Mother Nature”.  Mr. J.T. Steedley  poetically summarizes the wild fire scenario “God starts the fire, God puts the fire out, Mankind has to deal with it in the middle”.



You Have Questions? I Have Solutions!

Are you frustrate with the way your business is going?  You plan tours?  Are you fretting over the economy? Are you part of the problem or the solution?

I just returned from Georgia Motorcoach Operators Association/Motorcoach Operators of South Carolina and walked into a breakfast to hear a speaker throwing out all the distressing facts and figures we have heard the past fews week.  All of us regardless of our business or our personal politics should have a positive attitude.  Yes it's hard, but what choice do we have?  Perhaps you have had to cut back on the number of tours you are running and had to lay off people, well let me shed some positive light on all of our situations.  After being in business twenty years, living thorought the death of my husband at age 50, my parents deaths in 2001 - within 90 days of each other, being sick for a year and having an associate who I thought was selling tours only to find out he had only booked 10 tours for the entire year, I have learned I have to make Ginny Howell Tours a success.  The year I was sick I could have lost the business and filed bankrupcy, but instead I dug my heels in, got on the phone, did as many shows as I could afford and brought the business back.  As I said I could have filed bankruptcy and called it quits, but that isn't me!  I paid everyone I owed even though it wasn't on their time table, they were paid.  One company totally wrote me off and destroyed my business in that state, but they got every dime I owed them.  The last payment was mailed the day before one of the owners called and said "I supposed we'll never see the rest of our money."  I informed him I had mailed the last payment and they were PAID IN FULL.  I hope that nobody has to go through what I've been through the past 15 years, but I'm here, still in business and still working hard at it.

I bring solutions to you to help you maintain and grow your business.  We in the hospitaltiy business have to work hard now and in the coming years.  What other choice do we have? Think about this....on a four night tour I directly influence 260 jobs from the sales person that sold the tour, to the roomkeeper to the maintentance man to the restaurant cook and waitresses, to the guide to the people at the attraction plus the Tour Director who takes care of your group and imparts the history of the area.  Think about this...if you don't sell your tours, you will put 260 people out of work.  Which do you chose to be, the problem or the problem solver? I chose to be the problem solver.

Let us plan your tour for you and tailor it so you can sell it. Our mission is to sell a quality tour at an affordable price. I didn't say we are the cheapest game on the coast, but we are the premier tour company in the southeast.

Ginny Howell Tours is part of the solution.....are you?

Okefenokee Adventures Re-Opens After Fires

Due to the fires in the Okefenokee, we have been closed since June 13 but…


Guided boat tours and Guided canoe/kayak tours* will resume.  Please keep in mind that the water is still low and we can’t fill our tour boats to capacity.  Please plan accordingly by giving yourself enough time to sign up and possibly wait for the next available tour.  We will be operating under our normal hours posted below.  The first guided tour will leave around 9am and the last at 4:30pm.  They will run all through-out the day about once every hour.

"New International Southern Cuisine" Darien Riverhouse & Winebar

Ginny Howell Tours Treats the Tour Groups to the

"New International Southern Cuisine”


This is the continuing update to the blog that you will find on our website, , Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

One of our favorite places to eat is the Darien River House and Wine Bar. I hope you will stop by and sample the cuisine at the Darien River House and Wine Bar, originally the DeLorme House (circa 1867). It is owned and operated by Chef Eric Lynch and his mother Ms. Patsy Collins. They shared a vision of owning a restaurant and put their hands on a map, found the spot that recently had been a Victorian bed and breakfast and transformed it into an inviting 4-room restaurant and wine bar. With an inviting front porch, wine bar living room and small private dining rooms that offer a place for polite conversation they blend well with the casual coastal cuisine. The restaurant opened on December 17, 2009 and has been receiving guests continually ever since then.

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