Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island
Volume 4, Issue 1
In this issue
[Click on each title to read individual articles or scroll down to read the entire Newsletter]
THE NEW LOOK OF JEKYLL ISLAND - AN ILLUSTRATED OVERVIEW
The change of plans for the Jekyll town center, the delays in replacing Jekyll hotels that have been demolished, and the cancellation of the public-private partnership between the JIA and high-end developer Linger Longer Communities have left many Jekyll visitors wondering about the status of the JIA’s effort to ‘revitalize’ Jekyll Island State Park. Below is a factual summary of the projects that have been completed, underway, or just around the corner for Jekyll Island.
While some people may object to a few of the changes heading Jekyll’s way, the projects are, for the most part, more in tune with mainstream thinking on Jekyll’s renovation than those initially proposed by Linger Longer Communities and endorsed by the JIA board. Click here to see the original town center plan, which IPJI vigorously opposed.
Reportedly, the owners of Hampton Inn and Suites (who also operate the Jekyll Club Hotel) may build a small, upscale hotel and/or a cluster of rental cottages adjacent to the new hotel some time over the next few years.
The bike trail on the east side of the Historic District, diagonal to Jekyll’s bookstore and running through the maritime forest and marsh to Forsten Parkway, has been rehabilitated. Formerly a very rough ride, the trail is now relatively smooth and offers a great view of an interior marsh as the trail crosses a bridged tidal estuary. As of late, the pond on the trail’s south side has become home for two of Jekyll’s largest alligators, both of which seem happy to pose for photos by bikers smart enough to keep a safe distance. The trail might be closed periodically over the next several months during the construction of Jekyll's new gas station and convenience store, which will be located just to the east of the trail's southern tip.
The public park located between Jekyll’s convention center and Blackbeard’s restaurant is currently being enlarged and supplemented with family-friendly amenities, including a children’s play area, picnic tables and a beach deck. Called Great Dunes Park, the facility is scheduled to open this summer and will serve as the primary public beach access for visitors looking to spend time at the beach. Great Dunes Park will have more parking than was previously available at that site, but net parking capacity along the island’s main public beach will actually decrease due to the upcoming elimination of the popular beachside parking area opposite Jekyll’s beach deck and adjacent to the Days Inn. IPJI has argued that Jekyll’s open beachfront should be preserved, not reduced or commercialized, particularly in view of the likely increase in demand for public beach access as Georgia’s population continues to grow in coming decades. Jekyll’s new entryway is now under construction. The two west-bound lanes of Forsten Parkway will be eliminated permanently; the current two-lane east-bound road will henceforth serve both east-and west-bound traffic. Beachview Drive will be shifted roughly 100 yards westward opposite the site of the current convention center to create additional space for the Jekyll town center and will funnel into a roundabout, which will connect with the new entryway. Drivers coming on to the island who want to go to the town center or head either north or south on Beachview Drive must enter the traffic circle at the same, single lane junction with the entryway. A new gas station—to be built by Flash Foods—is under construction, with completion slated for August 2010. The Flash Foods’ project will include a convenience store and a Dairy Queen quick-serve restaurant. Adjacent to this site will be an overflow parking area for the soon to be built Jekyll town center. The project, reportedly, will not affect the live oak canopy at this site, with the exception of the removal of trees that are considered to be in poor health. The trail might be closed periodically over the next several months during the construction of Jekyll's new gas station and convenience store, which will be located just to the east of the trail's southern tip. The historic 1929 J.P. Morgan indoor tennis court is presently being converted into a conference/banquet facility. The Morgan Center will also host weddings and trade events and will provide the space needed for convention groups while a new and enlarged beachside convention center is being built. The Morgan Center project is scheduled for completion in August 2010.
The northern half of the Oceanfront Resort has been converted into condominiums, some of which are now for sale. Completion of the condo conversion project is scheduled for later this year. The southern half of the Oceanfront Resort will be the site of a new suites hotel. No completion date has been announced for the new hotel.
Projects to begin later this year:
Jekyll’s convention and retail centers will be demolished in September 2010. Those sites, along with the land between the current convention center and the Days Inn, will be the home of the Jekyll town center. Construction of the new convention center is scheduled to begin in October 2010 and be completed by mid-2012.
Proposals for the privately-owned components of the Jekyll town center—which were to be built by Linger Longer Communities—are currently being reviewed by the JIA. The winning bids for the town center’s two new hotels, retail center and loft condos are expected to be announced in May, with construction beginning later this year and being completed by mid-2012. Most of the shops in Jekyll’s current retail center will operate out of trailers to be located in the parking lot south of the Oceanside Inn & Suites until the new retail center opens. That lot is currently being resurfaced.
Projects under formulation:
Developer Trammell Crow is expected to release plans within the next few months for the replacement of the demolished Buccaneer Resort and Georgia Coast Inn. Trammell Crow has indicated that it would like to merge the two properties into one but has not yet said anything about what it intends to build there. Trammell Crow’s initial, and now abandoned, plan for those properties called for a 300-unit hotel, 120 condominiums, and 28 high-end villas.
Trammell Crow has also committed to building replacement lodgings for the Oceanside Inn & Suites. Originally, that project was to begin in 2011 but is now on hold, presumably because of the tight credit market and the downturn in the tourism and hospitality industries.
JEKYLL BILLS – LEGISLATION FAILS BUT RAISES AWARENESS
In March 2010, two bills dealing with Jekyll Island State Park were introduced in the Georgia House of Commons.
- One sought to guarantee the sanctity of the 1971 law limiting development to no more than 35 percent of the land area of Jekyll Island.
- The other aimed to require JIA board members to have expertise in areas relevant their work as stewards of a barrier island State Park and to tighten up ethics regulations regarding ties between board members and any entity aiming to do business with the JIA.
Despite widespread public support for the legislation, the bills were denied a hearing by Representative Terry Barnard, the chairman of the committee to which the bills were sent. While Representative Barnard succeeded in killing the Jekyll bills, the concerns which gave birth to them will not go away. Most importantly, the JIA’s definition of “undeveloped” land needs to be revisited in order to guarantee the sanctity of the 1971 law requiring that 65 percent of the land area of Jekyll Island remains in its natural condition. For more on this issue, click here.
REMAINS OF ANCIENT LAGOON SURFACE ON JEKYLL’S NORTH BEACH
BY STEVE NEWELL
Jekyll’s north beach, between the Beachview Club and the Oceanfront Resort, is witnessing a remarkable phenomenon – the emergence of an ancient salt marsh, replete with recognizable remnants of the stems of salt marsh grass (Spartina alterniflora) and shells of marsh bivalves. Covered by compacted, jagged organic material, with peaks and craters reaching an amplitude of nearly three feet, segments of the affected beach resemble a moonscape in miniature. The phenomenon, which has become much more pronounced in recent years, is visible at low and middle tide but otherwise under water, making it dangerous to the unsuspecting island visitor who might attempt to wade a few yards into the ocean at high tide.
Why has Jekyll’s ancient salt marsh resurfaced now, thousands of years after it was claimed by the island’s shifting sands? Well, the standard pattern of long-term change in Georgia's coastal barrier islands is for their sand to shift to the southern from the northern parts of the islands. There is also a tendency for barrier islands to shift west, as a counter to the slow, steady rise in sea level that is now occurring (about 3 mm per year).
As a consequence of these two slow movements of sand, the islands will slowly cover portions of the salt marshes that flourish in Atlantic-side inlets and between the western edges of the islands and the mainland shore to the west. After thousands of years have passed, the once-buried, ancient salt marshes can be exposed again, as the sand above them is shifted south.
The extent of reappearance of ancient marshland can be especially pronounced if beach erosion is severe, as is the case with Jekyll Island State Park's northeastern beaches. It is this erosion that has created "Driftwood Beach" at the northeastern corner of the Park. The large dead trees there are not truly "driftwood"; rather they are fallen from the maritime forest to the west of the beach because of the severe loss of beach and terrestrial sand.
One reason for the extreme nature of this beach erosion is the existence of the deep shipping channel between Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island. Sand that would ordinarily move south to Jekyll Island across the gap between the islands is instead trapped in the deep channel and flushed out to sea. The excessive loss of sand on some of Jekyll's northeastern beaches is worsened by another factor: the rock armoring (the "Johnson Rocks" rip-rap) placed at the western edge of beaches east of the northeastern residential areas of the Park. Sand from behind the rock armoring cannot fall into the sand-distribution system, and this leads to the removal of sand lying above ancient salt marsh.
For those of you who would like to take a look at the affected beach, please note that the phenomenon, while observable year round, is far more impressive in the winter and spring months, when the prevailing northeast winds accelerate the shift of sand from north to south.
[Steve Newell earned his PhD in Biological Oceanography from the University of Miami School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences. He received the F. G. Walton Smith Award for outstanding dissertation research. Newell served on the faculty at the School for 7 years. In Miami (and the nearby Bahama Islands), Newell focused his research on the microbes of the mangrove ecosystem. In 1979, he moved to the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, and transferred his research focus to the microbes of the salt marsh ecosystem. He spent the next 26 years living on Sapelo Island, developing information on the ways in which microbes interact with marsh plants and animals and promote the cycling of carbon and nutrients in the marsh. His work contributed to a new and stronger understanding of the production of animals by the marsh ecosystem. Newell retired with Emeritus status from the Marine Institute in 2005, after serving 3 years as Director, having published over 100 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. He moved to Jekyll Island State Park, where he devotes time to advocating the protection of the natural ecosystems of the Park, especially the critical nesting habitat of loggerhead turtles, a species threatened with extinction. Newell is currently a member of IPJI’s Advisory Council.]
MONSTER GRAPEVINE DISCOVERED IN JEKYLL’S MARITIME FOREST
Does anyone know where to find the biggest grapevine in Georgia, or maybe the biggest grapevine in the USA?
Well…., it just may be on Jekyll Island!
Fernbank Science Center ecologist Al Tate was visiting Jekyll Island with his Wetland Ecology Class on April 17th. During a field study, they found and measured a monster grapevine in Jekyll’s old growth maritime forest and took some photos to record the event. According to Tate, the vine, which is located in the wooded area behind Jekyll’s shopping center, is most likely Vitis rotundifolia, the muscadine grape. However, the vine has no leaves near the ground and is so large that it doesn’t display typical characteristics used to identify the stem. It is climbing on an old decaying hardwood tree and reaches up to the canopy spreading over several treetops. Using some string and a ruler, the class measured the vine’s circumference at approximate DBH (diameter at breast height or 4 ft.) and also at 2.5 feet high. Circumference at DBH was 44 and 12/16th inches. Circumference at 2.5 feet above the ground was 45 and 3/16th inches. A preliminary search of the internet did not locate any sites that keep track of very large vines like a number of locations do for large champion trees. If anyone reading this article knows of such a website or any registry of large grapevines, please contact IPJI at email@example.com so that we record this vine. If a registry of large vines does not exist, the Fernbank Wetland Ecology Classwould like to proclaim this Jekyll Island natural wonder as the largest grape vine in Georgia.
AESTHETICS AND ECOLOGY INTERSECT IN CAUSEWAY PROJECT
BY AL TATE
In July 2009, the Jekyll Island Authority set up a special committee to work on a proposal to open up the marsh vista along the Jekyll Causeway by trimming the roadside shrub borders in staggered gaps so that the view could be opened up without destroying the ecological diversity and productivity that is found in that ecotone between the Spartina marsh and the mowed right of way (ROW). By approaching this work with care and sensitivity, the JIA staff deserves the public’s thanks, for it has demonstrated a serious commitment to protecting some of Jekyll's natural assets which few people know about or appreciate.
The idea of opening up the view for Jekyll visitors can be accomplished in a way which may result in improving the productivity and health of the ecotone. Cutting out staggered sections on alternate sides of the causeway not only opens up the marsh vista, it will also keep the wind brake now provided by the shrub line and serve to direct visitor observation to both sides of the marsh. By then developing a trimming schedule on a 3-5 year rotation the shrubs there should respond with more vigorous growth and enhanced productivity. This should benefit a variety of creatures that use the shrub habitat.
The plan developed by the special committee was to be recommended to the JIA Conservation Committee after some review by GDOT and other regulatory agencies. I have not heard of any subsequent action by this special committee, and would now like to offer the following additional thoughts and recommendations.
In my last correspondence with the committee (6 July 2009), I raised the issue of disposal of the woody material which will be cut. Chipping it up and spreading in along the ROW seemed to be the preferred plan. However, I would like to raise several issues of concern about that method. The decaying stems of wax myrtle and other shrubs now along the ROW provide food and habitat for an amazing variety of insects and other small creatures. (link to photos). These beetles, beetle larva, ants, termites, lizards, and other creatures are a significant food resource for birds and small mammals that live in or visit the marsh and the ROW. If those larger dead limbs and stems are ground up, that habitat will be destroyed. This coarse woody debris is decomposed over several years through a natural process which includes fungal attack and consumption by larger insects and other detritivores. In fact, most of the food produced in the marsh and this ecotone is transferred up the food chain as detritus.
I recommend that any woody debris that is 3 inches or larger in diameter be cut and left in place as habitat and food resource for birds, small mammals, and other wildlife. These decaying (but low lying) brush borders will not interfere with an open view of the marsh, but will offer food and habitat for birds and mammals, thus creating an opportunity for some rare public viewing of them up close. I believe that with some appropriate signage along the causeway, similar to that erected to explain the diamondback terrapin nesting, the public would understand and embrace the concept of leaving the coarse woody debris cut and lying in place along the ca useway.
An objection to this concept is that it will create an eyesore that will make the causeway look rough and not properly maintained. Recently, I rediscovered some unrecognized truths about this shrub border that the committee needs to take into account. If you walk through the shrub screen and into the edge of the marsh on the north side of the ROW, you will find that there is indeed a real eyesore. The amount of trash that has accumulated there, deposited all along the marsh edge and up into the shrub border of the 6 mile length of the road is unbelievable! (link to photos). It must receive a substantial contribution from the Torras Causeway, the intracoastal waterway, and every high tide and strong wind that come along. The tide and wind from the north bring it to Jekyll Causeway. There is little accumulation on the south side. Of course this problem needs to be addressed by itself, but it also is germane to the way we manage ROW woody debris.
If the debris is cut, chipped, and spread in place, it leaves an open gap to the marsh and a clear view all the way to the ground. Every time some garbage blows in or washes up along that gap it is in plain view of the public eye. All that trash that is there now but hidden by the shrub border is sure to bring loud and frequent complaints and require more frequent trash pickup by JIA's overworked maintenance forces. If the coarse woody debris is cut and left in place, it will create a low brushy margin that will catch and hide most of the unsightly trash.
Finally, I recommend that we organize a volunteer effort to address the trash problem described above. It will be an expensive and time consuming task for JIA maintenance forces to clean up alone and that approach would not demonstrate this problem to the public. It is a problem that few people are aware of and that most would be very concerned about if they did. I feel that JIA would get good public support to clean up the marsh border, and it could become a great opportunity for JIA and others who care about the environment to work together to improve the island. The clean-up project could be made into a real social event with some good PR and a little planning.
To view photos of the feeding activity going on within the decaying stems found along the Jekyll Causeway ROW click here.
[Al Tate is an Ecologist and Naturalist at Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta and has taught there for 25 years. For the past 22 years, he has brought classes to Jekyll Island to study fresh and saltwater wetlands, maritime forests, and the flora and fauna of Jekyll and the coastal plain. Prior to working at Fernbank, Al was the first Staff Ecologist for Georgia Department of Transportation, where he worked in natural ecosystems throughout Georgia and pioneered techniques to reduce impacts of and/or mitigate road construction activities on streams and wetlands. He has also taught a number of classes on Jurisdictional Wetland Delineation and Recognition of Wetland Plant Species through the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education. Recently, Al has become a member of IPJI’s Advisory Council.]
REMEMBER JEKYLL ISLAND :
NEW BOOK TRACES HISTORY OF JEKYLL DEVELOPMENT CONTROVERSY
Dr. Babs McDonald, who is a science writer, educator and editor of an international science education journal, has authored the first book-length account of the four-year history of the Jekyll redevelopment controversy. Entitled Remember Jekyll Island, the book is largely based on materials collected through the Georgia Open Records Act, JIA official records and statements, interviews with various people closely involved with the Jekyll redevelopment issue, and published literature dealing with public land planning and natural resource management.
In the words of New York Times best-seller author Janisse Ray, “Remember Jekyll Island is an impassioned, impeccably researched book born out of alarm at the prospect of losing something precious. Here is a labor of immense love. Not only is it an account of the near theft by political operatives of Georgia’s Jekyll Island—a refuge belonging to the people—it is as well a treatise on the primacy of nature in our lives and a call for help.”
For further information on Remember Jekyll Island, click here.
IPJI CREATES AN ADVISORY COUNCIL
IPJI has established an Advisory Council consisting of seven individuals who have expertise in the main subject areas that IPJI deals with, including public land planning and management, coastal resource preservation and protection, environmental studies, barrier island ecology, archaeology, and the history and culture of Jekyll Island. The experience of the Council’s members should prove to be invaluable as IPJI continues its work on behalf of Jekyll Island State Park. Click here for brief professional biographies of the members of IPJI’s Advisory Council.
“AFFORDABLE JEKYLL” – IPJI WEBSITE ADDS NEW FEATURE
The Jekyll Island State Park Authority Act (1950) calls for “the operation of the public facilities of the park at rates so moderate that all of the ordinary citizens of the State may enjoy them.” This remarkable legislative mandate has guided Jekyll’s development and Park operations for more than half a century, giving millions of people who ordinarily could not afford to vacation on the coast an opportunity to do so.
To promote Jekyll’s tradition of affordability, IPJI will henceforth be posting on its website bargain rates/special offers available at the island’s hotels and restaurants or at any of the facilities operated by the Jekyll Island Authority. Information there will be updated regularly for the convenience of IPJI members.
Click here to sign IPJI's petition in support of Jekyll's affordability mandate.
IPJI PRESENTATION AT ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF GEORGIA RIVER NETWORK
On March 24, 2010, IPJI Co-Directors Mindy and David Egan delivered a Power Point Presentation centered on the Jekyll redevelopment issue to members of the Georgia River Network at a conference held at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. Among the topics covered by the Egans were: the evolution of the Linger Longer town center project; the collapse of the JIA-Linger Longer partnership; the JIA’s long-term forecast for the redevelopment of Jekyll Island; the capacity/density study conducted by the Bleakly Advisory Group; and the 1971 law requiring that 65 percent of Jekyll Island remains in its natural condition. Presentations such as the one made at the GRN conference have proven to be an excellent way to build support for IPJI’s effort to preserve Jekyll Island’s unspoiled qualities and unique characteristics, as both a barrier island and a state park.
MOTHER NATURE AT HER BEST – REMARKABLE PHOTOS BY JAMES HOLLAND, RANDALL DAVIS AND DOROTHY CARSWELL
IPJI’s image gallery has grown again, this time with the addition of two spectacular collections of wildlife photos, one provided by James Holland, who has served as the Altamaha Riverkeeper for the past ten years, the other by professional photographer Randall Davis. If you love critters, especially birds, you’ll appreciate these photos, which have been arranged in a slide show enriched by a soundtrack. Click here to view the Holland and Davis collections. Also recently added to IPJI’s Image Gallery is a remarkable slide show consisting of photos taken by Jekyll Island resident Dorothy Carswell.
These three slideshows offer images of some of Jekyll’s most stunning natural features and wildlife, reminding us why it so important to do what we can to protect this remarkable piece of America’s coastal landscape.
“DEFEND JEKYLL” BUMPER STICKER CAMPAIGN CONTINUES
IPJI has purchased its fourth batch of 1,000 “Defend Jekyll Island” bumper stickers. The stickers provide Jekyll’s friends with a way to express their support for Georgia’s Jewel and to draw attention to IPJI’s continuing effort to protect it. The stickers, which are available for FREE, can be taped to the inside of a car window or placed on a bumper. To request a bumper sticker, click here.
IPJI MEMBERSHIP CONTINUES TO GROW
The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park (IPJI) was founded in 2006 for the purpose of giving Jekyll’s friends the means to work together to help shape the island’s future. An all-volunteer, non-profit organization, IPJI began with just a handful of dedicated Jekyll advocates but has now grown to over 10,000 supporters representing more than 350 towns and cities in Georgia, 49 states and 10 countries. If you love Jekyll Island but have not yet formally joined IPJI, please click here to join. Membership in IPJI is FREE, the benefits are everlasting. Friday, May 14th (call or email by 5:00 p.m. ) is your last chance to make a reservation for the Satilla Riverkeeper gala fundraiser on Saturday, May 15th. Join the fun at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel Ballroom . . . where the river meets the sea and the past meets the present, click here for details.