12 December 2007

Jekyll Island Hotspots Part I

One of my favorite places in the world has to be Jekyll Island, Georgia. I lived on Jekyll from August of 2003 until June of 2006 working at the Jekyll Island 4-H. Over the years I learned all the hotspots that this island has to offer. Jekyll is one of a chain of barrier island found off the Georgia coastline. It has over 7 miles of beach, pristine dune systems, and a gorgeous maritime forest. Today I'm going to highlight the best of the best found on the northern half of the island. Once you drive over the causeway onto Jekyll, you will find a loop road heading north and one heading south. Here's a great itinerary if you ever have the chance to explore this beautiful island.

Let's start by driving into the northwest part of the island. You will find the Jekyll Island Historic District with its turn-of-the-century buildings. At one time 1/3 of the world's wealth lived on Jekyll. The Millionaire's Village boasts the names of Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan. The exclusive Jekyll Island Club had a robust membership but after the stock market crash in the 1920's the island was sold and the houses were abandoned. Now you can find the restored houses along with the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel.

If you're looking for a short hike there is a wonderful place right by the fire station. Go to the amphitheatre parking lot and take one of the trails leading to what some call the bird pond. This trail will take you through beautiful maritime forest with old Live Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. I've found that this is a great trail for warblers during migration and the ground is almost always covered with little skinks running about. As you wind through the trail it will open up at a small pond.

Each year Wood Storks come to this pond to build their nests. The large tree you see in the picture above usually hosts 2 or 3 families. I love watching the adults build the nests and care for their young. This is a great area for Pied-billed Grebes, Snowy Egrets, Green Herons, and Pileated Woodpeckers. There is an occasional alligator hanging out and of course plenty of turtles and frogs.

Continuing north you will drive by the Jekyll Island Airport. There's a nice bike path that runs the length of the north end. You can also explore the historic Henry Horton House and graveyard nearby. One of my favorite spots is visiting the pier that gives you a great view of Brunswick's Sidney Lanier Bridge and St. Simon's Island.

If you are looking for a place to camp, the Jekyll Island Campground is your spot. There are the traditional RV spots but if you're tent camping they have a nice selection in the very back with shrubs and trees around you that lends to that more remote experience. The best part about the campground is the special Bird Sanctuary. One of the back lots has been transformed into a bird feeding station. There is even a swing and notebook to record observations. This is the perfect place to find Painted Bunting, Carolina Chickadee, and Tufted Titmouse. The campground also warns visitors to cover their car side mirrors from woodpeckers. Many a camper has had their mirror smashed by a curious Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, or Pileated Woodpecker.

Once at the very tip of the north end you can take a short path leading to the Boneyard Beach. This is a mystical landscape of massive Live Oaks knocked over by the natural erosion of the barrier island. Semi-preserved by the salt, these make excellent climbing trees and host a variety of life forms including, Sea Anemones, Barnacles, crabs and polychaete worms.

After a relaxing day spent on the beach you can take one more stop before leaving the island. By the lone gas station there is a small service road that takes you between two salt marshes. After parking at the end you can hike the bike path to one of Jekyll's amazing freshwater sloughs. Here you can find alligators, frogs, snails, and birds.

Jekyll Island has a few restaurants, the Raw Bar and Latitude 31 being my favorite but if you just want to grab a sandwich, I would suggest trying the Georgia Pig. The Georgia Pig is found right off I-95 at exit 29. You can stop there before visiting the island or after leaving it. This place has slow-smoked pork on an open flame. You can order a sandwich or a whole meal. No photography is allowed inside the building but you will be delighted with the South Georgia atmosphere and decorations. One suggestion, if you're not accustomed to sulphur water, I would order a soda to drink. Otherwise, I like the lemonade and the sweet tea. The best part is the BBQ and of course, sharing your meal at a large family dining table with the other locals.

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