Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge
|Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Lakeside picnicking is just part of what makes
Bankes Lake National Wildlife Refuge a great place
to visit during any season of the year.
Banks Lake NWR
Located on the outskirts of
Lakeland, Banks Lake is a
true Georgia treasure. It is
also a historic landmark.
Fishing Pier on Banks Lake
The Refuge is a great place
for fishing, bird watching,
hiking or just enjoying the
Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge - Lakeland, Georgia
Ancient Sink in South Georgia
|Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Update: November 17, 2012
Outdoor Places in Georgia
Banks Lake National Wildlife
Refuge includes 1,539 acres
of cypress swamp and 1,000
acres of open water. It is a
great place for viewing wildlife.
A boardwalk talks visitors
from the main entrance area
into the lakeside woods and
Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a
stunning ecological, geological and historical
treasure just outside of Lakeland, Georgia.
Covering more than 4,000 acres of
environmentally sensitive land and water, the
refuge is unique in that its topography was
formed by ocean waves long ago..
Scientists believe that what is now Banks
Lake, the key feature of the refuge, formed as
a natural pocosin or sink. Basically a giant,
shallow bowl, the site of the lake was
probably created by tidal action thousands of
years ago when the ocean covered parts of
Over the years, the shallow area became
saturated with ground water and a vast
wetland formed. Cypress forests grew and
wildlife flocked to the area. Ancient Native
American hunters and gatherers made heavy
use of the swamps and wet prairies, seeking
game and edible plants.
The earliest settlers marveled at the vast
wetland and its swamps of ancient cypress
trees. They also recognized the potential of
the water as a source of power.
Joshua Lee (1782-1855) settled on higher
ground overlooking the wetland and in ca.
1830 built a low-level dam across a drainage
stream. Water backed up behind the dam
and what is now Banks Lake was formed.
Lee used the water that poured from his dam
as a power source for a grist mill. The water-
driven wheel was first used for grinding grain
but over time was also adapted to power
both a sawmill and a cotton gin.
Such industries were vital to the farmers and
planters living in South Georgia and a
settlement began to develop nearby. First
called Alapaha, the community received its
post office in 1838. It was appropriately
renamed Milltown in 1857 but finally the
citizens decided to capitalize on Banks Lake
and the town became Lakeland in 1925.
Banks Lake and its surrounding wetlands
and cypress swamps remained a popular
destination for hunting, fishing and wildlife
viewing until the late 1970s when the owner
developed plans to drain the lake and
harvest its valuable timber. The news
resulted in a major preservation effort and
ultimately the purchase of Banks Lake and
much of the surrounding land by The Nature
Conservancy on March 14, 1980.
One month later, the Conservancy entered an
agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service to manage the property. Then, in
1985, the Fish & Wildlife Service purchased
the land outright and Banks Lake National
Wildlife Refuge became a reality.
Operated by the Okefenokee National Wildlife
Refuge, Banks Lake today preserves a
magnificent natural setting that includes
1,000 acres of open water, 1,459 acres of
cypress swamp and 1,000 acres of marsh. It
attracts 20,000 people a year, with fishing,
bird watching, wildlife viewing, hiking and
boating being among its most popular
Large numbers of sandhill cranes can be
seen at the refuge during the winter months.
Other popular birds sighted there include
wood storks, hawks, osprey, barred owls,
wood ducks and white ibis.
Teeming with fish, the lake waters produce
nice catches of warmouth, largemouth bass,
crappie, bluegills and more. There is a boat
ramp just inside the main refuge entrance,
along with piers for use by those who enjoy
fishing, birdwatching, sightseeing and
The Banks Lake Outpost, just inside the
main entrance, offers a well-stocked store
where visitors can buy tackle, bait, drinks,
snacks and souvenirs. The Outpost also
offers information on the Refuge and both
canoe and kayak rentals. A lakeshore
walking trail leads from the Outpost vicinity
along the rim of the beautiful lake and
The best place to start your exploration of the
refuge is at the Banks Lake Outpost. It is
located in the main entrance area which is
two miles east of Lakeland on GA 122. A
historical marker and refuge interpretive
signs can also be seen there.
To reach Banks Lake National Wildlife
Refuge from I-75, take the Hahira exit onto
GA 122 East. Pass through Hahira and
continue to follow 122 for roughly 18 miles
until you see Banks Lake on your right. The
refuge entrance will be ahead on your right.
The refuge is open to the public 24 hours a
day, although the Outpost is open only during
regular business hours.
Please click here for more information.