Florida's Wildest Beaches
St. George Island used to be 29 miles long until 1954, when the Army Corps of Engineers cut a channel west of center to allow boats to get out into the Gulf of Mexico more quickly. Now St. George Island is smaller (20 miles), but he has a son, Little St. George Island (9 miles). Separating the two islands is the manmade pass known as Bob Sikes Cut. Unfortunately, you cannot cross the pass from big St. George Island unless you're a property owner or guest at St. George Plantation, an extensive private development that hordes the west end of St. George Island. How can these things be allowed to happen?
That's the bad news. The good news is that Little St. George Island is completely undeveloped, being a part of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (one of 22 such reserves in the nation). The island is jointly funded and managed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency, and the Department of Environmental Protection, a state agency. The reserve operates a visitor center in Apalachicola and an administrative and research facility in Eastpoint. Drop by the Apalachicola office, which has exhibits and conducts educational programs.
Little St. George Island is open to the public for swimming, fishing, bird-watching, and hiking. Primitive camping is permitted at either end; all they ask is that you call the office with the date and number of people, and let them explain a few rules. Foremost among the rules is that fires can be built only on the beach, and no live wood can be cut. There's a public dock on the island, but the recent spate of hurricanes has severed it from the shore. According to a reserve spokesperson whom we contacted as we went to press."It wasn't connected to the land the last time we checked." You might just have to anchor offshore and wade in, and if you're camping on the east or west end of the island, this may be the best alternative anyway.
The midsection of the boomerang-shaped island juts out at Cape St. George. Three lighthouses have occupied the island since the first was constructed in 1833. Hurricanes subjected the latest lighthouse (dating from 1852) to severe erosion, resulting in its being made non-operational. It actually lists off-center by 10 degrees. You've heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa? This is the Leaning Lighthouse of Florida.
The Beaches Are Moving is the title of a well-known book written by Duke University geologist Orrin Pilkey. His proposition - that barrier islands are unstable landforms that should not be subjected to intensive development-is unpopular with developers and the network of profiteers that supports them. Of course, his premise makes perfect sense to anyone who can look objectively at the situation without short-term economic self-interest clouding the issue.
The proof in Pilkey's pudding can be seen at Little St. George Island, whose beach at Little St. George Island has shifted 400 yards north in a third as many years. That's about 10 feet a year. Can you imagine losing that much of your lawn on an annual basis? In any case, the beach runs for nine lovely, unbuilt-on miles. The only problem is residual damage done in the 1960s to dune ridges, which were flattened during military training exercises when simulated amphibious assaults were carried out on Little St. George Island. Thanks a million, Uncle Sam!
Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
261 Seventh Street
Apalachicola, FL 32320
Location: Between St. George Island and St. Vincent Island, in Apalachicola Bay. Six miles offshore from Eastpoint.
Parking/fees: There is no charge to visit the island beyond what you'll pay a commercial shuttle service to whisk you over and back. Public docking is available at Government Dock.
Hours: 24 hours.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication