This past week I had the pleasure of an adventure to coastal Georgia when I accompanied my wife to a tai chi workshop in St. Marys. St. Marys is the gateway to Cumberland Island National Seashore, the state’s largest barrier island. I trailered my boat so I could explore the island and surrounding marshes as well as the ocean where I had heard of plentiful schools of redfish, tarpon, sharks and Jack crevalle.
Cumberland Island is a true national treasure. The island is home to over 9,800 acres of Congressionally-designated wilderness, including pristine maritime forests, wide marshes and close to 18 miles of undeveloped beaches. Over the years it has been home to Native Americans, missionaries, enslaved African Americans and wealthy industrialists.
One of the Island’s landmarks is Dungeness (now a ruin) which dates back to 1729. The last owners were the Carnegies, who built a 59-room mansion that was destroyed by fire in 1959. After her husband’s death, Carnegie’s wife, Lucy, built the island’s other landmark structures called Greyfield, Plum Orchard and the Stafford Plantation for her children. At one time the Carnegies owned 90 percent of the Island. Today visitors can access the island by ferry for a day visit from the Parks headquarters in St. Marys. Visitors can also arrange to camp there in one of five designated camping areas.
We stayed at the Spencer House Inn Bed and Breakfast in St. Marys, a historic hotel that dates back to 1872. Mary and Mike Neff were the perfect hosts, catering to our every need. Their hotel was the perfect mix of history and convenience and made a convert of me. I had spent very little time in B&Bs over the years, but both Chris and I were charmed during our visit. The hotel is within walking distance of St. Marys historic waterfront and the docks of the Cumberland Island Ferry.
I kept my boat attached to my truck and was only blocks from the boat ramp. We arrived two days before my wife’s workshop. This gave us some time to explore the marshes that surround Cumberland as well as take some evening strolls around St. Marys charming waterfront and its pleasant park. The town is also home to some excellent restaurants and is famous for its local seafood, especially shrimp.
In addition to water adventures, we took a trip to the nearby 500-acre Crooked River State Park. The park has wonderful facilities, trails, camping and cabins and a boat ramp on Crooked River. During our visit we enjoyed a hike on the apply named Semprevirens (Latin, ever-living) Trail which winds its way along the marsh, through old growth hardwood forests and over ancient Indian shell middens.
While Christine went to her workshop, I was left to explore the area. In those three days, I was introduced to some of the area’s excellent fishing for redfish in nearby St. Simons with Captain David Edens, a fellow FFI certified fly-casting instructor. I would also spend a day in the marshes on the east side of Cumberland Island and another along the beach chasing sharks and tarpon.