Jekyll's Maritime Forest in Danger
Due to Linger Longer's Initial Town Center Proposal
The Private Revitalization Partner for the Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JISPA), Linger Longer Communities (LLC), has announced that it will move a segment of its Beach Village project (condominiums, timeshares, hotels, convention center, retail center, accommodating an estimated 2,500 guests daily) away from and west of the central beachfront of the Park.
There are signs indicating that LLC is now targeting the maritime forest just west of Beachview Drive for part of the Beach Village project, an area designated as a “Nature Preserve” in the Jekyll Island Authority’s 1996 Master Plan. Not only would this development lead to destruction of hundreds of live oak trees along the eastern edge of this magnificent forest, it would also mean obliteration of a unique plant community within a north-south strip of wetlands running from just behind the current Shopping Center north to Shell Road, across from the miniature golf and the parking lot for the Children’s Playground.
DNR Nongame Conservation personnel have characterized this wetland as “particularly important in protecting wildlife diversity” and a “significant, possibly rare natural community” that should be further investigated and documented. The NatureServe Explorer classification coming closest to this wetland is CEGL004082, Maritime Swamp Forest, but the Jekyll Island State Park swamp is unique in that it contains as dominant plants tall, aged red maples forming the canopy, and beds of two species of chain ferns on the swamp floor. Some of the red maples are three feet in diameter at breast height, and some 40 feet tall! On the floor of the swamp there are many, scattered crayfish mounds, clarifying the nature of this ecosystem as a freshwater wetlands. At the northern end of the swamp, there are two very large, tall bald cypress trees with knees extending out ten feet or so from the trunks. The crayfish mounds are also present under the cypress canopy, so the whole stretch of the Park’s swamp is indisputably a freshwater wetland.
One of the most beautiful and unique of the Park’s natural areas, the Maritime Swamp Forest should not be sacrificed for the sake of residential and commercial construction. If there is to be development within this lush Nature Preserve, it should be in the form of elevated walkways above the wetlands that could provide recreational enjoyment and a wonderful nature experience for all of Jekyll’s visitors. Signage could be added to educate the public about this rare natural community and its place in the Park’s heartland, highlighting the area as a living laboratory of nature’s wonders.
Georgia’s “Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan 2008-2013” (SCORP) – a lengthy and highly regarded, research-based document developed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in cooperation with various organizations – speaks of the pressing need “to establish and protect natural areas and opportunities for outdoor recreation.” Hopefully, the revised version of LLC’s town-center project will take this “pressing need” into full account.
“The ultimate declaration of SCORP 2008-2013 is that Georgia is at a critical crossroad. The preservation of our state’s priceless natural resources and the provision of accessible and affordable public outdoor recreation opportunities are now, more than ever, important responsibilities that we – as a state and as a society – must forthrightly address.”
Becky Kelley, Director of Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division of the DNR, and JIA Board member