Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island

Volume 6, Issue 1
Spring, 2012


Shaping the Future of Jekyll Island State Park

The official revision of the 1996 Jekyll Island State Park Master Plan – which is a VERY big deal – is now in its fifth month. Six subject-based task forces formed by the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) and its consultant, the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute, have been developing recommendations for a new Master Plan (MP). Those recommendations will be considered by the MP’s Steering Committee, which will then put them out for public review before making final recommendations to the JIA board of directors.

So, why is IPJI referring to the MP update as “a VERY big deal?” Well, among the issues under discussion are two red hot ones:

Does tidal salt marsh = land?

The first of these hot potatoes is the the question of whether the hundreds of acres of salt marsh that lie above water at mean high tide can be defined as "land" and thus be considered part of Jekyll Island's land mass when calculating the number of acres eligible for devellopment under the 65/35 law. The 1996 Master Plan team answered this question in the affirmative and thus 'expanded' Jekyll' size by including 365 acres of tidal marsh as part of the island's land mass.

IPJI’s position is that tidal salt marsh is not part of Jekyll’s land area simply because marsh is a water-based environment and land, obviously, is not. Support for this position comes from standard definitions of salt marsh, which clearly distinguish it from land, and from Georgia’s Coastal Marshlands Protection Act, national legislation and various federal agencies, whick all dothe same. Furthermore, the state legislator who wrote the 1971 law limiting development to 35% of Jekyll’s land area told the Jekyll Island Authority, twice in writing, that marshland was NOT to be included in the 65/35 mix.

So, end of story, right? Nope! The question of whether tidal salt marsh = land is still being debated within the 65/35 task force, which, as of its August 20th meeting, is leaning toward reducing the number of marsh acres to be counted as part of Jekyll’s land mass. How much of the marsh might still be included in the 65/35 mix remains unclear at his point in time.  Stay tuned to IPJI’s website and Facebook page for details and how you can help....!

What is "developed" and what isn't?

The other sticky wicket is the definition of the terms “developed” and “undeveloped” land in relation to the legal requirement that no more than 35% of the land area of Jekyll Island may be developed.
IPJI contends that the definitions of "developed" and "undeveloped"  land should rely on professional standards for land use classification. No such standards were used in the 1996 Master Plan when classifying land use within Jekyll Island State Park.

Central to the ‘definitions’ issue is the question of whether the 65 acres of borrow pits that were mined for dirt to contour the golf course and that are now lakes and ponds serving as water hazard/penalty stroke areas that drown balls hit there by golfers who miss their target should be classified as “undeveloped” or “developed” land. 

IPJI’s position is that the golf course lakes should be defined as “developed" because they’re man-made, serve multiple practical functions, and are maintained/managed as part of the golf course complex.

It doesn’t take a wizard to figure out why the ‘definitions’ and marshland issues are so important, but, just in case we’ve managed to confuse you so far, consider this: If tidal salt marsh were to be excluded from the calculation of Jekyll Island's land area, then the island would officially be 365 acres “smaller,” which would mean that the 35% development cap has already been reached and no new development would be allowed by law. The same might be true if the 65 acres of man-made lakes and ponds/water hazards within the golf course complex, which are currently defined by the JIA as “undeveloped land,” were reclassified as developed land.

If it’s determined that the 35% limit has been reached or topped, a reduction of the developed portion of the island would not be required, as the law does not mandate restoration of natural land if the 35 percent limit has been exceeded. Furthermore, the JIA’s right to redevelop land that has already been developed and to develop land that has already been platted but is currently undeveloped would not be affected.

So, do you want get your two cents in regarding the MP update? (correct answer = “Yes, of course, I do; just tell me how!”). Well, here’s the skinny -- The Jekyll Island State Park Authoirty has pledged to provide multiple opportunities for members of the public to express their views on the issues under review, including the extent and type of development appropriate for Jekyll Island State Park, the definitions of developed and natural land, and whether marshland should be included when calculating the land area of Jekyll Island and, from there, the number of acres eligible for development under the 65/35 law.

Details on the “when” and “how” of public involvement in the Master Plan update are not yet available. When they are, IPJI will alert its members and facilitate their participation in the public review of the state park’s new Master Plan. If all goes to schedule (which it rarely does), public input on the MP recommendations will begin flowing by late summer or early fall.

Your involvement is crucial if we are to help ensure that the new Master Plan will provide for effective management and preservation of Jekyll Island State Park for decades to come. We’re hoping, wishing and praying that YOU will go to bat for Jekyll once again when crunch time arrives. 

Jekyll Island and the
Threshold for Development:
The View from 1972

“State law limits development on Jekyll to 35 percent of its area; the rest is supposed to remain natural. ‘That means 35 percent of the high land,’ said Horace Caldwell [Jekyll Island Authority Executive Director]. But, it’s hard to get answers on what is and what isn’t development. Is a dump that fills an inland marsh classed as development? Is a borrow pit? Is an artificial lake? Does filled marsh become high land subject to the 35 percent limit on development?”The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, June 18, 1972

The Jekyll Island Authority needs to reach a consensus on defining “development.” Unless the Authority makes this definition, some day Georgians could wake up and find every inch of the island in its ‘natural’ state – covered with golf courses.”Wayne County Press, July 3, 1972

“It would be shameful if we permitted the beauty of this magnificent island to be destroyed by cheap commercialism. There is a real danger of such exploitation. The developed portions of the island now include roughly one-third of the ground above the high water mark. There are plenty of fast buck artists perfectly willing to press the Jekyll Island Authority for permission to develop this or that, always alleging that their particular project could only improve the island.”The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 14, 1972

Forty years have passed since the articles excerpted above were written [click here to read the articles], yet concern for protecting Jekyll Island State Park from over-development, and the question of how best to define the terms “developed” and “undeveloped” land—as they relate to the law limiting development to 35 percent of Jekyll Island’s land area—are still with us today.

Persistent public interest in preserving Jekyll Island State Park’s unique character and natural appeal is one of the reasons that a committee is now reviewing the so-called 65/35 issue as part of the official update of the Jekyll Master Plan, which is supposed to be completed by the end of this year.

The Master Plan update will include opportunities for members of the public to express their views on any of the issues under review, including the extent and type of development appropriate for Jekyll Island State Park, the definitions of developed and natural land, and whether marshland should be included when calculating the land area of Jekyll Island and, from there, the number of acres eligible for development under the 65/35 law. Details on the “when” and “how” of public involvement in the Master Plan update are not yet available. When they are, IPJI will alert its members and help facilitate their participation in the public review of the state park’s Master Plan.

Jekyll Town Center Project
Takes Final Shape

Convention Center: The Jekyll Island State Park convention center (click here for photos) has been completed and will officially open on May 20th. Financed through $50 million in state bonds issued for the town center project, the new convention center is 128,000 square feet in size and includes 78,000 square feet of prime meeting space and a 4,500-seat ballroom suitable for large conferences and special events.  Its eye-popping interior has to be seen to be appreciated – Click here for a photographic tour of the new facility. The convention center’s impressive design and oceanfront location should help make it a choice meeting place throughout the southeast for groups of all sorts and sizes.

Linear Park: Also completed is the oceanfront linear park and bike/walking path that runs from Great Dunes Park to the northern border of the Days Inn property (click here for photos). The linear park, which already has proven to be popular with day visitors, includes family picnic pavilions, restrooms and changing stations, landscaped green space, and dune crossovers. A public park that situated just south of the soon to be built Jekyll convention hotel may be built later this year.

Convention Hotel: Jekyll Landmark Associates, the company that operates the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, will build the town center’s 200-room, upscale convention hotel, which will be branded under the Westin name. The Westin Jekyll Island will include 5,700 square feet of meeting space, banquet facilities, and a full-service restaurant. The building will range from four to five stories and will feature a two-story lounge offering a spectacular ocean view. Construction of the convention hotel was supposed to begin this fall and be completed by February 2014. However, as of August 21, the project is on hold due to a snag in securing bank financing.

Oceanfront Suites: At the May meeting of the Jekyll Island Authority’s Board of Directors, Jekyll Landmark Associates proposed a third hotel for the town center project consisting of 34 high-end suites to be housed in 3 oceanfront buildings, each 3 stories tall.

A budget hotel was supposed to be the third one to be included in the town center project, but that component was scratched when the project was down-sized two years ago Now, the third hotlel is back, but in a different form.

Mid-Scale Hotel: Ground-breaking for the town center’s 135 room, limited-service hotel has been delayed due the inability of the developer, Phelps Development, to finalize  financing for the project.  Phelps had expected to have its financint in hand by May 2011 and to have broken ground on its Hyatt-branded hotel by October 2011. Reportedly, progress is being made in securing financing, but the project still remains on hold as of August 2012.

Retail Center: Winding Road Development Company, which was supposed to build the retail center/ loft condos portion of the town center complex, has now departed from the Jekyll scene, its contract having been terminated by the JIA due to lack of progress in  securing financing.  The retail center will be built by the JIA instead of a private developer and will exclude the 65 condos that had been planned for the third and fourth stories of the retail shops, thus reducing by half the size of the project. Construction of the new retail center is tentatively set to begin in October 2012. 

Click here for a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article dealing with the town center project.

Jekyll Rocks the Vote in “America’s Favorite Parks” Contest

Jekyll Island State Park received over 7,000,000 votes during the 52-day annual America’s Favorite Parks contest sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company, finishing in 4th place out more than 1,000 park competitors nationally. Jekyll received more than 5 times the number of votes scored by all other Georgia state parks combined, a statistic that reflects well on the popularity of “Georgia’s Jewel” with its visitors and residents.

Coordinated efforts by the Jekyll Island Authority and IPJI helped boost Jekyll’s vote total, but the crucial ingredient was the support shown by the many, many people who treasure the island park and welcomed the chance to show their love for it by voting in the AFP contest. 

Our thanks go out to all who worked their fingers to the bone in wracking up votes for Jekyll throughout the duration of this marathon contest!

DNR Study Targets Jekyll Island’s Deer Population

Does Jekyll Island Have a Deer Problem? Some Say 'Yes', Deer Say 'No'

According to a July 2011 study conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and presented to the Jekyll Island Authority’s Board of Directors, Jekyll Island has a super abundance of deer, 712 in all. The most effective, cost-efficient way to deal with the deer overpopulation problem is to allow either bow and arrow hunters or sharpshooters to ‘harvest’ two-thirds of the island’s deer herd, according to the DNR report.

The DNR determined that there are 712 deer on Jekyll Island by dividing the average number of deer (85) seen during a 4-night spotlight survey into the roughly 680 acres that were surveyed (680 divided by 85 = 1 deer per 8 acres). The 1 deer per 8 acres ratio in the sampled area was then used to estimate the number of deer on the island’s entire 5,700 acres (5,700 divided by 8 = 712 deer).  The study also noted that 73 percent of the deer spotlighted were seen within Jekyll’s golf course complex, which is where deer-palatable food is most plentiful.

A basic precept of spotlight count methodology is that surveyors “should not show bias towards areas where observers believe deer will be, but rather survey all types of habitat on any one property.” This suggests that the DNR's spotlighting of an average of 85 deer per night along a chosen, deer-dense route on Jekyll Island does not mean deer exist at, or even close to, that same level of density on the entire island.

If Jekyll Island State Park is to have an informed deer management program, then a comprehensive, multi-year professional study of the island’s deer population is needed in order to establish its size, how it is trending over time; the overall health of the deer herd, and the degree to which deer foraging might be impacting the island’s maritime forest. Once these tasks have been completed, then baseline data on the Jekyll deer herd will be available and fact-based, progressive deer management practices can be developed.

The JIA has stated that it’s committed to conducting a thorough study of the island’s deer population As a first step in this process, sharpshooters were brought in to kill 6 deer on Jekyll Island for the purpose of doing necropsies that will shed light on the health of the deer population.

The JIA has not ruled out the use of lethal means to cull the herd if deer overpopulation is shown to exist and is proven to be problematic.

Media Coverage off the Jekyll Deer Issue

For a collection of press articles and letters to the editor dealing with the Jekyll deer population issue, click here.

Director of Conservation Hired by Jekyll Island Authority

The Jekyll Island Authority has hired Ben Carswell to serve as the island’s first Director of Conservation, a job which carries with it the responsibility of implementing the recently adopted Jekyll Island State Park Conservation Plan.

Ben earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Virginia and is currently a graduate student at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia, where he is working on his Master’s thesis, with the aim of graduating this summer. He spent the past year in Washington, D.C., working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association through a marine policy fellowship, helping the federal agency develop eco-friendly guidelines for the nation’s waterways.

A comprehensive study of Jekyll Island’s deer population and an analysis of the island’s wetlands are among the first tasks Ben intends to address as Director of Conservation.

Ben is currently serving as member of the 65/35 task force that is helping with the official update of the 1996 Jekyll Island State Park Master Plan.

To learn more about Ben, click here.

Have YOU Joined IPJI?

If you support IPJI’s goal of protecting Jekyll Island State Park’s traditional character and preserving its wildlife habitats and natural resources, please consider joining IPJI. The ability of IPJI to affect the future of Jekyll Island State Park is directly related to the size its membership. To join those of us who want to have a say in shaping that future, please fill out IPJI’s membership form by clicking here. IPJI membership is free!

Help Protect Jekyll Island State Park: Donate to IPJI

The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park is a registered 501c4 non-profit organization. Unlike most non-profit groups, however, IPJI does not charge an annual fee for membership but rather is solely dependent on donations from its supporters to fund its various operations. While we’ve been able to keep costs relatively low by having an all-volunteer staff, we are still very much in need of your financial support in order to maximize the reach and effectiveness as a Jekyll advocate..

Donations to IPJI—100% of which go to furthering the organization’s mission—may be made online through Pay Pal or may be sent by postal mail to The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park, 308 Old Plantation Road, Jekyll Island, GA 31527, c/o Mindy Egan.

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This and That

A Poetic Reminder of Jekyll Island’s Magical Beauty

A fitting way to close out this issue of IPJI’s Newsletter has been provided by G. Forest (Warne, NC), who is the author of a  poem, which captures beautifully Jekyll Island’s natural grace and captivating charm. To read the poem, "Early Morning Dance," click here.

Thank you for your support of IPJI
and Jekyll Island State Park!