Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge
Totally unique in that it’s the only Georgia barrier island never cleared for agriculture or development, the 10,000-acre Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/wassaw) is accessible only by boat. There are striking, driftwood-strewn beaches, while the interior of the island has some beautiful old-growth stands of longleaf pine and live oak.
Wassaw Island is a veritable paradise for nature- lovers and bird-watchers, with migratory activity in the spring and fall, waterfowl in abundance in the summer, and manatee and loggerhead turtle activity (about 10 percent of Georgia’s transient loggerhead population makes use of Wassaw Island for nesting). There are also about 20 miles of trails and a decaying Spanish-American War–era battery, Fort Morgan, on the north end. National Wildlife Refuge Week is celebrated in October.
Because of its comparatively young status—it was formed only about 1,600 years ago—Wassaw Island also has some unique geographical features. You can still make out the parallel ridge features, vestiges of successive ancient shorelines. A central ridge forms the backbone of the island, reaching an amazing (for this area) elevation of 45 feet above sea level at the south end.
Native Americans first settled the island, whose name comes from an ancient word for “sassafras,” which was found in abundance there. During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union troops occupied the island successively. In 1866 the wealthy New England businessman George Parsons bought the island, which stayed in that family’s hands until it was sold to the Nature Conservancy in 1969 for $1 million. The Conservancy in turn sold Wassaw Island to the U.S. government for $1 to be managed as a wildlife refuge.
Getting to Wassaw Island
It’s easiest to get to Wassaw Island from Savannah. Charters and scheduled trips are available from Captain Walt’s Charters (Thunderbolt Marina, 3124 River Dr., 912/507-3811, www.waltsadventure.com/charters), the Bull River Marina (8005 E. Hwy. 80, 912/897-7300), Delegal Marina (1 Marina Dr., 912/598-0023), Capt. Joe Dobbs (Delegal Marina, 1 Marina Dr., 912/598-0090, www.captjdobbs.com), and Isle of Hope Marina (50 Bluff Dr., 912/354-8187, www.isleofhopemarina.com). Most docking is either at the beaches on the north and south ends or in Wassaw Creek, where the Fish and Wildlife Service dock is also located (temporary mooring only).
There’s no camping allowed on Wassaw Island; it’s for day use only.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition