Seeking adventure on Sapelo Island

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How high can you go? That was the challenge as we climbed Spanish-moss covered trees using ropes.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’  “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” series gives women from all backgrounds the chance to learn outdoor skills in a positive, non-competitive atmosphere where they can feel confident and have fun. Activities include hunting, fishing, kayaking, shooting and much more!

Sapelo Island trip is the “crown jewel” of the Georgia BOW events – giving women more time together to focus on specific coastal recreational activities, learn more about protecting Georgia’s coastline, and make new friends. About 60 miles south of Savannah, Sapelo Island is the fourth largest of Georgia’s  barrier islands, about 11 miles long and three miles wide, covering 16,500 acres.

On a hot weekend in August, 12 intrepid women, of various ages, backgrounds, and fitness levels met at the ferry dock in tiny Meridian, Ga., introduced themselves, and began a three-day adventure on one of the most serene and secluded of Georgia’s barrier islands – Sapelo. Most of the women had never met before, but they shared a common bond – the love of the outdoors, a respect for Georgia’s natural resources and a desire to try something new.

The get-away, sponsored by Georgia Department of Natural Resources, is part of “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” (BOW) hands-on training workshops that encourage women to get outside and discover activities they may have never tried.

“GA BOW gives women from all backgrounds the chance to learn outdoor skills in a positive, non-competitive atmosphere where they can feel confident and have fun,” according to Jody Rice, Georgia DNR Coordinator of BOW. ”Activities include hunting, fishing, kayaking, shooting and much more! The Sapelo Island trip is the “crown jewel” of the Georgia BOW events – giving women more time together to focus on specific coastal recreational activities, learn more about protecting Georgia’s coastline, and make new friends.

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The Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo Island is now part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources State Parks and Historical Sites. This back view of the mansion is framed by Spanish moss draped live oaks and palms.

Historic Sapelo Island

About 60 miles south of Savannah, sits Sapelo Island, the fourth largest of Georgia’s barrier islands, about 11 miles long and three miles wide, covering 16,500 acres. Most of the island is owned by the state of Georgia, except for the charming, 434-acre hamlet of Hog Hammock, where African American descendants of the Gullah-Geechee tradition have called the island home for more than 200 years.

Much of the Island is dedicated to research and maintaining Sapelo’s coastal habitat. The major entities are the 6,100-acre Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR) on the western perimeter of the island, the University of Georgia Marine Institute, located within the reserve, and the Richard J. Reynolds Wildlife Management Area, where the state manages deer and wild turkey populations.

Sapelo Island has a rich history that stretches back over 4,500 years when Guale Indians first settled there. You can find the remains of ancient Native American shell rings whose purpose still remains a mystery. The first private owner of Sapelo harvested crops on the island before the Revolutionary War. The island changed hands several times until Thomas Spalding acquired most of Sapelo before the Civil War. He grew sugar cane and built the first mansion on the southern end out of tabby, a mixture of lime, shells and water. The Spalding family sold most of its holdings on the island after the war. In the early 1900’s, a Detroit automotive engineer, Howard Coffin, bought the island, except for the privately-owned African-American communities, and rebuilt the mansion, damaged during the Civil War. Notable guests during the Coffin years were President Calvin Coolidge, President Herbert Hoover, and aviator, Charles A. Lindbergh. Tobacco heir, R.J. Reynolds purchased the island in 1934, upgraded the mansion and lived there part-time for more than 30 years. After Reynolds death, Georgia Department of Natural Resources obtained the island in 1976, and the Reynolds mansion is now a state park and a major attraction for visitors.

“The Sapelo BOW trip offered me the opportunity to meet some spirited women who enjoy the outdoors, while I stretched my limits in trap shooting and tree climbing, and learned ocean fishing and crabbing techniques. It afforded me many adventures I wouldn’t have on my own.”– Sue Memmer, Peachtree City resident

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Twelve women, from Georgia and Kentucky, enjoyed the “Beyond Becoming an Outdoor Woman” Adventure on Sapelo Island. Pictued, from left, are: (back Row) Joy Washburn, Dr. Tracy Barefield, Nan Lavin, Elizabeth Romano, Sue Memmer, and Bonnie Helander; (front row) Rita Llop, Olivia Evans, Anne Cochran, Veronica Vasilik, Ida Butterworth, Machelle Morton, Tina Johannsen, Program Manager, Georgia DNR.

Becoming an Outdoor Woman…Sapelo Style!

After a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland, our group of “BOW Scouts” was dropped off at the Sapelo Island dock and then whisked away by van to the Reynolds mansion, our home for three nights. Stepping onto the mansion property, we were transported back to a bygone era. Live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, beautiful sculptures and the haunting sounds of the marshland, give the grounds a mystical, magical feel. The mansion has 13 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, and can house up to 29 guests. Our group was welcomed by Jody Rice and several other DNR staff and volunteers, who are experts in the activities we pursued over the course of the weekend. Two delightful women, from nearby Hog Hammock, were the chefs who provided delicious, low country cuisine during our stay.

Our first full day on Sapelo started with a van tour of the southern end of the island, highlighted by climbing to the top of the Sapelo Island Lighthouse. The afternoon found us at the Chocolate Plantation ruins for our first sports activities of the day. The former cotton plantation from the late 1700’s, was named after a Guale Indian village once on the island, Chucalate.  Near the ruins, our group broke into two teams – one to try out tree climbing (using ropes) and the other clay disk shooting!

After an afternoon of shooting and climbing, with excellent and patient instruction from DNR staff and volunteers, a DNR archeologist showed us one of the ancient shell rings. Later that evening, another DNR staff member led us on a loggerhead turtle walk on the beach. And while we did not see any turtles, we were awed by the spectacular night sky – such a rare sight with no city lights to mar the display.

Surf fishing, crabbing and kayaking were the focus of our second full day together. While crabbing, our group was excited to meet Allen Bailey, a defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs, who grew up on Sapelo Island and was back visiting his family. He was fishing off the same bridge where we were crabbing. Later that evening, Allen Bailey’s mother and sister, our chefs, cooked up the crabs we caught! I had a bit of excitement that day, being the only member of our group of 12 to be tossed out of a kayak!  Two DNR staff paddled over right away to help me swim back to my kayak and get to shore. Now that was an adventure!

All the women agree the weekend was exhilarating, challenging, and a one-of-a-kind experience.

“The Sapelo BOW trip offered me the opportunity to meet some spirited women who enjoy the outdoors, while I stretched my limits in trap shooting and tree climbing, and learned ocean fishing and crabbing techniques,” my Peachtree City friend, Sue Memmer, says about the trip. “It afforded me many adventures I wouldn’t have on my own.”

We all left with a few bruises, bumps, burns and blisters, but also with a desire for more outdoor fun and a renewed sense of Georgia’s unsurpassed coastal beauty.

Want your own adventure? Don’t miss the “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” Annual Training Conference, Nov. 4 – 6, at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Augusta, where women can choose from a plethora of activities including outdoor cooking, tree ID, motor boat safety, fishing, backpacking, nature photography, tree climbing, birding, bow hunting, wilderness survival, horse trail riding and much more! For more information on the BOW program, go to georgiawildlife.com/BOW.

Want to visit Sapelo Island? Georgia DNR hosts guided tours of Sapelo Island on Wednesdays (8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.) and Saturdays (9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.) throughout the year and a full-day tour on the last Tuesday of each month, (March – October, 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.).  For tour information, call 912-437-3224.

 

 

Bonnie Helander

I am a writer and blogger with a specialty in gardening and a proud graduate of the University Of Georgia. I live in Peachtree City with husband, Dan, and enjoy hiking, gardening, being a member of the Peachtree City Garden Club and rooting for the Georgia Bulldogs!

October 4, 2016

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