Even longtime island residents, who have traveled over the rivers and through the marshes in thousands of crossings, say they experience a quick heart-stop every time they drive over the causeway and head back onto St. Simons. It is not only those who have been gone for a spell. For many, it’s a daily homecoming described with words such as “spiritual” and “a little like being in love.”
They claim an unparalleled sense of place created by the ever-changing colors of the marsh: the green, gold, and brown waves of spartina grass, the now-placid/now-roiling ribbons of water underneath the bridges. The marina, with its rocking masts and clanging halyards, the first glimpses of Gascoigne Bluff, and the park at Epworth by the Sea. It’s seeing again that triangular patch of green, the streaming flags, and sign welcoming you back to St. Simons as soon as you’re back on terra firma.
Such a modest, simple gateway to this treasured island. But its very simplicity is a reason that merely driving onto St. Simons evokes strong emotions, why so many people feel they’ve left at least some of their 21st century burdens on the back side of the causeway and are returning to something calmer and quieter, where there is still more green than concrete, more oaks than offices.
Thanks to a partnership between the St. Simons Land Trust and homeowners in the Kings Point neighborhood, that deep SSI inhale now can be extended beyond the welcome sign and past a wooded stretch along Kings Way headed toward the Village.
In late August, the Land Trust purchased three acres of almost pristine maritime forest that fronts nearly 500 feet of Kings Way. The Kings Point subdivision is to the east, and the property’s southwest boundary extends roughly 900 feet along hundreds of acres of protected salt marsh that expands out to the Frederica River and the St. Simons Sound.
The tract also has proximity to historic Retreat Plantation, a 2,000-acre plantation once owned by William Page in the early 1800s when the cash crop was sea island cotton. A century later it was purchased by Howard Coffin, the developer and original owner of Sea Island. Coffin turned the property into a golf course, which it remains today.
According to a recent appraisal, the three-acre tract purchased by the Land Trust had a conceptual development plan for at least four residential lots. But thanks to a generous donor who provided restricted funds to acquire the property, and because of the collaboration with Kings Point, it was purchased at a “bargain sale” price and the land will be protected in perpetuity.
“There are so few significant-sized tracts of land left to conserve on the south-end of the island,” Emily Ellison, executive director of the Land Trust, cites as the primary motivation for acquiring the property. “This parcel contains the only protected upland acreage anywhere near Kings Way.”
Its maritime live oak hammock is ranked as “G2-Globally Imperiled,” indicating that rare habitats have been greatly reduced over the past years. According to an agreement between the Land Trust and the Kings Point Property Owners Association, the property will remain a protected green space with no public access. “Our shared conservation goals,” added Ellison, “are to protect the marsh buffer and wildlife corridor by leaving the property in its natural state.”
In addition to the forest of live oak, water oak, cabbage palm, sweet gum, red bay, yaupon holly, and other trees indigenous to coastal Georgia, there is a dense thicket of saw palmetto. A recent site visit revealed an active game trail created by white-tailed deer that follows along the marsh and is a hunting avenue for small mammals and reptiles. The ecosystem also provides safe nesting for painted buntings, wood storks, bald eagles, the diamondback terrapin, and migrating butterflies.
Now, that habitat will be protected forever, so will the sensation of returning to a greener, quieter, safer world. “The first time my husband Jonee and I drove across the causeway was coming to St. Simons to celebrate our honeymoon 40 years ago,” says award-winning novelist and screenwriter Tina McElroy Ansa. “On that first trip over the old drawbridge, I heard a voice say, ‘This is where you belong.’ I still get that feeling every time I cross the bridge coming to St. Simons Island. Home.”
Source: Golden Isles: The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Words by the St. Simons Land Trust | Photos by Sue Tuttle.