Ways to Get Involved

Commercial Guide Special Use Permits

Background
Okefenokee is one of over 560 National Wildlife Refuges managed in a system that extends from the Alaska tundra to the Florida Keys, including all 50 states, several U.S. Territories, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 defined protecting and managing wildlife as the purpose of national wildlife refuges and the identification of six “priority” public uses known as the “Big 6”: hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, wildlife observation, environmental education, and interpretation. On October 1, 1974, ninety percent of the lands in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) were designated as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.  The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled (unfettered) by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” 

About 500,000 visits are counted at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) each year. Visitors come from all over the country and around the world to view wildlife, paddle wilderness canoe trails, learn about swamp heritage, and explore the vast Okefenokee Swamp. The goal of visitor services management at Okefenokee NWR is to provide high-quality, wildlife-oriented experiences for visitors to the refuge.

Why do we issue Commercial Guide Special Use Permits?
In order to better serve our visitors, Okefenokee NWR has an established procedure for the issuance of commercial guide permits for day-use and overnight guiding.

The objectives of the Commercial Guide Permit Procedure are to: 

·  Ensure that guides have the knowledge, skills, and resources to ensure safe recreational and educational use of Okefenokee NWR

·  Ensure that guides are trained on the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System, local flora/fauna, refuge history/facts, etc

·  Promote high-quality visitor experiences on the refuge

·  Protect the natural resources at Okefenokee NWR

Who needs a Commercial Guide Permit?
Any person or business that charges or includes a fee for guiding on the refuge is required to have a commercial guide permit, including non-profit organizations. Okefenokee has defined two types of commercial guide permits: day-use and overnight. Individuals and businesses may apply for both permits (if necessary). 

 

Types of Guide Permits:

 

Overnight Guiding Permit

Day-Use Guiding Permit

Issued for:

Guides/organizations that lead overnight canoe trips for a fee. (Refuge reservations required; contact Permit line at 912-496-3331, Tues-Thurs 7am-10am.)

Guides/organizations that lead activities including fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and interpretation for a fee.

Length of permit

1 year (October 1-September 30)

1 year (October 1-September 30)

Price of permit

$200/year to be paid at beginning of permit

$50/year to be paid at beginning of permit

Number of permits issued

15 total
1st come/1st served
Must meet application standards

100/year
1st come/1st served
Must meet application standards

Requirements

Insurance ($500,000/occurrence
General Liability)
Refuge Training
Current First Aid and CPR
Training for all employees

Insurance ($300,000/occurrence
General Liability)
Refuge Training
Current First Aid and CPR
Training for all employees

Entrance Fees

Pay Wilderness Canoe Camping Permit fees as described.
Entrance fees apply for other visits.

9 people in vehicle: $5/day
10-25 people: $25/day
26 or more: $50/day

Permit Requirements

  1. All interested companies or organizations are required to submit a one-time application form (Form FWS Form 3-1383-C) for Commercial Services. This form can be found at https://www.fws.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Form-3-1383-Commerical-Special%20Use-.pdf  or by contacting the refuge at okefenokee@fws.gov
  2. Supporting documentation is required with the application:
    1. Proof of insurance
    2. Proof of valid First Aid/CPR certification for all guides
    3. Annual report form for commercial services provided on the refuge
    4. Annual Permit Fee
  3. The permit application is only required with the initial request. Each subsequent year, the permit holder will be required to submit the supporting documentation and fee when requested by refuge personnel. If supporting documentation is not received by the established deadline, the permit will be revoked.

Insurance
All guides will be required to furnish proof of liability insurance by an insurance company which is acceptable to the Service. Day-use guides will be required to furnish $300,000 general liability/occurrence; overnight guides will furnish $500,000 general liability/occurrence.

Each policy or certificate evidencing the insurance shall contain an endorsement which provides that the insurance company will notify the refuge 30 days prior to the effective date of any cancellation or termination of the policy or certificate or any modification of the policy or certificate which adversely affects the interest of the Government in such insurance. The notice shall be sent by registered mail and shall identify the permitee and the special use permit number.

Training
All permitees and their employees who guide on Okefenokee NWR are required to attend a training course that describes the refuge and its mission, the habitats and history of the area, and the customer service standards expected of all permitees. Training will take place on the refuge, in an eight-hour (1 day) session. Trainings for new permit holders or employees of permit holders will be required to take the refuge-specific training – offered twice a year, dates to be determined based on demand. In addition, all guides that work at Okefenokee NWR will be required to maintain current Certified First Aid and CPR qualification.

Evaluation Criteria

Below are criteria we expect guides to follow when on Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.  

  1. All guides will follow federal, state, local, and refuge regulations regarding alcohol, illegal drugs, and firearms while on refuge property. Guides who are convicted of possession of an illegal substance, violations involving alcohol, or illegal possession of a firearm will immediately have their permit revoked permanently.
  2. Guides are expected to follow established trails, adhere to refuge hours, and operate under the conditions of both the Overnight Camping Permit and Special Use Permit (i.e. no motors, must be on the water by 10:00 a.m., off the water times, etc.).
  3. Guides will be considerate of their guests, other refuge visitors, and refuge staff at all times. All complaints against guides or the guiding company on refuge trips must be submitted to refuge staff for investigation.
  4. Guides will be able to explain the mission and objectives of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, describe management policies, understand safety and emergency procedures, and other topics discussed in Refuge Training Materials (provided by refuge staff). Guides will protect the natural resources of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge; they will not pick plants, feed wildlife, drink untreated swamp water, leave trash or litter, or dispose of wastewater in the swamp. Guides will be committed to “Leave No Trace” principles and will leave trails, campsites, and other facilities in better condition than they were found.

Overnight Camping Permit Reservations
Guides will not receive any special privileges in scheduling or reserving overnight camping sites through the reservation system. Call the Camping Permit line at 912-496-3331, available Tues-Thurs 7am-10am.

Entrance Fees
The private, non-commercial vehicle entrance pass is a daily pass (good for 7 days). However, all day use commercial guides will be required to pay daily entrance fees based on the number of passengers in the vehicle. Reference “Types of Guide Permits” table above.

For overnight guides, the entrance fee is included in the canoe permit fee. (However, any guiding outside a canoe permit requires the appropriate entrance fee.)

Guiding permits do not exempt permitees or their employees from entrance or other fees when visiting for non-work related activities.

Any other commercial use on the refuge, including catering, shuttle service, and outfitting will require the minimum $25.00 commercial vehicle fee (up to 25 people).

If you are guiding a group with an educational/scientific entrance fee waiver, you must either board their vehicle to enter the refuge or pay the commercial vehicle rate for your vehicle.

Reporting
Permit holders are required to fill out a short form including dates, times and number of trips taken into Okefenokee NWR; total number of participants for each trip and total fees collected per trip. There will also be space to list problems encountered and additional comments (see attached form). Forms will be emailed out to all permit holders when permit is approved and must be submitted to the refuge within 30 days of permit expiration.

Definitions

Day-Use Guiding: Any organization or business that charges or includes a fee or donation to the public for fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, or interpretation.

Overnight Guiding: Any organization or business that charges or includes a fee or donation to the public for guided overnight trips on the Wilderness Canoe Trail System.

Commercial Organization: An organization that uses the national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Learn more about national wildlife refuge
for economic gain.

Commercial Vehicle: Any conveyance (car, van, bus, truck, etc.) that provides the operator, passengers, and/or equipment with access to a national wildlife refuge for economic uses.

Economic Use: Any activity involving the use of a national wildlife refuge or its resources for a profit.

Commercial Guide Permit: A Special Use Permit issued by the refuge to an individual, business, or organizations for a particular commercial recreational use.

Private Non-commercial Vehicle: Any passenger vehicle utilized by its operator and his/her passengers to gain access to a refuge for personal recreation purposes.

Recreational Use: Any activity relating to recreation on the refuge.

Okefenokee NWR Educational/Scientific Entrance Fee Waiver: Organized school groups conducting trips to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge for educational or scientific purposes may be able to apply for an entrance fee waiver.  Groups must contact the Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center (912-496-7836) for information on this process.

Visits that are strictly for recreational or experiential purposes do not qualify for a fee waiver.

Application Procedures
Commercial Guide Permit - Overnight
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

  1. First time companies and organizations complete the application: https://www.fws.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Form-3-1383-Commerical-Special%20Use-.pdf  
  2. Submit the following:
    1. Completed and signed application.
    2. Payment ($200) via credit card. Refuge personnel will contact you for credit card payment via phone prior to permit issuance.
    3. A copy of insurance coverage (a Certificate of Insurance with adequate Comprehensive General Liability coverage, the minimum limit of liability being $500,000 per occurrence).
    4. Proof of current Certified First Aid and CPR qualification for all guides.
    5. Current permit holders submit all above with exception of application.
  3. Submit all documents no later than September 1, 2022 to receive a permit for the season beginning October 1, 2022.

Mail:

Okefenokee NWR, 2700 Suwannee Canal Road, Folkston, GA 31537   

            Email:

                        Okefenokee@fws.gov

  1. Register ALL new guides for refuge-specific training by calling Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center at 912-496-7836.   

Incomplete applications will not be considered. NO EXCEPTIONS. 

Application packages containing false statements and/or fraudulent or misleading information will be denied and the application fee will be forfeited.  

 

Application Procedures
Commercial Guide Permit – Day-Use
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

  1. First time companies and organizations complete the application: https://www.fws.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Form-3-1383-Commerical-Special%20Use-.pdf   
  2. Submit the following:
    1. Completed and signed application.
    2. Payment ($50) via credit card. Refuge personnel will contact you for credit card payment via phone prior to permit issuance.
    3. A copy of insurance coverage (a Certificate of Insurance with adequate Comprehensive General Liability coverage, the minimum limit of liability being $300,000 per occurrence).
    4. Proof of current Certified First Aid and CPR qualification for all guides.
    5. Current permit holders submit all of above with exception of application.
  3. Submit all documents no later than September 1, 2022 to receive a permit for the season beginning October 1, 2022.

Mail:

Okefenokee NWR, 2700 Suwannee Canal Road, Folkston, GA 31537   

            Email:

                        Okefenokee@fws.gov

  1. Register ALL new guides for refuge-specific training by calling Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center at 912-496-7836.    

Incomplete applications will not be considered. NO EXCEPTIONS. 

Application packages containing false statements and/or fraudulent or misleading information will be denied and the application fee will be forfeited.  

 

Volunteering

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge volunteer programs seeks to combine the interests of the volunteer with the work needed to be accomplished in order to achieve a productive partnership, one which will ensure the preservation of resources within the refuge. 

The program is made up of three smaller programs: General Volunteers, Resident Volunteers, and Internships. Each program offers hands-on experience in the day-to-day activities of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. 

General Volunteer Program 

This program represents our most critical area of operations. Volunteers perform duties in three areas of refuge operations: Visitor Services, Environmental Education, and Maintenance. 

Visitor Services – Volunteering in Visitor Services may include giving out information to the general public at the Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center, operating the Okefenokee Wildlife League’s (Friends group) sales operation, or conducting interpretive programs for the general public (offered seasonally).   

Environmental Education - During fall and spring, the refuge offers on- or off-site programs for school groups conducted by a refuge ranger or volunteer.  During the summer months, library programs and other off-site educational programs often keep staff, volunteers, and interns busy.   

Maintenance - Volunteers assisting with maintenance are often outdoors clearing upland or water trails, building/repairing/maintaining visitor facilities like boardwalks and platforms, cleaning facilities throughout the refuge, and many other tasks.  Carpentry skills and experience with small tools, mowers, etc. are very helpful.   

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge volunteer program has something to offer everybody. Volunteers can choose activities that they feel will meet their needs even if some of the activities encompass more than just one area of refuge operations. Applications for the general volunteer program are accepted year-round. 

Resident Volunteer Program 

This program offers a unique opportunity for recreational vehicle and/or trailer volunteers to live and work at the refuge. It is only open to those volunteer candidates who own their own trailer and/or RV. Volunteers commit to work at the refuge 24 hours a week (per couple) and 32 hours a week (per person), for a minimum of three months. 

In exchange for their services, the refuge provides a full hook-up trailer pad, propane and access to garbage and laundry facilities. Volunteers perform work in the same area of operations as do our general volunteer staff, i.e. visitor services, environmental education and resource management. 

Resident Volunteer positions available year-round, visit Volunteer.gov for more information. 

 

Who May Volunteer? 

No special skills are needed to be a volunteer at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. While there is no age limit, anyone under 18 years must have written parental approval. Organized group participation is welcome and encouraged. 

Volunteers are welcome regardless of race, religion, age, gender, nationality, or disability. U.S. citizenship is not required. The only criteria stipulated when considering the above programs is ownership of your own trailer and/or RV when applying for the Resident Volunteer Program. 

 

How to Apply? 

Applications are available through volunteer opportunity posts on volunteer.gov. 

 

For more information about any of the above volunteer programs contact the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Coordinator at (912-496-3200). 

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteers play a vital role in the maintenance and visitor services programs at the refuge. Volunteers will work primarily on-site providing visitors with information about the refuge and its resources. Volunteers directly affect the quality and success of refuge operations; visitors’ safety,...
Volunteers needed starting in April 2024Okefenokee National Wildlife OverviewOkefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 and presently encompasses 403,000 acres of the Okefenokee Swamp. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge conserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp for...

Our Partners

Friends of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge 

Established in 1990, this group was established as a non-profit organization to support the mission of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. 

Sources of income:

  • Memberships — Memberships categories include Individual, Family, Life, and Corporate.
  • Nature Store  — The Nature Store, located inside the Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center provides visitors with educational materials related to refuge natural and cultural resources and management, and offers the chance to purchase souvenirs of the refuge. There is also an online nature store where supporters from around the world can buy merchandise!

 

Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners 

To serve as a unified team managing, protecting, and promoting forest resources in and around the Okefenokee Swamp through a stewardship ethic to assure these resources will be available for future generations.