Nature’s Mesmerizing Beach of Trees
March 2021 Issue
by Meredith M. Deal
Photography by Nancy J Reynolds Photography
Forces of Nature
Ben Carswell, Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) Director of Conservation, was happy to share tales of Jekyll’s Driftwood Beach, a captivating natural treasure located on the Island’s north end.
He began with how the iconic fallen trees beach location has slowly been moving a bit south. “Folks from the old days say Driftwood Beach was located further north and closer to the Jekyll fishing pier. They called it Boneyard Beach back then—more of a graveyard term. Driftwood Beach today has a nicer ring to it, but those sideways trees along the shore did not drift there, they all fell.”
Growing up on Jekyll, Ben has quite an affinity for this unique Georgia barrier island. With an environmental science undergraduate degree, a masters’ in forestry, and on the job at JIA since 2011, Ben has been broadly responsible for implementing Jekyll’s comprehensive conservation plan. He gets to live and work with his favorite subjects.
“Beaches like Driftwood, in constant erosion, demonstrate how humans must always contend with nature, Ben said. Coastline erosion is constantly moving, and Driftwood Beach was probably not beachfront land 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.” The Island’s south end is growing due to a longshore current carrying sediment down island. And numerous native archaeological sites, including one recently discovered in 2017 after Hurricane Irma on the north end near Driftwood Beach, keep appearing.
“Driftwood Beach is a unique window into nature’s forces at play,” Ben said. Similar scenes can be found on other Georgia barrier island beaches facing wind and waves, but they are not as accessible as Driftwood Beach, which gives visitors a natural experience.
Showcasing acres of Driftwood’s famous sideways live oaks, pines, and palmetto trees, all in various stages of decay, Ben added, “In past decades up to 100 years ago, all these trees were living on Jekyll as part of a maritime forest. Trees grow, and then cannot exist anymore as forest shorelines wash out to sea.”
No one knows exactly how long it takes each tree to fall and totally rot, but Ben thinks within the first five years, most of tree bark falls off. “Then they really begin to resemble driftwood. There are fallen trees here now that I remember from our family beach excursions decades ago. I can picture my Grandfather sitting under a live oak tree we named Dad’s Tree. That same tree is now an iconic driftwood tree, totally sideways on the beach.”
Mesmerized with Driftwood Beach
Paisley Magazine: Ben, what makes people stand and stare on Driftwood Beach at the sideways, boney trees with their massive root beds exposed?
Ben: The novelty of it all. Most other beaches are flat and featureless below the dune lines. This one is so unique, and it’s fallen trees can be so immense.”
More of Ben’s Mesmerizing Reasons:
• Being on Driftwood Beach can give you structure and shade. Some people hang hammocks in the tree limbs and across roots. And kids love to climb on the fallen trees.
• Tide pools. Barnacles, hermit crabs—pools full of marine life. Waves come in and carve out tide pools around massive tree roots.
• Driftwood Beach is a favorite visitor attraction for generations of people because it’s so easy to explore. “Although it does not have formal designation as a Georgia Landmark, it certainly is a destination we are happy to share and continue to manage. Somedays we see hundreds of people set foot on Driftwood Beach—it is it one of our busiest beaches. Parking is limited, and it can get crowded somedays, so we are creating more managed parking.”
• Nowadays, there’s an add-on view over St. Simons Sound to the site of the sunken “Golden Ray’s” huge ship salvage operation, which is considered the largest undertaking of its kind in U.S. history.
• Top Ten. Driftwood Beach is often listed on the internet for “Most Romantic Beach” (think wedding photography), or as “Beach with the Best Views”.
Everyone is invited to be a part of Jekyll Island’s conservation effort by treading lightly. It’s imperative to leave only your footprints. If all visitors treat all of Jekyll Island, including Driftwood Beach, with respect, it will continue to be a treasure for generations to come.
Visitor Tips/Tides Guidelines
• Parking: Jekyll Island Entrance Fee: $8. Drive east, then north up Beachview Drive, park along the north end in designated beach lots.
• Bring foot protection: A good pair of walking shoes is most ideal.
• No ramps for wheeled carts: Walking path and bike racks are just inland.
• A remote beach experience: Driftwood Beach is ideal for photography, exploring, birdwatching, and especially for an ultimate beach walk. (no wheelchair ramp) At low tide, try the loop walk towards Clam Creek Fishing Pier.
• Driftwood Beach is not ideal for: Swimming, staying all day, carts, bicycling on the beach, pop-up tents, beach chairs, and recreation.
• There is no beach during high tide. And when the tide is in, tree roots can be concealed—you could stub your toe or worse! (Try other Jekyll Beaches for swimming)
• Most important: Please do not cut off or take any tree branch souvenirs. Leave everything in place as natural treasures for everyone to enjoy.