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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

St George Island: Please don't go there.

Here's why the world will never beat a path to St George Island, for which those of us who love it are profoundly grateful. In fact, I wrote this to reassure myself that most of my readers won’t come.

It’s 80 miles from the closest airport(s). There’s no public transportation. If you fly in, you have to rent a car. If you come by road, no matter where you drive from, you will spend the last two hours, or more, off the interstate on back roads where the local police love to give tickets to “speeding” tourists.

There is one small hotel and another small motel. If you want to stay here, plan to rent a house. A big house you can share with others who can help you pay for it. Or you can rent a tiny apartment in one of the very few houses that have been partitioned. You can also rent some condos. Cheaper, but little to no privacy.

Sandspurs. Remove your flip-flops at your own risk. Be aware that your dog(s) will collect them in their pads. Bring tweezers.

Your dogs are welcome right on the beach, but they must be leashed and you must pick up their mess, or incensed locals, other renters, and the police will pursue you like the hounds of hell. Start collecting bread bags and newspaper sleeves as soon as you make your reservations or you will have to buy the fancy ones, which are expensive.

There is one fast food place, Subway. All other restaurants are locally owned and charge whatever they want. There is a pizza place geared toward children, with lots of noisy games. Avoid.

There is no boardwalk, no theme parks, no movie theatres. The only “nightlife” is the bars in the aforementioned restaurants. No bands, no dancing. Don’t come here without board games, books and cards. Many rental homes have a supply, too.

There is Wifi and cell phone service, sometimes. Maybe in your house, maybe not. It’s better to plan on not having any. There is basic cable, but maybe bring some DVDs.

No shopping unless you would like to buy a plastic bucket and shovel, bait, or a t-shirt. You can get fresh seafood, though, and cook it at your house. You can find it at roadside stands or the two expensive, small local markets.

The three next nearest towns don’t have any of the usual amenities, either. No chain groceries, no fast food. There is no fast food between the interstate and SGI. Period.

The nearest town of ANY size is Apalachicola, called “Aplach.” This is a kitschy artist colony with lots of antique shopping, art galleries, historical sites, great local seafood, a CVS and a Piggly Wiggly. It’s a 14 mile round trip from SGI, over three picturesque bridges. You can go every day for three weeks and find something different to do every time. This time we really got into browsing antiques. But don’t look for high fashion or nightlife here, either. The nearest “nightlife” is 80 miles away, in the towns with the airports. No fast food in Aplach, either. Dining here is an event. Plan to spend some time.

Some will love it here: retirees, artists, bird watchers, seafood lovers, nature lovers, anglers, boaters, dog-people, dogs.

Many others will hate it: teenagers, shoppers, people who must be constantly entertained, people who don’t like seafood, people who must always be connected by their electronic umbilical cords to somewhere else.

Other things to bring: shorts, tee-shirts, bathing suits, flip flops, money. You don’t have to bring beer and food, but if you don’t, plan to pay. This remote area is expensive.

What not to bring: screaming brats. You will have to entertain your spawn non-stop. If they aren’t used to making their own fun, take them somewhere else so they won’t bother you or us. This isn’t Disney World. If that’s what they like, they’ll hate SGI.

On the other hand, some people should come here, those mentioned under “who will love it.”

Saint George Island is a very quiet, very isolated, beautiful and simple barrier island. All the things that make it a pain to reach serve to repel the kinds of people who would ruin it for the rest of us. Even now, you see the occasional idiot walking on the beach while screaming into a cell phone. But these are rare. Remember, coverage is spotty.

Mostly you see people with their dogs walking on the almost deserted beach, surfcasters trying their luck (mind the sharks), kayakers, birdwatchers, maybe windsurfers. Forget about shelling, though. Families appear for a few hours at a time, because there are no facilities and no lifeguards. You pee in the ocean.

Traffic is sparse; in all of Franklin County, there is one regular traffic light. The other is a blinker, and both are in Aplach. They could still make do with a couple of four-way stops. There are no streetlights on SGI itself, let alone traffic lights.

There’s a State Park on one end of the island, so one fourth of SGI can never be developed at all. The rest is limited to single family dwellings no more than four stories high. No more condos will be built, and the ones that exist now are but three stories high. All the beachfront property feels private, although the whole beach is public access except for Plantation, a gated community on the west end. You can rent in there, though, no problem.

It’s all about the water here: sports on and in it, the wildlife who live here, and the seafood that comes out of it. Endangered sea turtles nest here, and you must give them precedence. If you have a boat, bring it. Rent on the bay side, where you can easily see the spectacular sunsets. If you own a wave-runner, leave it home. They endanger the dolphins and annoy everyone else. We are boycotting the one place that rents them. Thank God they only have six.

Got a telescope? Bring it. There’s no pollution here, light or otherwise. Or just open your eyes. You’ll see plenty of stars without any help from a lens.

There are no crowds here. It’s the most peaceful place on earth, and that’s because it’s remote, inconvenient, expensive, and locked in the past. Unless you love the laid-back vacation style, stay away. Don’t screw it up for the locals and the visitors who already know Saint George Island.