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Feb. 21, 2020
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Vanderford's Travel Column


St. Simon's Island, King and Prince are pure Georgia gold

With miles of beaches and dunes facing the Atlantic Ocean, the freedom and beauty of walking with the breezes and changing tides of St. Simons Island is a breathtaking vision of the true beauty of Georgia’s most popular barrier island. It boasts a diversity of ecosystems including saltwater marshes, mud flats, tidal creeks, maritime forests, white sand beaches and dunes. Combine this with a magnificent sunrise from a seaside balcony room at the famous King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort and you will think you are in heaven! But it wasn’t always that way at St. Simons Island.
 
Standing on the wall of Fort Frederica scanning the river and the marshes beyond was serious business around 1740. The British soldiers on guard knew that the Spanish-held Fort St. Simons was only five miles away and were painfully aware that war had been declared with Spain. Eventually these English soldiers realized that they would have to fight for their lives on St. Simons Island.
 
Even though the British were far outnumbered, good intelligence, a timely ambush and some skillful maneuvering of ships and men by James Edward Oglethorpe made the Spanish believe that the British force was much larger. Therefore, after the historical, but small ambush, known as “The Battle of Bloody Marsh,” the Spanish retreated back to Florida and were never a threat to General Oglethorpe and his fledgling Georgia colony again.
 
Today, visitors to St. Simons Island can walk the open grounds of Fort Frederica and gaze across the picturesque “Marshes of Glynn” that were made famous by poet, Sidney Lanier, and never have to worry about being fired upon. This immaculate spot is simply one of many that attracts folks to St. Simons.
 
For nearly a century, families from all over the South have come to this gorgeous barrier island to enjoy the elegant atmosphere, mouthwatering food and antebellum style hospitality at the King and Prince Hotel, which was built because of an insult. It seems that one evening in the early 1930s at the nearby Cloister Hotel on neighboring Sea Island, Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn were tossed out for being drunk and disorderly. Horn was a tall, heavy man and Wynn was a short, skinny fellow, and when seen together, they were affectionally known as “The King and Prince.”

So, because of the insult, the two gentlemen founded the King and Prince as a seaside dance club to compete with the Cloister Hotel. The main hotel building with its classic Mediterranean architecture was completed and opened to the public just in time for World War II in 1941. During that period, the new hotel was converted into a training facility for coast watchers looking for German submarines.
 
Following the war, the King and Prince opened to families again in 1947 and has continued to serve as a prime vacation destination in the Golden Isles of Georgia. Renovations and expansions were completed in 1972 and 1983, and the hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 as the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort (www.kingandprince.com). It offers a resort experience with Southern flair, fantastic and varied cuisine and spectacular ocean views from almost every room.
 
Many golf lovers come to St. Simons just to play the King and Prince Golf Course, which is home of the Hampton Club. This 18-hole championship course is both challenging and beautifully interwoven with ancient oak trees, island holes, views of birds and wildlife in the surrounding marshes and picturesque lagoons. With four signature holes highlighting play on the back nine, the entire 18-hole, Par 72 course combines for an experience that always finds it on golf’s “must-play” lists.
 
Fishing, birding and wildlife viewing are always great outdoor endeavors when visiting St. Simons Island. This huge coastal ecosystem of salt marshes, tidal rivers and creeks is probably the best rearing ground for fish, sharks and shellfish on the Atlantic seaboard of the USA.
 
Fine dining and local seafood are highlights of any trip to the Georgia barrier islands, and St. Simons has some of the best. Certainly the chefs at the Echo Restaurant in the King and Prince would be in the running in any food and drink contest! Being they are the only seaside restaurant on St. Simons Island, their evening dining is both romantic and mouth watering … and eating locally-harvested breakfast offerings while gazing out to recently sun-lit sea is unforgettable!
 
Certainly more experiences are available on St. Simons Island including visits to the historic Christ Church, Fort Frederica, Epworth by the Sea and the St. Simons Lighthouse. For me, however, the King and Prince, beaches, marshes, old oak trees and the slow movement of time and tide take me back to simpler time in my youth when my family would visit this magical island during the summer break from school. Sure there are new businesses and different people, but the natural beauty where sea, sky and shifting sands meet has a soothing effect that transcends all time. I’m happy to know that such a place still exists in more than just my reveries!
 

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at jfish51@aol.com or at his web site: www.georgiafishing.com.




January 2019 column

South Carolina's Hammock Coast is unforgettable

In the past, I have often written flowing descriptions of both Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina ... but, I may have left out much of the picturesque, historical and unforgettable Hammock Coast located between the two, which might be the best part! This beautiful section along South Carolina’s Atlantic shoreline teems with historic plantations, museums, sandy beaches, nature preserves, boutique shopping and challenging golf courses.
 
The centerpiece of this gorgeous area is the 300 year-old port city of Georgetown, which is the third oldest settlement in South Carolina. Boasting more than 60 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, Georgetown’s streets, historic homes, churches and museums are shaded by towering live oak trees. Fresh seafood in many forms can be sampled in the eclectic restaurants along the famous Harborwalk.
 
Another nearby setting of beauty and nature is the Brookgreen Gardens (www.brookgreen.org) that boasts many interesting sculptures and colorful gardens. However, I was more attracted to their Lowcountry Zoo which is home to many wild species of birds, animals and reptiles that can be viewed at close range.
 
To really absorb the beauty and history of the Hammock Coast, book a three to four hour trip on the Carolina Rover (www.roverboattours.com) for an Eco-tourism cruise that is guaranteed to be unlike any other attraction in this area. The comfortable, shaded 40 foot pontoon boat takes calmer inland waters to a remote barrier island where the Winyah Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is a bird-watcher's paradise near South Carolina’s oldest operational lighthouse, the Georgetown Light (1811), which has functioned for more than two centuries.

Come ashore on North Island to explore and beach comb where an ever-changing array of shelling opportunities abounds. Observe the sight of a Civil War wreck, the Union flagship USS Harvest Moon, while a naturalist delivers informative commentary with reference to many historic plantations. Dolphins, bald eagles, many wading birds and even sea turtles might be seen. This cruise is a wonderful, unique experience for all ages.
 
One of the most famous places seen on this boat tour is Hobcaw Barony (www.hobcawbarony.org) which can be seen on a two hour bus tour that travels down ten miles of rustic dirt roads and includes highlights of Hobcaw Barony’s 16,000 acres of history and ecology. A privately owned research reserve, the property represents every environment and century in the Lowcountry.

Naval stores, indigo, and rice production ended by 1905 when the land was purchased by Bernard Baruch. A native South Carolinian and Wall Street financier, he and other millionaires hunted ducks, deer and wild turkeys on this winter retreat. The bus stops for a tour inside his 1930 home that played host to politicians, generals and newspapermen as well as Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. This tour includes a drive by Bellefield Plantation and stables, the home of Belle Baruch and a drive through Friendfield Village ... the last 19th century slave village on the Waccamaw Neck.
 
The absolute best place to stay on Hammock Coast is Inlet Sports Lodge (www.inletsportslodge.com) which is only minutes away from many of the area’s most recognized golf courses, including affiliated courses, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club and True Blue Plantation.
 
The dramatic, fun layout at True Blue Plantation (www.truebluegolf.com) is known for its vast fairways, undulating greens and impressive elevation changes. The rolling terrain and native vegetation of this once thriving indigo and rice plantation makes for one of the most spectacular settings in golf. And, with an 18-acre practice facility, fully-stocked pro shop and inviting grill room, a day of golfing here is memorable!
 
From its entrance lined with centuries-old live oaks to its antebellum-styled clubhouse, a round at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club (www.caledoniagolfandfishclub.com) is a world-class experience. The Southern plantation-style clubhouse has an acclaimed pro shop and restaurant where golfers and-non-golfers alike enjoy the scenery while taking in a meal. This beautiful par-70 course winds through majestic oaks and meandering streams. The picturesque 18th hole borders on an old rice field, and requires a precise tee shot that sets up an accurate over-water shot to a green at the foot of the clubhouse.
 
Another fantastic golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus is Pawleys Plantation (www.pawleysplantation.com) which is set amid the splendor of 200 year-old, moss-draped oaks. “I designed this course to capture the natural terrain and to compliment and enhance the beauty of the saltmarsh and South Carolina lowcountry,” stated Nicklaus.
 
Most of the year, the Hammock Coast of South Carolina is constantly kissed by warm southern breezes along miles of pristine beaches, expansive marshes and maritime forests. Therefore, beach lovers, thrill seekers, history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, bird watchers, foodies, fishermen, golfers, artists and authors all love the laidback lifestyle, lush landscapes, natural attractions and diverse culture of this unforgettable area!
 

December 2019 column

Clarksville is beauty along the Cumberland River

Watching a colorful sunset over the Cumberland River from the Riverwalk in Downtown Clarksville, Tenn., is unforgettable! Less than an hours drive north of Nashville you will discover a historic town that is famous for its diverse and picturesque walking and bike trails, a fabulous golf course with plenty of wildlife, a park dedicated to a natural cave, a civil war fort, a skyline of unique spires and mouth-watering eateries!
 
If you arrive in Clarksville in the evening, as I did, find the Cumberland Riverwalk as the sun begins fading to the west. This 1.5 mile riverfront trail, which will be extended in the future to connect with well-known Clarksville Greenway, has spectacular views along the wide and rolling Cumberland River. Both dogs and families love it, and the sunsets are inspiring!
 
For golfers in your group, I would highly recommend the beautiful and challenging Swan Lake Golf Course that is owned and operated by the City of Clarksville. Swan Lake is an 18-hole, 6,065-yard course located at beautiful Dunbar Cave State Natural Area. This par-71 course features Champion Bermuda grass greens, hybrid 419 Bermuda fairways and tees and features a dining facility. It also supports a very healthy population of deer and other friendly animals for those who bring their cameras.
 
Directly across Swan Lake from the golf course is Dunbar Cave State Park that has a set of interesting walking trails ... including one that dissects Swan Lake. Underground, more than eight miles of cave passages have been mapped here to date, and some are open to the public during certain seasons. Both the history of ancient Indians and the early settlers are found in these cave walls.
 
If you love hiking or biking through gorgeous forest areas, the more than five mile Clarksville Greenway follows an abandoned railroad bed cut through limestone bluffs on the outskirts of Clarksville north of downtown. It meanders along a creek and through a path canopied with large trees that are often shrouded with kudzoo. The greenway establishes a buffer along the Red River and nearby streams, while providing a habitat for diverse plant and animal species.
 
Another great place for hiking or mountain biking is Rotary Park which is about 10 minutes from downtown Clarksville. The trails here are more rustic and much harder to navigate, but have an abundance natural beauty including a beautiful stream. The park has more than five miles of trails and a large playground for kids.
 
Many refurbished downtowns are not done well and become quickly boring, but Clarksville’s historic restoration is not disappointing. Most shops are locally-owned, diverse and quite interesting. Also, the eateries in the old downtown area offers quite a few options. The absolute best for me, however, is the Blackhorse Pub and Brewery! This local watering hole is pure Clarksville! It is popular both for its great menu and its locally famous brews on draft. Following a great dinner, I fell for the Big Cookie, which is a gooey chocolate chip cookie pizza topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. This place is a family-friendly restaurant and a hangout for enjoying the excellent draft beer!
 
Clarksville is also the birthplace of Olympic Champion, Wilma Rudolph, the winningest basketball coach of all time, Pat Summitt and the current quarterback at the US Naval Academy, Malcolm Perry. This Tennessee town is home to the huge US Army base at Fort Campbell and to Austin Peay State University, which always produces great sports teams.
 
Unfortunately for me, I just had a few days to sample all that Clarksville has to offer, so my suggestion is to consider this fascinating place more as a destination than a day or weekend visit.
I found the people of this area to be both friendly and helpful, the natural beauty spectacular and the outdoor adventure possibilities practically endless! For more information on this area, visit their website at: www.visitclarksvilletn.com.


November 2019 column

Little Ocmulgee State Park is a hidden gem in Middle Georgia

Just 30 miles south of I-16 near Dublin, Ga. is a natural oasis in the middle of farm country that can be enjoyed by everyone.  Little Ocmulgee State Park is a secluded 1,360-acre Georgia State Park located two miles north of McRae-Helena on the Little Ocmulgee River. The park’s origins date back to the 1930s, when it was first constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which created the lake around a natural oxbow of the Little Ocmulgee River. This 256-acre lake has a white sandy beach, fishing docks, a visitor’s center, camping and RV sites, rental cabins and a boat ramp.
 
The most unforgettable part of Little Ocmulgee State Park is the Wallace Adams Golf Course that is surrounded by loblolly pines, willows, magnolias and small lakes in a picturesque but secluded setting. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the beautiful scenes complete with Spanish moss and plenty of wildlife.
 
Starting with the first hole, which is breathtaking, golfers quickly learn that accurate shots are paramount to making a good score on this course. Most of the front nine is designed for the best shotmakers. The back nine opens up ... but continues to present challenges with smaller, sloped greens and doglegs on the fairways. All 18 holes feature Bermuda fairways and greens. The full-service pro shop at Wallace Adams also offers all golf accessories and a snack bar. The entire staff is friendly and helpful at all times.
 
One of the distinctive features of the park is the soil, which, like the Ocmulgee River and the Little Ocmulgee River, is a fine white sand. The park also features the 2.6-mile Oak Ridge Trail, where hikers can admire a stand of turkey oaks as well as swamps laden with cypress and oaks. Two of Georgia’s rarest species, the harmless Indigo snake and the gopher tortoise may also be seen throughout the park.
 
Little Ocmulgee offers complete camping facilities and features 54 campsites for pitching tents, securing trailers, parking RVs. Cable TV hookups are available plus seven picnic shelters and two other shelters for group meals and gatherings.
 
The 10 secluded lakeside cabins at Little Ocmulgee State Park & Lodge range from efficiencies to two-bedroom cabins and are great for a quiet getaway. The cabins are ideal for families looking to strike a balance between rustic camping and hotel-style accommodations.
 
The Little Ocmulgee State Park & Lodge offers 60 rooms in the main lodge building with a refrigerator, microwave and a comfortable seating area. Guests may also enjoy sun-soaked days swimming in the private pool in front of the lodge.
 
In prehistoric times, this section of Georgia was under the sea, therefore the whole area is surrounded by hills of sand and lots of trees. This equates to beautiful natural scenery with opportunities for fishing, hiking, fantastic golf, a beach for the kids, boating and great camping and lodging. It is truly a getaway vacation destination with a very friendly atmosphere ... and is pet friendly! For more information or reservations, check out www.littleocmulgeelodge.com or 877-591-5572.
 
 
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