June 2010- Atlanta Journal Constitution

Southeastern Roundup: Georgia’s Barrier Islands

By Blake Guthrie

For the AJC

Georgia’s barrier islands have a long history of enticing visitors, starting with Native Americans, whose presence was evident in the large shell mounds left over from ancient oyster feasts. After New World colonists arrived, those shells were turned into tabby, a building material used to construct antebellum plantation dwellings when Sea Island cotton was grown along the coast.

Following the Civil War some of the islands became an exclusive playground of the wealthy, who wintered there for the mild climate, privacy and beautiful landscape afforded by the remote salt marshes and woodsy seaside setting. Today some of the islands have been heavily developed into popular tourist destinations, complete with resorts, restaurants and fishing piers, while others remain practically untouched and preserved.

Sapelo Island

Sapelo Island was once the property of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds, but today it is mostly uninhabited and protected as an estuarine research reserve. The exception is a 400-acre parcel of land that is home to Hog Hammock (also known as Hogg Hummock), a community inhabited by the descendants of slaves. Referred to as the Geechee, which was the name of their language, the residents retain many of the traditions of their West African forebears, still apparent in their sweetgrass baskets, their music and their cuisine.

In addition to an historic lighthouse and the Reynolds Mansion, the island’s main attractions are its pristine forests, tidal marshes and a complex beach and sand dune system. Access to Sapelo Island is limited to two options. One is to contact the state-run Sapelo Island Visitor Center in Meridian and make reservations for the ferry ride over and a four-hour guided tour. Tours are offered three times a week during the summer — Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with an extended tour offered the last Tuesday of each month. Accommodations can be arranged for groups of 16-29 at the Reynolds Plantation.

The other option is to be the guest of a member of the Geechee community by calling one of the lodges operated by residents of Hog Hammock. For a list, log on to www.sapeloislandgeorgia.org, click on Visiting Info and download the Geechee Lodging and Tours Brochure.

Transportation: The state operates daily ferry rides to Sapelo Island from the Sapelo Island Visitor Center in Meridian, located eight miles northeast of Darien off Ga. 99. $10 adults, $6 children 6-18, free for children younger than 6. Reservations required.

Stay: The Wallow Bed & Breakfast. Six-room inn with a large front porch and a communal kitchen. $55-100. Meals available upon request, $10-15 per person. Ferry transportation can be arranged. Reservations required. 1 Main Road. 912-485-2206.

Info: Sapelo Island Visitor Center, 912-437-3224, www.sapelonerr.org/visitorcenter.htm. Sapelo Island Cultural Revitalization Society, 912-485-2197, www.sapeloislandgeorgia.org.

St. Simons Island

Cross the four-mile causeway from Brunswick on the mainland and visitors will find no shortage of tourist amenities in St. Simons. Overnight accommodations and restaurants are plentiful. The island’s popular beaches are its biggest draw, but it is also a golf destination where duffers can hit the links at the King and Prince and Sea Palms resorts. Anglers can enjoy surf casting from the beaches and there is a fishing pier at the end of Mallery Street on the southern tip of the island.

For leisurely sightseeing there are miles of paved bike paths meandering throughout the island. Notable historic sites include Fort Frederica National Monument, where the English defeated the Spanish making Georgia a British colony, and the St. Simons Lighthouse, built in 1872, where visitors can climb a spiral staircase to take in a view of the island, ocean and surrounding waterways.

Eat: Beachcomber BBQ & Grill. Barbecue, burgers and hot dogs are served up in a laid-back atmosphere near the beach. Entrees $3.50-$14. 319 Arnold Road. 912-634-5699, www.beachcomberbbq.com

Halyards. Upscale coastal cuisine. Entrees $12-$32. 55 Cinema Lane. 912-638-9100, www.halyardsrestaurant.com

Stay: Village Inn & Pub. Boutique inn with 28 rooms within walking distance to the pier and an English-style pub on the premises. Rates $99-$210. 500 Mallery St. 912-634-6056, www.villageinnandpub.com

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