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Quiet on the Coast: Little St. Simons Island

Georgia's Little St. Simons Island Lodge Offers
Nature Lovers Pristine Beauty in an Eco-Friendly Lodge

by Mary Ann Anderson

As I walked along the gravel-and-pebble path of Beach Road on Little St. Simons Island, I could hear and feel the rhythm of the rumbling surf of the Atlantic long before I could see it. As I quickened my step over the windswept dunes whipped to softness by sugary sands, I began to smell it, too, as the waves evaporated into microscopic grains of sea salt and permeated the warm spring air.

CERTIFIED GREEN:
One of only two U.S. properties, the Lodge on Little St. Simons was recently honored with a GreenGlobe award - a highly commended environmental acheichevment for its green practices and resource preservation.

When I crossed the beach to the watermark where the ocean melded with earth and waded in to knee-deep, I glanced to my left. Chattering flocks of pelicans and seagulls fluttered along a shoreline so long that I imagined I could see the curvature of the earth.

St. Simons Island Helen House Living Room

The beach on privately-owned Little St. Simons Island, perhaps the purest of all the barrier islands of Georgia that creates a protective line of defense against the great tumultuous storms of the Atlantic, meanders on for seven glorious miles, broken only here and there by the spill of freshwater creeks or small tidal pools of ocean water.

On this day, all seven miles were completely mine and mine alone. There is something extraordinarily spellbinding and even slightly primitive about having miles of the vast Atlantic coastline all to yourself with nary another soul around, just skittering crabs, oodles of shorebirds, and even an occasional loggerhead turtle lumbering ashore to lay her eggs.

This sense of isolation is one of the secret ingredients of the 10,000-acre Little St. Simons Island. Reached only by boat, the island is one of those rare places that is perfectly secluded, serene, and quite unspoiled. And more so, the Lodge on St. Simons Island, once a rustic hunting cabin where Hemingway would have felt at home, provides luxury accommodations in cottages and cedar-sided lodges for a mere thirty guests, so at any given time each person has roughly 333 acres to herself.

The sanctuary-like Little St. Simons Island is seemingly anointed by the gods of nature as a place of extraordinary beauty. Part of the reason is that a mélange of four distinct ecosystems define the landscape of the island, including the pristine wilderness of the maritime forests with its tangled canopy of oaks, cedars, pines, and wild magnolias; endless acres of brilliant green salt marshes teeming with every coastal critter and bird imaginable; those delightfully uncrowded beaches; and the wetlands highlighted by ribbons of tidal creeks.

If you're one of the fortunate thirty guests at the Lodge on Little St. Simons, you can take island "safaris" or natural history tours with one of the naturalists, who will explain each ecosystem and how important it is to the island's survival. More than likely, you'll take your safari while sitting in the back of a pick-up truck-sometimes hanging on for dear life as the truck bumps and rattles over the sandy paths-and you'll probably come upon an incredible profusion of wildlife, perhaps a diamondback rattlesnake as it suns itself on a sand ridge, a swift-footed European fallow deer as it scampers through the woods, or even an alligator, its eyes glowing like hot coals as it watches and contemplates your next move.

Enjoying the Wildlife Horseback Riding

The wildlife doesn't commit itself entirely to the forests, though. As I sat on the porch of the main lodge one morning, I quietly and conscientiously eavesdropped on the sounds of nature. In less than ten minute's time, I heard the soulful cry of a mourning dove calling its mate, the high-pitched "caw-caw" of a crow, the wallowing of an armadillo in the underbrush, the hard "whump!" of a pine cone hitting the ground after being nudged from its branches by a squirrel, the heavy sigh of the coastal breeze as it whirled through the massive oaks, the nearly imperceptible splash of a dolphin swimming in a nearby creek, and the short snorts of a fallow deer nibbling at the ground just a few feet away.

Little St. Simons has been declared an "Important Bird Area" by the Audubon Society, and for good reason. There are nearly 300 bird species on the island, including all different types of heron, doves, cuckoos, woodpecker, turkey, duck, and the seasonal bald eagle, but the queen of the island is undoubtedly the painted bunting, whose bright plumage makes it arguably one of the most beautiful birds in the world.

There is always the quiet drama of the forces of nature here, even if unseen. Only six miles long and less than three miles wide, the relatively pint-sized island amazingly continues to grow larger by slow, gradual inches because of an outflow of sediment from a host of rivers churning their contents into the sounds, a phenomenon uniquely that of Little St. Simons.

The Lodge on Little St. Simons is one of those places made for romance, solitude, or camaraderie with friends or family, and then combined with outdoors adventures like kayaking, beach seining, fishing, canoeing, swimming, horseback riding, and hiking or biking more than twenty miles of forested trails.

But even more so, this is a place custom made for halcyon days and nights: there are no phones, radios, televisions, computers, or electronic contraptions of any kind. Evening skies are lit only by the constellations and lightning bugs, and if you're fortunate enough to experience a rainstorm during your visit, the echo of rain beating against the tin roof of the main hunting lodge practically guarantees peaceful slumber.

The all-inclusive price of a stay at the lodge includes three meals a day. Meals, comfortable and come-as-you-are casual, are announced by the clang-clang-clang of a cast-iron dinner bell hanging on the front porch and then served family-style on a long table, where you never know with whom you will be sitting, perhaps even a politician or celebrity of some sort.

Breakfast at The Lodge

On the menu for breakfast is artery-clogging, seasoned-to-perfection stone-ground grits-the kind that actually has to crawl out of the pot, the way the Good Lord intended-fried eggs, real country ham, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits, and sausage gravy so thick and delicious that it will, and I have to use an appropriately southern expression here, knock your ever-lovin' socks off.

Lunch and dinner or possibly a beach picnic might be plain ol' homemade fare like platters full of fried chicken, an oyster roast, or even a Low Country boil, or it could be a gourmet dish like pecan crusted pork loin prepared with port wine and pear sauce.

Dessert is always homemade, with a special emphasis on sinfully rich southern treats like pecan pie, strawberry shortcake, and hummingbird cake.

When you visit Little St. Simons, leave your watch at home. You'll know when it's time to get up by the sunrise scattering its iridescent light across the marsh, when it's time to eat by the peals of the dinner bell, and when it's time to rest by the late afternoon shadows growing longer and the nocturnal creatures waking from their slumber.

Little St. Simons Island is a place that I could never leave and be perfectly happy. It is nature at its finest and its most raw, so it's not for everyone. There are a gracious plenty of bugs, as you would expect of a coastal island, and even slight risks of danger with its fair population of diamondbacks, cottonmouths, and alligators.

But with this degree of high octane beauty and energy waiting, a snake or a 'gator or two merely succeeds in adding a bit of intrigue to your coastal getaway.

If You Go:

Little St. Simons Island is located just off the Georgia coast, approximately halfway between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida. It is accessible only by boat from Hampton River Marina Club on St. Simons Island.

Rates are available upon request and are all-inclusive of lodging, meals, island activities, and recreation, including canoes, kayaks, boats, fishing gear, bicycles, horseback riding, swimming pool, and guided environmentalist and naturalist tours. Even sunscreen and bug repellant are included. For the ultimate family vacation, class reunion, corporate retreat, or even anyone who wants the island all to herself, full island rentals for up to 30 guests are also offered.

For more information, contact The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island by calling toll-free (888) 733-5774 or locally at (912) 638-7472. Visit the website at www.littlestsimonsisland.com or e-mail at lodge@littlestsimonsisland.com.

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