Basic survival skills taught through a California 4-H club helped to save the lives of two young girls earlier this month in California. The survival skills helped the youngest remain aware of their surroundings, find the things they needed to survive, and gave them the courage to be brave until rescuers eventually found them. If the girls had not had those life-saving classes, the outcome of their adventure may have ended much differently. Ranger Dave Jordan and the staff of Georgia Family Outdoors are making those skills available to children and adults who visit Laura S. Walker State Park.
Laura S. Walker: Ahead of her Time
Laura Singleton Walker was born in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1861. She was both an author and a conservationist. Her friends included military and community leaders, as well as presidents and governors. Her civic works and commitment to helping the environment led her to outline a forestry activity program that made many local conservation and beautification projects possible. She worked to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment and maintaining forestry programs. She also had the distinction of being the only living person with a state park named in her honor. Ms. Walker worked tirelessly throughout Ware County and the surrounding areas until her death in 1955 at the age of 94.
Welcome to the Park
The park is located at 5653 Laura Walker Rd in Waycross, Georgia. The park offers a large campground, golf course, and Sportsman’s Cabins, as well as kayak rentals, playgrounds, and trails. The park is designed to allow visitors to get the most out of the time they spend in nature. It surrounds Laura S. Walker Lake and sits just to the north of the Okefenokee Swamp. For those who want to see wildlife, they won’t be disappointed. The park is home to owls, great blue herons, gopher tortoises, alligators, and many other animals. It also hosts a variety of activities each year with the Friends of Laura S. Walker State Park volunteering their time to maintain the area and perform fundraisers.
Meet Ranger Jordan and the Friends of the Laura S Walker State Park
Ranger Dave Jordan has been with the Department of Natural Resources for 25 years. He was appointed as the Ranger of Laura S. Walker State Park just over a year ago. Ranger Jordan takes his job seriously and strives to live up to the legacy left behind by the park’s namesake. He says, “One of the greatest opportunities we have at this park is to continue our public outreach to the folks in the community.”
Ranger Jordan relies on the Friends of the Laura S. Walker State Park to volunteer their time and help raise money that is needed to cover the extras.
He said, “Quite a bit of our support comes from donations. Every park has an opportunity to have its own “Friends” group. We meet on the first Monday night of the month at 6 pm at shelter #1. We have a budget like you have at your home, but there are certain things we can’t get with our budget. Our Friends group is able to raise money and purchase the needed items and then donate them to the park. Monetary donations and equipment are great, but one of the greatest donations is your time.”
The GFO Connection
The staff of Georgia Family Outdoors has a strong connection to the park and with Ranger Jordan. Both Mike Tomadajewicz and his fiance, Stacy, are active park volunteers. Georgia Family Outdoors teaches basic survival skills and how to survive until EMS personnel can find them. The classes are designed for both children and adults with the hopes that parents will bring their children and take the classes together. Ranger Jordan said, “Those who attend can learn about geocaching. They can learn how to use a GPS unit and compass.” Both Mike and Ranger Jordan agree that the biggest obstacle a person can face when they are lost in the woods is fear. It’s important to remain calm and stay in one place so you are easier to find.
Mike said, “Make yourself visible and let search and rescue come to you. (The staff of GFO are trained in search and rescue and work with both Ranger Jordan and local law enforcement if someone is reported missing.) The survival skills classes are approximately 2 hours long and include how to start a fire, create a shelter, and water purification. You have to experience it and practice your skills.” Stacy added, “The overnights are more hands on so they actually use the skills.” The group hopes to hold an overnight camping trip in the next few weeks.
Families who are looking for a weekend getaway that will allow everyone to experience the beauty of nature, Laura S. Walker State Park is the place to go. Fishing, biking, swimming, or hiking, the park has something for every age group. On-site is a Pioneer campground that is all primitive or the Tent, Trailer and RV campsites that have both water and electric hook-ups. For those who want the comforts of home, they also have Sportsman’s Cabins that are in a secluded area with private access. In 2017, the park received the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor and is well-known throughout the area for its amenities and friendly staff.