Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sapelo Island

South Beach
March 9, 2009

Except for its very healthy dunes, Sapelo Island off of Georgia's southern coast, is flat. That's the good news for traveling levelers.

The less than good news is that there aren't a lot of what most travelers consider amenities - specifically restaurants and bathrooms.

Tip: Among the nicest facilities are those at South Beach, where you access one of the most beautiful beaches you'll ever see - rolling dunes, sweeping expanse of sand, undeveloped and open vistas. If you see three other people it's a crowded day.

There is a sweetness and a deep sadness overhanging this barrier island, the sweetness from its towering yet enveloping oak trees to the basic, with the earth lifestyle of its long-time inhabitants.

The sadness comes from them, too, what their ancestors endured, having been brought here as slaves, struggling to buy their land following the Civil War and being pushed off of all but a small portion to make the island a private reserve for the R. J. Reynolds family.

You can tour the Reynolds mansion on Wednesday mornings with an advance reservation and groups can stay there, but the former stables and barns now house the University of Georgia's Marine Institute.

Sapelo is reached by a 30-minute ferry ride from Meridian, GA., and a reserved tour is necessary to see it unless you're fortunate enough, as I was, to be brought over by an island property owner.

Tours of the mansion and island or lighthouse and island can be arranged at, but to get a special feel for the island and its history, I'd go with Spirit of Sapelo's wagon and bus tours or The three-hour-long Spirit excursions are run by the Bailey family whose matriarch, Cornelia Walker Bailey, is the last of the generation born, reared and educated on Sapelo.

Tip: Her book, God, Dr. Buzzard and the Bolito Man, is a wonderful read. Order and read it before you come; wish I had. Sapelo's People by William S. McFeely will give you an insight into slavery on the island.


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