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From the put-in (concrete in high water, sandy when low) you hang a left and paddle north along the entire length of the open stretch. When you get to the far end start looking for reflectors. Some of these are the new orange round variety, some are ancient triangular ones that don't reflect anymore, though they do point somewhat in the right direction. There will also be some PVC pipes sticking out of the water denoting the location of shallow stumps. There may be some people in motorboat fishing in this area, they have always been nice people and respectful to paddlers. Once entering the cypress, you'll pass through a relatively open area full of snags. If you haven't already seen a few ospreys, you should here.
The trail will continue in basically the same direction for a little way after the open area, and then the reflectors will lead you off to the right. The trees will be thin here and very quickly you will see there are reflectors forking left and right. Stay right. Left leads you to an area that is open in high water, more on this later. Staying right will keep you in an area of large open trees and eventually brings you to a tighter trail-like section. Here the trees will be almost impenetrable on your left. After maybe a hundred yards like this (please don't trust my ability to judge distance, it sucks, but you'll know when you've finished the distance I'm speaking of) you will come to another fork. This is the beginning of the loop part of the trail. Go either way you want to. Either way you go, keep your eyes peeled for reflectors. On the back side of the pond, you'll encounter an open trail that was logged some time in the past. If you are going clock-wise, look for the trail to lead off to your left, even though the open cut continues. If you're going the other way remember the reverse.
Go slowly the first few times. I've been lost here on several occasions. The reflectors can be harder than you think to follow. Pay close attention to where you came from. Often the trail goes off one direction, even though the trees make it look like it's going the other way.
There are a few reflectors that lead off the trail. One on the open cut heads off toward shore, it may go somewhere, but I've never followed it. There's another place with a bunch of reflectors in a line (on left going clock-wise) that leads out to some open water. In high water you can take this and get back to where I mentioned the split early on, but there are no reflectors once you're out there.
The water level can change dramatically. The area is very karst and the water level is probably directly related to Lake Seminole. I've seen the water level go up a few feet after some big rains in Georgia. At really low water the trail becomes difficult to follow, and may even lead to dry ground. It's interesting and looks totally different. I first started paddling here in 2001 at the height of the drought, and actually made it all the way around once after scooting across some mud and following some flagging through the trees after the reflectors went into a prairie. At this time the reflectors were hard to see because they were way up in the trees. When the water came up finally, it came up about ten feet- no kidding. The reflectors were suddenly at chest level and I didn't know where I was anymore. This rapid change also brought up mats of floating vegetation, quite an obstacle course. At really high water the reflectors can become pretty scarce.
Once you go there, you'll want to go back, and you should. If you live close, watch for the cypress to start turning in the fall, it's spectacular. Once you get to know the pond REALLY well, and you have a good sense of direction, and the water level leaves most of the reflectors at eye level, go at night. I paddled the pond maybe 12 times before I did this. It is awesome. I did go one night when the water was really high, and even though I mostly knew where I was, I started following a reflector that swam off when I got close and had to back-track some. Boy was that a big gator.
A word on the wildlife. At low water Ocheesee may have the highest concentration of osprey I have ever seen. At one time or another we have seen most of the herons, great and snowy egrets, wood storks, and huge numbers of white ibis. In spring and early summer it's full of prothonotary and yellow-throated warblers. There are a lot of turtles, but they're hard for me to identify in the tannic water. There are some big alligators, but you wont see too many. If you go at night in the summer the frogs are great. Listen for green, squirrel, and bird-voiced tree frogs, cricket frogs, and pig frogs. Bats will occasionally go for your paddle drips, and we once found and entire snag packed full of them. Listen for fishing spiders scrambling around the bottom of the trees, at night their eyes reflect.
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