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Georgia on my mind

10/9/2009

ST SIMON'S ISLAND, Ga. — While I'm nearly 35 years from the traditional age of retirement, I find myself day-dreaming about early retirement to be enjoyed on the scenic beaches of St. Simon's Island. No surprise then that Money Magazine selected St. Simons Island as one of the best places to retire in the United States.

Folded into the city of Brunswick — along with Sea and Jekyll Island — St. Simon's serves as the host of the Built Ford Tough ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series presented by TakeMeFishing.org event this week.

And it's not immediately easy to determine just what Brunswick is other than a collection of picturesque islands. It boasts industry — with a focus on shrimping — but also offers high-dollar resorts. And to boot, it has an interesting place in history. But, as always, a place is defined by its weather, which can be best described as sub-tropical.

Brunswick was established in 1771 when the Royal Province of Georgia set it up in a similar pattern to what General James Oglethorpe used in establishing the City of Savannah, which is roughly 60 miles from Brunswick.

Brunswick includes the second largest concentration of documented historic structures in Georgia (told you about the history) and the islands have plenty to offer visitors.

Most fascinating from a historical perspective with Brunswick is the Jekyll Island Club. Du Bignon, who inherited the southern third of Jekyll, made a move to purchase the totality of the island from the rest of the family in 1886.

His vision was to set the island up as a winter retreat for the rich and in 1888, the Jekyll Island Club was started. Members purchased into it for $600 each and to really hammer home the exclusivity, it was limited to 100. Until 1942, the club catered to the world's wealthiest people.

In fact, in November 1910, a meeting with Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and a number of the wealthiest people accounted for one-fourth of the world's wealth. Can you imagine?

Nearly around the time the club was disbanded, Brunswick was selected as a site to build cargo vessels deemed "liberty ships" to be used in World War II. And thus its industrial ties were established.

While tourists are attracted to the resort-type atmosphere in Brunswick, a key to the area is salt marshes, which cover nearly 500,000 acres and account for nearly 1/3 of the East Coast's marshes. The variety of organisms that float in and out with the tides is numerous and taste good, which funnel into the many restaurants accessible at each island.

A must see, one of four operating lighthouses in Georgia, the St. Simons Island lighthouse casts light as far as 23 miles. And for history buffs, there is Fort Frederica, which served as the British military headquarters in colonial America. In 1736, James Ogelthorpe established the Fort to protect the South from Spanish soldiers.

Mix in the history, beauty and resort-feel of Brunswick and it all adds up to the perfect vacation destination. Even if you aren't retiring.

ESPN2's coverage of the tournament, to be aired on ESPN2 in March 2010, will include a look at Brunswick and St. Simon's Island.