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Discovering the Golden Isles
The beach is nearly deserted. I see a middle-aged couple with deep, dark tans. Aging sun lovers soaking up the late season sun. I see a family; dad casting his fishing line, preoccupied with his angling activities. Mom gets one daughter a drink from the cooler. As she hands over the soda, she sees daughter number two venturing out into the water. Mom bursts forth in a run, snatching daughter number two from the water just as a wave breaks. Dad reels in his line. It is mid-October and I'm hauling my kayak out of the sea after a three-hour tour. We launch our trip in the Bloody Marsh of St. Simons Island, we are pulling out on Sea Island. St. Simons Island and Sea Island are just two of Georgia's beautiful Golden Isles.
The ocean breeze moderates the temperature making the Golden Isles an attractive year-round destination. The Isles are located in Georgia's southeastern corner. Four barrier islands make up the Golden Isles. I visited all of them.
Sea Island features the internationally acclaimed resort, The Cloister. The Cloister is definitely an upscale resort. It features the full American Plan with general, golf, tennis, or spa packages available. This world-class resort is popular with honeymooners. George and Barbara Bush spent their honeymoon at The Cloister and returned to celebrate their Fiftieth wedding anniversary. Guests may participate in many available activities, in addition to the packages listed, one may fish, go skeet shooting, horseback riding, or simply lounge by the pool or private beach. Dinner in the dining room is a coat and tie affair. It is recommended that reservations for The Cloister be made at least six months in advance.
Jekyll Island is a must for those with either a fascination of America's rich and famous or early Twentieth Century history. Jekyll Island is named after General James Oglethorpe's benevolent friend Sir Joseph Jekyll. Oglethorpe's interest in alleviating the conditions of those imprisoned for debt, led to his seeking a charter for the resettlement of debtors in America and founding the Georgia Colony in 1733. Sir Jekyll had generously contributed to that venture.
On the Island one may see the ruins of Horton House. This structure dates to 1742 and was constructed by one of Oglethorge's officers, William Horton. However, Horton House isn't Jekyll's main draw. The Historic District is. In 1978 the 240-acre Jekyll Island Club Historic District was named as a National Historic Landmark. It is in the district that one finds the "cottages" of such family names as; Rockefeller, Morgan, Pulitzer, Vanderbilt, and Crane, to name a few. The Island was acquired by what became known as The Jekyll Island Club, which was made up of some of America's richest families. They opened their first season on the Island in January 1888. Families began constructing their cottages shortly thereafter. The "cottages" are really very opulent and not cottages by standard definition of the term. The Crane cottage, for instance, featured 17 bathrooms. The Jekyll Island Clubhouse was constructed for the Club's social affairs. The restored Clubhouse is today the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. After the Club faded away, the state of Georgia took over the Island in 1947. The Jekyll Island Authority was created to manage the Island, and continues to do so today. Trolley tours are offered through the Historic District. Cost of tickets range from $10 per person for a 45-minute guided tram tour (does not include admission to any of the cottages) to $25 per person ($35 per couple) for the "Passport to the Century" Tour which includes a self-guided tour book, point-to-point tram service, a "Landmark Moments" tour of one cottage, and the 45-minute guided tram tour.
The Historic District is not the only attraction on Jekyll. There are many miles of white sandy beaches, a camp ground, and several hotels. There is an 11-acre water park, which attracts children like a magnet.
Ever wondered what it would be like to have your own private island? The sensation is available. You and 29 of your closest friends can book Little St. Simons Island. Little Saint Simons is a privately owned 10,000-acre island, accessible only by boat. The Island offers accommodations for a maximum of 30 guests (there is a staff of approximately 20 to care for those guests).
Here one may explore a pristine barrier island. Guided tours are available, led by a staff naturalist. One may choose the mode of exploration: on foot, by bicycle, boat, or on horseback. I greatly relished the experience of photographing a piece of driftwood on the deserted beach. Stretched before me were miles of beach, and not another person in sight. There is an abundance of wildlife on the Island. On one of the guided tours, we observed a wood stork, an alligator, an armadillo, deer, and a beautiful bald eagle soaring overhead.
Little St. Simons Island features the American Plan and includes three full meals per day. The meals are served in the dining room. However, one may request a packaged lunch to take along exploring the Island. A schedule of planned activities is posted in the activities room. One may sign up for those or go one's own way.
Little St. Simons Island is a wonderful place to relax, and learn something about barrier island ecology along the way. The staff is always ready to help or answer questions, yet the members are amazingly unobtrusive. One would fear, considering the guest to staff ratio, guests and staff would be falling over one another, which is not the case at all. Ten thousand acres is a pretty large area for 50 people to wander around.
St. Simons Island is the most populated island of the group. Here one finds an amazing 81 holes of golf available, miles of public beach, and many other activities. I recommend the Trolley Tour to get acquainted with the Island. The cost is only $10 and the tour covers all the major attractions.
"This tour is so good, you'll want to pay me more when it's over," Ted, our driver tells us.
St. Simons Lighthouse is the focal point of the village. This historic lighthouse was first built in 1810. It was destroyed by Confederate forces to prevent its usage by Union troops. It was rebuilt in the 1870's. The lighthouse now houses the Georgia Museum of Coastal History. Entrance fee is $3, and the view from the top of the lighthouse is well worth the money. St. Simons Island has its own historical sites. Fort Fredrica National Monument, managed by the National Park Service is here. The English officials had more in mind that starting a debtors colony where General Oglethorpe was granted his charter. They wanted a buffer between the English in South Carolina and the Spanish in Florida. General Oglethorpe met that objective. In July 1742 Oglethorpe decisively defeated the Spanish in the battle of Bloody Marsh. That battle turned the Spanish forces back to Florida for good. The marsh waters were said to have run red with blood that day, hence the name.
John and Charles Wesley, considered the founders of Methodism, held services under the Live Oak trees on what is now the Christ Church grounds. Next to the Church, one finds "Wesley Woodland Walk," a quiet wooded park dedicated to the Wesleys. The woods provide an area of solitude for quiet meditation.
Walking among the many shops in The Village, on St. Simons Island, I noticed a sign, "SouthEast Adventure Outfitters". Entering the shop I found they do more than sell equipment. Speaking with Mike Gowen and Paul Mozo I learned they offer guided kayak tours. The tours cover the local marshes and rivers, other barrier islands and even the Okefenokee Swamp. Since my time was limited I chose the three-hour tour through Bloody Marsh, out to sea, and landing on Sea Island. On the tour I observed many species of birds as we quietly drifted through the marsh. Those three hours rushed by. Next time, I am going for the week in Okefenokee.
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Text and Photos Copyright Thomas R. Fletcher / PROSE AND PHOTOS