Category Archives: US Destinations

Northstar in Lake Tahoe California Scores Big Hits with New Programs – 4Her, Mountain Table Dinner, Tost

The stunning view of Lake Tahoe from East Ridge trail at Northstar California. The snow conditions were remarkable even at the end of the season, despite California's drought and warm temps. © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The stunning view of Lake Tahoe from East Ridge trail at Northstar California. The snow conditions were remarkable even at the end of the season, despite California’s drought and warm temps. © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman, Eric Leiberman

Northstar California, is winding down snow season and transitioning to summer. With its glorious setting in the Sierra Nevada Mountains overlooking Lake Tahoe, and what seems to be perennially moderate weather, Northstar, one of the Vail Resorts destinations, is very much a four-season resort, where you can luxuriate in its “laid-back California” vibe year-round.

Having had the chance to catch the end of ski season – and marvel at the genius that goes into nurturing, maintaining and preserving snow cover despite the historic, four-year drought in California – I am thrilled that three innovations introduced for the 2014-5 ski season were such hits, they will be returned for next season: Mountain Table Dinner, a series of special, five-course gourmet dinners organized around a particular vineyard’s wines, presented with glorious fanfare at the Zephyr Lodge with views from the mountain of the Pacific Crest; 4Her-Women’s Ultimate 4 Ski/Snowboard Lesson, a personalized women-only ski or snowboard clinic limited to 4 women at a time (combines the fun of a gal getaway with superb personalized skill development), and Tost – a 2 pm complimentary Champagne (or sparkling cider) toast from atop the mountain on the East Ridge trail.

And while they will recede until next season, they are indicative of the sort of the laid-back, casual elegance, combining California cool with high-end luxury, on-mountain exhilaration with a sophisticated alpine village atmosphere that is the foundational to Northstar, where the motto is, “The way it should be.”

We had a chance to sample each.

The 4Her clinic at Northstar California combined the fun of a gal getaway with superb personalized skill development; our coach, Susie Minton, knew just how to assess our abilities and introduce techniques © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The 4Her clinic at Northstar California combined the fun of a gal getaway with superb personalized skill development; our coach, Susie Minton, knew just how to assess our abilities and introduce techniques © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Northstar’s 4Her program is part of Vail Resorts major initiative unfurled this season directed at women skiers and snowboarders, which followed intense study by the ski company to figure out why women were not represented proportionately on the mountain. The result was the new program, Women’s Ultimate 4, a personalized lesson for no more than four women in a group (usually 2-3) with a female coach to learn or brush up on skiing, from foundation-building basics of a “first-timer” class (open to all), to navigating the easiest greens, to sharing tactics and camaraderie on green and blue runs. Offered at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado, Park City and Canyons in Utah, and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe.

The program is cleverly designed around the practical needs that women have. This year, it was offered principally on Mondays (though it is available on demand, as well). The session takes place from 10:30 am to 3 pm – beginning later and finishes earlier than Northstar’s children’s programs. 4her – Women’s Ultimate 4 also includes an après-ski gear and tech forum hosted by women experts, discussing women-specific equipment and how to choose the best-suited gear (ski boots, for example).

The 4Her clinic at Northstar which we sampled combined the fun of a gal getaway with superb personalized skill development; our coach, Susie Minton, knew just how to assess our strengths (and weaknesses) and break down the techniques and tactics to conform with a woman’s physical makeup (our balance is in our hips, not in our shoulders), and yes, our psychology, and as we were more successful, our confidence on the mountain was boosted. Lo and behold! our skiing improved significantly even after one clinic.

“It is essential to have a true comprehension of women’s needs in order to offer programs that provide better access to skiing and riding,” said Beth Howard, vice president and general manager of Northstar. “The insights we gained from women guests last winter were tremendously helpful and the 4her – Women’s Ultimate 4 program at Northstar is the result of that feedback.”

The program was such a hit this season, it is certain to be returned next season.

Luxurious, whimsical and an ode to fun in the mountains, Tost, a 2 pm toast with Champagne atop the mountain at East Ridge exemplifies the “California laid-back luxury” atmosphere found at Northstar © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Luxurious, whimsical and an ode to fun in the mountains, Tost, a 2 pm toast with Champagne atop the mountain at East Ridge exemplifies the “California laid-back luxury” atmosphere found at Northstar © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A Tost! One of Northstar California’s new innovations for this season is a 2 pm Champagne toast on the East Ridge trail at the summit (sparkling cider also available so the kids are also included). There is actually a traditional toast! They put out beanbags and everybody just enjoys being together in such a delightful place. Luxurious, whimsical and an ode to fun in the mountains, Tost exemplifies the “California laid-back luxury” atmosphere found at Northstar. Tost is such a hit, it is guaranteed to be returned for next season.

We were so lucky to be at Northstar California for the last Mountain Table Dinner of the season. It is a special event atop the mountain at the Zephyr Lodge, outfitted to fit the elegance of the evening, with fresh flowers and crystal service. An epicurean’s delight, this evenings five-course dinner was organized by Frog’s Leap Winery of Rutherford (frogsleap.com) with each delectable course (Cedar Plank Salmon with sweet onion, blackberry Hoisin; roasted lamb rack with thyme pan jus, blue creme brulee; duck trio) designed by Northstar’s executive chef Steve Anderson to pair perfectly with the Frog’s Leap wines.

Mountain Table Dinner, one of the new programs Northstar California introduced this year, was absolutely delightful. Hosted at the Zephyr Lodge, the five-course epicurean delight was paired with Frog's Leap wines © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Mountain Table Dinner, one of the new programs Northstar California introduced this year, was absolutely delightful. Hosted at the Zephyr Lodge, the five-course epicurean delight was paired with Frog’s Leap wines © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The climax was experiencing the vineyard’s first-ever, newly released Cabernet Sauvignon (perfection), served with the finale of truffles, dark chocolate Marscarpone and raspberry Russian tea cakes. With the combination of the longer spring days and the clock change, our evening began in sunshine with a Sauvignon Blanc (aromas of white flowers touched by crisp, lemon zest flavors!) and we were treated to panoramic view of the sunset over the Pacific Crest from the porch and through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Northstar’s on-mountain delights spring from a lovely pedestrian village at the base, with gorgeous condominium accommodations, lovely eateries (like Rubicon for marvelous pizzas, and Tavern 3360, an upscale pub-style restaurant) and shops, ringing a skating rink (ice skating in winter, roller skating in summer, free to skate, rentals available) which is itself ringed by delightful sitting areas and fire pits, wonderfully handy for the 3:30 Northstar tradition of serving s’mores.

The lovely village at Northstar California, where there are delightful shops, eateries, and condominium accommodations just steps from the gondola © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The lovely village at Northstar California, where there are delightful shops, eateries, and condominium accommodations just steps from the gondola © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Ironhorse condominiums, part of Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging – a three-bedroom condo, lavishly furnished and outfitted with every imaginable amenity and convenience, plus fitness center and two hot tubs (there is a village pool and bungy trampoline in the village, also), underground parking garage, and the services of a concierge (530-550-3300).

The village accommodations are mere steps to the gondola that whisks you to mid-mountain.

There are accommodations on the mountain as well, including the stunning, five-star Ritz-Carlton (a great place to hang out, enjoy a patio restaurant and lobby lounge with all the casual comforts of a living room, centered by a massive chimney fireplace like a stone tree).

The Ritz Carlton’s Backyard Bar & BBQ is a popular place on the mountain, offering a year-round casual dining experience on the back patio with poolside service during the summer and ski-in/ski-out outdoor dining in the winter. Here you can enjoy a “blues, brews and BBQ” concept with a menu offering traditional barbeque favorites including St. Louis smoked ribs, brisket and pulled pork sandwiches cooked with an on-site smoker, a selection of house-made BBQ sauces, wood-fired oven-baked pizzas, traditional burgers and bratwurst along with home-style side dishes and desserts. There are also seasonal beverages with saloon-inspired cocktails and local craft beer selections.

Here we learn that all the barmeisters at Northstar have a competition to come up with the most interesting Bloody Mary, and each of the places has their distinctive recipe (the secret ingredient is withheld).

In the village, we thoroughly enjoyed the intriguing flatbread pizzas with creative toppings (they span international culinary traditions) at Rubicon.

Tavern 6330′ is perfectly located just steps away from the Big Springs Gondola, and Village Run leads right onto its patio. The mountain American grill utilizes California farm fresh ingredients and offers a stunning wine list, a wide variety of micro brews and signature cocktails inside or outside on the patio, equipped with two firepits, an outdoor grill, heat lamps and a signature après-ski scene.

Sunset over the Pacific Crest from the Zephyr Lodge during the Mountain Table Dinner at Northstar California © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sunset over the Pacific Crest from the Zephyr Lodge during the Mountain Table Dinner at Northstar California © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Summer at Northstar

Northstar is transitioning to summer – the ice skating rink is already open for roller skating (free skating, and rentals are available).

And golf! Designed by Robert Muir Graves, Northstar California’s 18-hole, par-72 golf course incorporates Tahoe’s mountainous landscapes with Martis Valley’s open meadow into two distinct 9-hole settings that both challenge a golfer’s skills and appeal to the senses. (The course opens May 15.)

Northstar is a major mountain biking destination – the home to Northern California’s largest mountain bike park – attracting riders from all over the world. It offers a mountain riding academy. a teen biking camp, and bike races. Northstar’s signature trail, LiveWire, is the first fully irrigated mountain bike trail and a must-ride trail for more advanced riders. (Proposed opening is May 22, beginning with Friday-Sunday schedule.)

The Northstar Bike Academy’s Bike 101 Package is an excellent introduction to downhill mountain biking (completely different techniques from road biking). There also are several great road bike rides near Northstar California that provide great views of Lake Tahoe and the local mountains.

Northstar also offers scenic lift rides for miles and miles of hiking (guided hikes available) and the resort is practically spitting distance from the famous Pacific Crest – the West’s equivalent of the Appalachian Trail – for hiking.

Other activities: Gem Panning, Geocaching, Miniature Golf, Kids’ Club, STRIDER Bike Rentals, Bungy Trampoline & Ropes Challenge, Tahoe Star Tours, Pottery Painting & Candle Making, Tennis, Wine Walks, Fly Fishing and Live Music.

There are also the activities on Lake Tahoe – probably one of the most beautiful glacial lakes anywhere – and South Tahoe, which is half in Nevada and affords all the high life and nightlife of casino gaming and shows.

JetBlue Launches Direct Service from JFK

Just in time for Northstar’s transition to summer, JetBlue is launching direct service between JFK and Reno/Tahoe, becoming the only airline providing a direct connection. Nonstop flights begin May 28.

“A nonstop link between Reno-Tahoe International Airport and New York City is long overdue. We’re eager to bring the JetBlue Experience to Reno-Tahoe so customers can enjoy our superior customer offering that includes the most legroom in coach, personal screens in every seat with live TV, unlimited snacks and soft drinks, and great service offered by JetBlue’s award-winning crewmembers,” said James Hnat, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Government Affairs, JetBlue.

“On the opposite end, New Yorkers will finally get direct service to an airport that is the gateway to so many great destinations: Reno, Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Eastern Sierra Mountains and Yosemite.”

Reno-Tahoe will be the airline’s 89th destination and is among a number of new JetBlue routes in the West.

Enjoy Summer in Northstar with 2015-16 Epic Pass

You can enjoy summer in Northstar with your 2015-16 Epic Pass.

Vail Resorts has just put the 2015-16 Epic Pass on sale, affording unlimited access to 11 U.S. resorts that collectively offer more than 32,000 acres of terrain.

Until April 12, the Pass can be purchased for $769 for adults and $399 for children, with $49 down payment to lock in the rate. What is more, you can use lift ticket purchased after March 10 toward the purchase price.

The Epic Pass allows skiers and snowboarders to experience iconic resorts including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Park City all season long. With Park City merging with Canyons Resort over the summer and becoming the largest U.S ski resort, plus the benefit of $85 million in resort improvements for guests last season, $492 million since 2010 and more improvements to come over the summer of 2015, the Epic Pass is unmatched for the services, skiing and snowboarding under one pass.

The Epic Pass pays for itself in less than five days of skiing and offers a 35 percent savings compared to lift ticket purchases at the lift ticket window. For guests planning on just one ski vacation, the Epic 4-Day offers four unrestricted days of skiing or snowboarding, valid all season long. At $389 for adults, the Epic 4-Day pays for itself in just over two days with a 35 percent savings from the lift ticket window.

The Epic Pass™ delivers unlimited skiing and snowboarding all season long at 11 U.S. resorts. With unlimited and unrestricted access, skiers and snowboarders can ski as much as they want at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Tahoe; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan. The Epic Pass is $769 for adults and $399 for children (ages 5-12). The Epic Pass pays for itself in less than five days of skiing or riding and offers a 35 percent discount compared to lift ticket window purchases. With more than 32,000 acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain, this pass affords the best value in the ski industry.

Epic 7-Day ™ pass is great for guests who don’t plan to ski more than seven days next winter. The pass features seven unrestricted days of skiing and riding at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah; and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Tahoe. The Epic 7-day is $579 for adults and $299 for children (ages 5-12). In addition, pass holders will receive seven free days of skiing at Mt. Brighton or Afton Alps. The Epic 7-Day pays for itself in under four days of skiing and riding and provides more than 45 percent savings compared to lift tickets purchased at the lift ticket window next season.

Epic 4-Day ™ pass is optimal for skiers and riders planning on one ski trip next year, but want to save on lift tickets. The Epic 4-Day provides four unrestricted tickets, valid at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah; and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Tahoe. The Epic 4-Day is $389 for adults and $219 for children (ages 5-12). Epic 4-Day pass holders also receive four free days of skiing at Mt. Brighton or Afton Alps. For just more than $1,200, a family of four can ski four days of their choosing. The Epic 4-Day pays for itself in over two days of skiing or riding with a 35 percent savings compared to lift tickets purchased at the lift ticket window next year.

Season Pass Benefits: Epic Pass and all Vail Resorts season pass holders will receive exclusive offers on lodging, dining, ski rentals, equipment, ski school and special events for the 2015-16 ski and snowboard season at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, as well as Mt. Brighton, Afton Alps and Arapahoe Basin. Season pass holders also automatically receive six discounted Ski-With-a-Friend Tickets, on most passes. All season pass products are non-transferable and non-refundable. Additional season pass benefit information can be found at www.epicpass.com.

To purchase a season pass online or to find out more information, visit www.epicpass.com.

The Epic Pass got even more valuable with Vail Resorts’ announcement that the company is acquiring its first international mountain resort, Perisher Ski Resort in New South Wales, Australia.. Perisher is the largest and most visited ski resort in Australia, and is well-positioned with access to the country’s largest cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane. Perisher is also the largest ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere. The acquisition is expected to close in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015 following the satisfaction of certain conditions, including approval by the New South Wales Government under the long-term lease and license noted below.

Meanwhile, The Tahoe Local Pass offers unlimited skiing at the three Vail Resorts’ Lake Tahoe resorts: Heavenly Mountain Resort, Northstar California and Kirkwood Mountain Resort. For winter 2015-16, the pass will offer additional ski and ride days in Colorado and Utah. Starting at $429 with $49 down with the balance due in the fall, skiers and riders have until April 12 to secure the best available rates and value for winter 2015-16 season passes with six discounted buddy tickets.

For more information, Northstar California, www.northstarcalifornia.com or call 888-367-5257.

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© 2015 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, goingplacesfarandnear.com, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures. See our newest travel site at www.tidbitts.com/karen-rubin/where-in-the-world.

Discovering Sapelo Island, Georgia and the Gullah-Geechees of Hog Hammock

The Reynolds Mansion is a key attraction on Sapelo Island, an island refuge that offers intrigue and extraordinary contrasts © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Reynolds Mansion is a key attraction on Sapelo Island, an island refuge that offers intrigue and extraordinary contrasts © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

From the moment I hear the story of Sapelo Island, I am intrigued. The 50 remaining permanent residents are all descendents of Gullah-Geechee slaves. Access to the island is limited, and once there, “outsiders” who come on their own will have difficulty getting around – you’re not even allowed to take your own bicycle onto the island.

The number of permanent residents, once as many as 800, has steadily dwindled since the end of the Civil War and Emancipation, and now the community faces a dilemma: how to instill a sustainable economy that will keep the young people from migrating away, that does not cause this idyllic island to be overrun. Already, real estate developers are chomping at the bit.

The Gullah-Geechee are descendents of slaves brought 200 years ago from Africa and the West Indies to work the plantations. Their modest community of just 300 acres – the only part of the 16,000 acre island that does not belong to the State of Georgia – is in marked contrast to the RJ Reynolds mansion that has hosted presidents from Coolidge to Carter and continues to be an inspired venue for everything from destination weddings to academic conferences. Georgia and NOAA (National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration) also have research facilities on the island, in fact, at the Reynolds estate.

Sapelo Island is isolated © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sapelo Island is isolated © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Sapelo Island – the fourth largest of Georgia’s barrier islands at 11 miles long and a mile wide – is owned by the State of Georgia, which uses it for research center for the state university, and a NOAA (National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration) research facility.

Unlike other barrier islands off Georgia – notably St. Simons, Sea Island and Jekyll Island – which have been turned into tourist havens, Sapelo Island has been insulated and almost entirely undeveloped. In fact, the only “law” governing the island is the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – there are no police.

There is limited ferry service and limited transportation on the island all of which adds to its mystery and intrigue, and limited transportation around the island. You’re not even allowed to bring your own bicycle on the ferry from Meridien, but theoretically, you can rent on the island. Because of the difficulties of getting around the island, most people who visit join one of the (few) organized tours that are available.

And this is apparently the way the “locals” – the 50 actual residents of the island – like it.

We come to Sapelo Island with Andy Hill, who owns Private Islands of Georgia, a 2,000-acre territory of these back barrier islands encompassing eight private islands including Eagle Island where we stay. He owns a half-acre of property on Sapelo, giving him (and his guests) privileges to come and he keeps a truck at the dock. He takes his guests over with his pontoon, or you can rent a boat and Eagle Island guests sometimes come with their own boats.

The 20-minute ride to the island is very scenic and interesting. We get to see an alligator, roused from winter hibernation; ballast islands; Doboy Island.

We set out in Andy’s truck and quickly discover one of the island’s charms – no street signs and few paved roads and lots of live oak dripping with Spanish moss.

Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are such incongruities to the island – shacks and dilapidated cars and trucks, only a couple of paved roads with the rest dirt or sand – contrasted with the splendor of the RJ Reynolds Mansion.

All of this makes the island that much more interesting: highlights of any visit include the Reynolds mansion home, the historic lighthouse (newly restored but you can’t climb it), and miles and miles of pristine beach. Nanny Goat Beach, a six-mile stretch, is among many beaches which are as private as private can get. There also are research stations operated by the state university.

And then there is Hog Hammock, which is the village established by the former slaves, where there is the beginning of a historic center.

In some ways, Sapelo Island calls to mind Cuba, the way cars and trucks are kept for an eternity and constantly repaired and the people and culture exist in isolation, and a book by Pat Conroy, “The Water is Wide,” about his experience as a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse on remote Daufuskie Island in South Carolina teaching black kids.

Reynolds Mansion

The Reynolds Mansion through the Live Oak, Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Reynolds Mansion through the Live Oak, Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Start at the Reynolds Mansion, which gives context to Sapelo Island’s history, and only open for tours during specific hours.

The original Mansion was designed and built from tabby, a mixture of lime, shells and water, by Thomas Spalding, an architect, statesman and plantation owner who purchased the south end of the island in 1802. The Mansion served as the Spalding Plantation Manor from 1810 until the Civil War.

Spalding was a fairly remarkable man: he employed scientific farming techniques including crop rotation and diversification and was responsible not only for devising the formula for building tabby – a cement like construction material made from shells – but for cultivating Sea Island cotton and introducing the manufacture of sugar to Georgia. He also was elected to Congress and was an important local leader.

Spalding owned more than 350 slaves imported from Africa and the West Indies, but reportedly had misgivings about the institution of slavery, and had a reputation as “a liberal and humane master.” He utilized the task system of labor, which allowed his workers to have free time for personal pursuits. Slaves were supervised not by the typical white overseers but by black managers, the most prominent of whom was Bu Allah (or Bilali), a Muslim and Spalding’s second-in-command on Sapelo.

According to various biographies, Spalding was pro-Union (but anti abolition), and worked to win Georgia’s support of the 1850 Compromise.

Despite setbacks, Spalding’s prowess in agriculture and as a businessman (he was a founder of the Bank of Darien, advocated railroad and canal development in the region, and was active in state political affairs), enabled him to grow his plantation from 5,000-acres to eventually owning all of Sapelo Island’s 16,000-acres.

The mansion home was vandalized before and after the Civil War. After the Civil War, the former slaves, who began to earn cash for their labor, were able to buy land (that part of the story continues later when we meet Hog Hammock’s historian and local activist, Cornelia Bailey).

The entire island except for those communities held by the former slave families, was purchased in 1912 for $150,000 by Howard Coffin (founder of the Hudson Motor Company as well as the Cloister Hotel on Sea Island). Coffin restored the mansion, which then hosted visits of President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge in 1928, President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover in 1932, and Charles Lindberg in 1929, who landed his plane on its small airstrip.

Tobacco heir Richard Reynolds, Jr. purchased the property during the Great Depression, in 1934.

Reynolds was an early environmentalist and founded the Sapelo Island Research Foundation in 1949. He later funded the research of Eugene Odum, whose 1958 paper The Ecology of a Salt Marsh showed the fragility of the cycle of nature in the wetlands; the research Odum did at Sapelo helped launch the modern ecology movement.

Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Reynolds’ widow, Annemarie Reynolds, sold Sapelo to the state of Georgia for $1 million, a fraction of its worth. The sale established the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, a state-federal partnership between the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The mansion is used today for groups – like destination weddings and conferences. The Reynolds Mansion can accommodate up to 29 guests in 13 bedrooms with 11 bathrooms. There is a minimum group size of 16 guests as well as a minimum 2-night stay.

The Mansion has marvelous architecture. The library has the original nameplates in many volumes from Reynolds’ private collection. Guests can use the Game Room’s billiards and table tennis. The ornately decorated Circus Room sports the wild animal murals of famed Atlanta artist, Athos Menaboni, whose work appears throughout the house.

The expansive grounds are particularly atmospheric with sculptures bathed in the sunlight filtering through massive live oaks.

Pathways link the Mansion’s grounds to the Atlantic Ocean where guests have use of a beachfront pavilion.

Mansion guests can explore the island on foot, bicycle, van or rented ocean kayaks. The lush forest envelopes you in a sea of green almost year round, and you are likely to sight whitetail deer, raccoon, opossum, wild turkey armadillo and other animals. The rare Guatemalan Chacalaca, imported to the island as a gamebird, runs wild in the forest, as do wild hogs and cattle, descendants of livestock that escaped from the farms of Sapelo’s early settlers. Sapelo is also a birders paradise. And of course, there are miles of unspoiled beach.

(Reynolds Mansion groups and conference participants are met at the ferry landing by air-conditioned vans; the vans are also available for the group’s use during their stay. Because of the unique ecological and archeological aspects of Sapelo, visitors have to obey very stringent and specific rules. For information and reservations, visit http://gastateparks.org/SapeloIslandReynoldsMansion or call 912-485-2299.)

Sapelo Lighthouse © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sapelo Lighthouse © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Another interesting attraction is the 80-foot tall Sapelo Lighthouse which watches over Doboy Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The five-acre lighthouse tract was sold to the federal government for $1 in 1808 by Thomas Spalding; the original lighthouse, 65 foot tall and topped by a 15-foot whale-oil lantern, was erected in 1820 for $14,500. Damaged several times by hurricanes over the years, it was eventually replaced and then deactivated in 1933. It was renovated in 1998 including a new spiral staircase, new lantern glass and light, and the spiral-striped exterior identical to the structure’s original paint scheme.

Today, its role is symbolic, since a steel tower outfitted with modern navigation aids was erected nearby as a replacement.

One of the enormous appeals of Sapelo Island for visitors are miles and miles of beaches. The main beach, Nanny Goat, has relatively easy access and bathroom facilities. We make our way with significant difficulty over some dirt roads, to one of the more secluded beaches at Cabretta Island where there are also campsites.

Hog Hammock

The highlight of our visit to Sapelo Island comes when we stop at Hog Hammock.

In its heyday, Hog Hammock would have had 800 residents; now the community of permanent residents has dwindled to just about 50, and only six children. Once there was a schoolhouse on the island; now the children go by ferry to the mainland.

All the descendents on the island trace back to 44 slave families – Bailey, Hogg, Walker, Spalding, and so forth. Many of the families were named for the owner (like Spalding); and many of the last names of enslaved populations on plantations originated from their job assignments. For example, the Bailey’s baled tobacco; Gardner’s tended the gardens; Grovner’s tended the groves; Hogg’s tended to hogs; Walker’s walked livestock.

Hog Hammock's historian and local activist, Cornelia Bailey © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hog Hammock’s historian and local activist, Cornelia Bailey © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We get to meet the village historian and local activist, Cornelia Bailey, who has been accumulating artifacts in a small building which will serve as a museum but which does not seem open to the general public.

Cornelia Bailey’s ancestors first arrived on Sapelo in the 1790s, she tells us, and were here when the French came over. Beginning in 1802, a lot more came over, and after Thomas Spalding purchased the island, the number of Gullah-Geechee people grew to 800.

Just 50 of the community remain today.

“Everybody is still kin,” she says. She wants to revitalize the community so that it supports 150-200 people, but that will require jobs be created on the island.

The state of Georgia owns almost all of the island; Hog Hammock consists of just 300 of the 16,000 acres.

When the Civil War came, several slaves from Sapelo Island left and walked to Millersville, some walked to Thomasville (that’s a four-hour drive today).

The famous 54th Massachusetts, the black regiment – came through here and were responsible for burning Darien. “The blacks didn’t want to burn Darien,” Cornelia says. “the officers ordered them to give a lesson. The whites in the area still hold it against us.”

Did they know when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued? “We knew immediately because we had people here who served in Union forces.”

What happened here after slavery ended? I ask. “People in the north end were more independent. They didn’t want anyone telling them what to do. After being slaves for so many years. Rebellious people, took up arms against whites.

After the Civil War, she says, “for 35 years they didn’t work for any white man. They were jailed for refusing to be sharecroppers.”

“They planted for themselves They formed alliance and got their produce to market without a middleman, because until federal regulations, middlemen took all the profit.”

Many of the plantation owners lost their money because they supported the Confederacy. “Some buried it. Families were destitute Wives sold land. Some of my people who worked for federal government could pay 50 cents an acre.”

After 1870 and Reconstruction, she tells us, many of the former slaves ended up owning land; a lot worked for the federal government, earning cash money. They purchased land from their former owners – apparently being given handwritten slips of paper to show their ownership.

At one time, there were five different communities in five different parts of the island.

When Reynolds bought the island, he had the idea to develop it much as Jekyll Island and Sea Island had been developed, and wanted to consolidate all the Gullah-Geechee residents in one community from the five different communities.

“He said it was for wildlife preservation. But he wanted to develop north end,” she says.

“Everyone got a deed for land here but were cheated out of land in the north [of the island],” she tells us.They claimed that because the former slaves did not have the King’s grant, they could not prove their ownership.

Cornelia manifests the proud, independent streak of her ancestors, and is suspicious of outside developers who might come in and take over.

“Come and enjoy what we eat – seafood dishes. We’re cordial but don’t want outsiders to stay.”

Bailey wants to make the community economically viable but is not keen on promoting the obvious cash-cow, tourism, because that would mean opening the floodgates to outsiders.

Beaches are a major lure to Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Beaches are a major lure to Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Sapelo Island, Georgia (SIG) Community Improvement District (CID) is working to create a more walkable, bikeable and livable rural environment, and there is a Small Business Incubator which is hoping to spur the successful development of entrepreneurial companies.

I get the impression they don’t really want the outside world. Instead, her approach to economic revitalization is to revitalize agriculture.

Meanwhile, the community has been fighting back real estate development, and discourage locals from selling their property to outsiders.

Instead of opening floodgates to outsiders, Sapelo Island hosts a once-a-year festival, Sapelo Days Festival, on the third Saturday in October, when the island invites back all those who used to live here, whose families trace their roots here, and anyone else who is curious or who wants to be immersed in Gullah-Geechee culture.

Family of residents and those who have moved off the island start arriving Thursday; on Saturday, boat loads come, by 7:30-8 pm, they are gone.

“It’s a cultural day. People have their best manners, best foods,” she says, sounding like the grandmother who loves to have their grandchildren for a day and then send them back to the parents.

The festival is a fundraiser that helps support the Sapelo community.

Before we leave, we stop into Cornelia’s general store, where you can purchase a cookbook she wrote (there isn’t much else in the store). But you can see a display about Sapelo Island’s most famous resident, Cornelia’s nephew, Allen Bailey, who played for the Miami Hurricanes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Gullah-Geechee community extends from southern North Carolina down to northern Florida. The Gullahs achieved a victory in 2006 when the U.S. Congress passed the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act that provides $10 million over 10 years for the preservation and interpretation of historic sites relating to Gullah culture. The Heritage Corridor project is being administered by the US National Park Service with extensive consultation with the Gullah community.

Special Programs

Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sapelo Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The State of Georgia offers guided bus tours of Sapelo Island on Wednesdays (8:30 – 12:30) and Saturdays (9 – 1) throughout the year, Fridays (8:30 – 12:30) June 1 through Labor Day; and an extended tour on the Last Tuesday (8:30 – 3) of each month March through October. Public tour reservations can be made by calling 912-437-3224 (adults/$15; Children (6-12)/ $10; ages 5 and under/free).

The Visitors Center is open Tuesday – Friday 7:30-5:30, Saturday 8-5:30, closed on Sunday and Monday. Group tours for 10-40 people are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays (8:30-3) throughout the year, and Fridays (8:30-12:30) from Labor Day to the end of May. Those tours can be arranged by calling the Education Office at 912-485-2300. Tickets for public and group tours of Sapelo Island can be purchased at the Visitor Center. T-shirts, books, and videos are also available for purchase.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (www.sapelonerr.org) work closely together managing the island’s resources. Guided interpretive tours of the mansion, slide shows of the island, interpretive beach walks and other ecological or scientific presentations can be arranged through the Reynolds Mansion conference coordinator with advance notice. Special outings, cookouts, picnics and other group activities are also possible with advance notice when booking your reservations. (The Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo Island, P.O. BOX 15, Sapelo Island, Georgia 31327, 912-485-2299).

Getting to Sapelo Island

One of the principal ways of accessing Sapelo Island is aboard the Georgia Department of Natural Resources ferry which serves visitors and residents alike. The $10 per person round-trip fee for the half-hour ride is paid at the Meridian ferry dock. (You are not allowed to bring bicycles, beach chairs or a host of other things.)

The mainland ferry dock, visitor center and parking areas are located in Meridian, Georgia, 8 miles east of Darien. From I-95, take exit 58 on GA HWY 57 to HWY 99.

Sapelo Island Visitors Center, 1766 Landing Rd SE, Darien, GA 31305, 912-437-3224, sapelovc@darientel.net, www.sapelonerr.org/visitor-center.

See also:

Eagle Island, One of ‘Private Islands of Georgia’ Offers Rarest Luxury: Time Together

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