The property, which opened to visitors in 1979, now operates year-round as a template for conservation education. Kitchen scraps used as garden compost and bags of recycled oyster shells lining the shore to prevent erosion join a long list of other green efforts.
Our weekend roost, one-bedroom Tom House nestles amid native cabbage and sabal palms near the lodge. It boasts a front porch with rockers, a screened back deck, outdoor shower, and a cozy bedroom and separate living room with a gas fireplace. On the mantle are complimentary BPA-free water bottles to fill with tap water from the island’s artesian wells. Other cottages are larger, with two, three, and four bedrooms sharing a central living room.
The island is a place to unplug and luxuriate in nature—there are no TVs or radios, no keys for the doors. (For those who can’t go cold turkey, there is free Wi-Fi.) Guests range from families to groups of conservationists and avid birders. “People come here to experience the wildness of the island,” says the island’s naturalist manager Stacia Hendricks. “We get people with all different levels of experience with nature,” adds general manager Scott Greene. “And everyone can enjoy nature here because our staff makes it so accessible.”
Days are filled with as much or as little activity as one desires. Naturalist-led tours change daily, perhaps offering a reptile search, fishing expedition, guided hike, or nighttime sea turtle walk. For relaxing, there’s a tranquil pool and screen house, and porches and swings for savoring peace and quiet.
Our first morning, we hop on a bench in the bed of one of the white pickup trucks that serve as transportation on the island, before setting off on a two-hour North End adventure after breakfast. With knowledgeable naturalist Stacia Hendricks at the wheel, we trundle off through the maritime forest with frequent stops to admire trees (sawtooth palm, American olive, red bay, loblolly pine) and wildlife. Atop an observation tower overlooking the marsh, we spy myriad birds including gallinules, snowy egrets, plovers, and blue herons. Over a period of a year, you can see 280 different species of birds on the 2,000-year-old island.
After a hearty lunch of fried chicken, cheese biscuits, black-eyed peas, and okra and tomatoes, we forsake organized afternoon kayaking in favor of a two-mile bike ride to the beach. Strolling beside the surf, our only company on the pristine stretch of sand are pelicans, sea gulls, and sandpipers.
At 6pm, we all gather in the heart-pine-paneled lodge to compare notes about our day over wine, beer, and hors-d’oeuvres. Meals, featuring the likes of local shrimp, grilled ribeye steak, and hoisin-glazed salmon, are served family-style at large tables. Many of the salad greens and vegetables are grown in the USDA Certified Organic garden on-site.
Our first stay at The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island is a short one, and two days later, as “Captain” Jonathan steers our Privateer back toward the mainland marina
in the morning, I think wistfully about the activities we will miss that day. Then a thought buoys me up: We can always come back.