Magnolia Springs State Park offers history, unique aquatic ecosystem

Special to The Bluffton PacketAugust 14, 2012 

  • Magnolia Springs State Park

    1053 Magnolia Springs Drive

    Millen, Ga., 30442

    Details: 478-982-1660

    The park is about two hours from Bluffton and is open year-round. To get there:

  • Take Interstate 95 south to Georgia exit 109 and U.S. 21. Take U.S. 21 into Millen. The park is five miles north of Millen on G.A. 121/U.S. 25.

  • There is a small day-use fee for parking. Camping is $21-$28 a night, and there are cabins and facilities for group activities for rent.


    There are many festivals and events throughout the year at Magnolia Springs State Park. The park is host to the Muddy Spokes Club of cyclists and the Park Paddlers Club for those who enjoy paddling the lake.


    Magnolia Springs State Park has not always been an enjoyable outdoor getaway. During the Civil War, the area around the springs was home to Camp Lawton, a military prison for captured Union soldiers. The spring-fed valley was fenced with a log palisade and housed 10,000 prisoners of war.

    In 1864, the approach of Sherman's Union army on his famous -- and infamous -- "March to the Sea" prompted the evacuation of Camp Lawton and its unfortunate inhabitants. On the hill above the springs, a fort was constructed and the earthworks still can be viewed today. It might be difficult to imagine rebel cannon brooding over the peaceful springs and its unique environment. A large part of the park's museum is dedicated to this historical aspect of the park. In 2010, students from Georgia Southern University began excavations of a portion of the park and discovered the remains of the palisade and many objects that reveal the past of this fascinating place.

Did you know that you can drive a little ways from home and experience a geological curiosity? Just a few miles up the road is Magnolia Springs State Park, home to a unique aquatic ecosystem and a fine getaway for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

Located on the outskirts of Millen, Ga., Magnolia Springs is a crystal clear, natural spring fed by the Ocala Aquifer. The spring pumps 7 million gallons of water a day rising into the land and forming a habitat that is reminiscent of the Karst topography of old Florida rather than the rolling farmland of central Georgia.

Around the springs, a 1,071-acre park has been created that offers boardwalks, hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas and a 28-acre lake for fishing and boating.

The main attraction to Magnolia Springs State Park is, in fact, the springs. When my family and I visited recently, the springs bubbled beneath a blue sky and seemed to be filled with wildlife. A boardwalk and arching bridge carries visitors over the waters and offers glimpses into the clear depths below. My two boys enjoyed watching turtles and bream swimming beneath them while nearby an alligator gazed at us warily from a log. For a Blufftonian used to sandbar swimming or lazy summer days on a blackwater river, such a waterway appears otherworldly and filled with light.

Up the hill from the springs is a picnic area and a very large playground. A nondescript building sits nearby housing a small museum dedicated to the history of the park and the surrounding area.

A park ranger greeted us at the museum and took us on a journey into the past. After an afternoon of exploring the park and hiking on the three-mile loop hiking trail, we were ready to head for home -- but not before making plans to return for a camping trip in the fall.

Magnolia Springs State Park is worth a visit, whether for a daytrip or an overnight experience in the natural world.

Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at

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