One of the cherished aspects of life at The Ford Plantation is the plethora of unique experiences curated for the individual. Those who crave interesting new experiences need to look no further than their own backyard. Of course, that assumes that the backyard is The Ford Plantation with its deepwater marina that provides convenient access to the Atlantic Ocean.
Like any great adventure, your castaway for a day excursion begins with a journey—in this case, an exciting river cruise through the marsh. Departing from the Silk Hope Marina with two United States Coast Guard-licensed captains and naturalists onboard, the trek to the Intracoastal Waterway starts where the Silk Hope Marina spills into the Ogeechee River. It will take approximately an hour to meander through the brackish oxbows leading eastward to the ocean.
The outbound trip motors past remnants of antebellum rice fields and man-made canals, Fort McAllister, and into the delta where the confluence of the Ogeechee and Little Ogeechee rivers blend into one. Depending on the time of year and time of day, it’s common to observe a variety of land, marine, avian, and amphibious creatures nesting, foraging, hunting, and playing. Curious dolphins may even swim alongside the boat as the journey edges ever-closer to the mouth of the Atlantic. Today we had the pleasure of seeing adult bald eagles circling overhead while fledglings, perched atop the massive 1,500-pound nest, tested their wings preparing for their first flight. We also spotted pelicans gliding effortlessly in ground-effect inches above the water, and northern harriers with their distinctive white tail feathers, fishing for lunch.
Our captain, Mike Womble has planned to put us ashore on Wassaw Island. Wassaw, a completely uninhabited barrier island that is today a National Wildlife Refuge, was originally inhabited by the Guale Indians. They named the island in their Muskogean language for the sassafras plant that grew in abundance. Directly south, Ossabaw Island, named for the native yaupon holly bush that also grows at The Ford Plantation, is another protected wildlife management area with a rich and interesting history. The next barrier island farther south is St. Catherines Island, mysterious home of the only colonies of ring-tailed lemurs outside of Madagascar—but that too is another story. Collectively these islands are links in a chain of seven wildlife refuges that span a 100-mile stretch of coastline from Hilton Head Island south to Wolf Island.
Stepping ashore on Wassaw, one can only imagine what it must have felt like for explorers who made landfall for the first time not knowing what discovery, peril, or bounty of nature lies ahead. Thankfully, having been here previously, naturalist Brittany Dodge knows exactly what lies ahead so the only surprises are pleasant ones.
On Wassaw we begin to explore a primitive barrier island seemingly untouched by human hands. Moving toward the interior of the island we pass through a variety of habitats with pines and palms of countless variety. At times we were walking on hard-packed trails open to the sky above, then a dune of loose sand, and later on a carpet of longleaf pine needles in a notably cooler and densely forested section with telltale signs of a controlled burn still visible on most trees. While we haven’t seen any four-legged creatures, we know of their presence having seen signs of foraging, dens, and footprints.
As we approach the opposite side of the island, the smell of the salt air and sound of the surf broadcast the next habitat that awaits—beach ecology. The beach is massive, wide and long with nothing man-made in sight except for an outbound freighter on the distant horizon. Since there is so little human traffic on the island, biological discoveries occur every few feet. Undisturbed by beachgoers, it’s easy to find intact (albeit not living) sand dollars, horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, and starfish as well as interesting things like mermaid’s purse, sharks eye snail, whelk, angel wings and other mollusk shells of all sorts, and more. Because of its seclusion, Wassaw Island is also an ideal loggerhead turtle nesting ground.
As peaceful and enjoyable as this trip is, what makes it an extraordinary experience is being here with a naturalist who turns a fun half-day excursion into a full-on educational experience. Children and adults alike will learn the significance of barrier islands and the interconnectedness of the island’s maritime forest, marsh, and beach ecology, and discover interesting natural wonders like the symbiotic relationship between the cannonball jellyfish and the small spider crab that lives within.
Since the journey is part of the experience, we stop multiple times on the return trip to watch dolphins play and juvenile eagles ride a thermal column overhead. And to make the return leg different than the outbound leg, Mike masterfully navigates the boat through the rice fields east of The Ford Plantation to see what discoveries can be made traversing these normally untraveled waterways.
Such tailored experiences are only possible because of the world-class staff and a low member-to-amenity ratio at this Five Star Platinum Club. At The Ford Plantation, your day can be as relaxing—or as dynamic—as you wish. Regardless of your appetite for adventure, every day can be exactly what you want it to be. And you may be surprised to discover what other unique experiences await. So with the bulk of the year still ahead, consider sitting down for a cup of coffee with the various club directors and find out what interesting new experiences can be tailored to your desires—make a list and file under “B” for bucket list.