An Adventure Up Lawrence Road
Just off Lawrence Road in the middle of St. Simons Island sits a unique ecological treasure. Called Musgrove, it's home to rare habitats and plants, plus the highly productive link between the saltmarsh and adjacent uplands. Among the 840 acres that the Land Trust has preserved throughout St. Simons in the past 16 years -- including Cannon's Point Preserve, the Old Stables Corner, the John Gilbert Nature Trail and Frederica Park -- Musgrove is the newest acquisition.
The Land Trust has purchased 58 acres of Musgrove so far, and is now working on purchasing another 202 acres within the next two years. Then, once improvements have been made to the property, you'll be invited in for a rare, easy-to-access opportunity to explore and learn about the island's natural heritage, to gain an appreciation for the importance of environmental conservation, and to enjoy a bit of outdoor recreation.
"Until then, we invite everyone to drive farther north on Lawrence Road to explore Cannon's Point Preserve, where you'll see some of the same plants and animals," says Stephanie Knox, Cannon's Point Preserve Manager. "Musgrove is a complement to Cannon's Point. Both properties include ecologically significant coastal habitats, though there are different types of habitats found on the respective properties. The impact of their preservation extends up the Altamaha River corridor to the river's estuary and delta, five miles north of here."
Once Musgrove is open to the public, here's what you can expect to see:
Trees in Rare Coastal Plant Communities: Musgrove contains both pond pine wetlands and mature maritime forest -- an exceedingly rare combination on the same island. You'll find the two together only at Musgrove and on Cumberland and Sapelo islands.
Pond Pines: The first thing you'll notice about pond pines is that they grow needles out of their main trunk -- the only pine species to do so. Pond pines are native to Georgia, and they exist in rare coastal habitats. They love water, and fortunately Musgrove has just the wetlands they need to thrive and to grow to their 40-80 foot height. Another unique feature: Pond pine stands depend on fire or lightning for their long-term survival. Their pinecones remain unopened, sometimes for years, before releasing their seeds. What makes them open? Fire!
Sand Live Oaks: While St. Simons Island's famous live oaks are grand trees with impressive canopies, sand live oaks are relatively small, twisted, scrubby trees that grow in thickets.They are hardy trees that grow in dry, sandy soils in which it is difficult for most trees to survive. They have dark, thick bark with thick, leathery leaves that are significantly cupped. You'll see both types of oaks in Musgrove's Florida scrub maritime forest, along with hickories, pines, palms, and red cedar. Sand live oaks are native to the Southeastern coast. This type of scrub forest is fairly common in Florida but quite rare in Georgia.
Rare Shrubs: Growing on Native American shell middens on a bluff near Musgrove Creek are two rare shrubs -- climbing buckthorn and Florida wild privet. (You can see both of these today growing on the shell middens at Cannon's Point.)
Climbing Buckthorn: The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has found climbing buckthorn at just a dozen or so locations in the state (on shell middens, limestone bluffs, and along creeks and coastal marshes) and considers it a state threatened species. It's a deciduous shrub that can grow to nine feet tall but, as you might guess, climbs and sprawls instead of growing upright. Look for its tiny white flowers in August, and its purplish berries in the autumn. But watch out for the thorns! The DNR website offers a formula for protecting the threatened climbing buckthorn. Very simply, "protect shell mounds, and other coastal habitats from development and clearcutting."
Florida Wild Privet: You'll see these rare shrubs standing up to 10 feet tall on the middens. Their leaves are basically evergreen, but they may drop in late winter just before new spring growth. Their flowers may not have petals, but in early spring you'll see what looks like single, showy flowers with greenish-yellow petals that are actually clusters of bracts. In the summer, you can see clusters of their round, blue-black fruit. While Florida privet grows on barrier islands and along salt marshes in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and the West Indies, the DNR has identified fewer than 10 populations in Georgia. Like the climbing buckthorn, it's threatened by development in coastal habitats and by destruction of shell middens. DNR's recommendation: "protect coastal forests from clearing and development. Protect shell mounds from clearing...dredging."
Abundant Wildlife: Like Cannon's Point, Musgrove is rich in wildlife. Its distinctive marsh edge habitat supports marsh foraging birds like wood storks, egrets, herons, and osprey with places for nesting and roosting. This type of habitat is rapidly declining due to ongoing development. At both Cannon's Point and Musgrove, you'll see diamondback terrapins, which enjoy feasting on snails, bivalves, fiddler crabs, and algae. Terrapin stew was popular in the early 1900s, and their populations dwindled. Today, terrapins are threatened by development, highway traffic, and incidental capture in crab traps. Fortunately, diamondback terrapins like to live their lives in one locale, so the populations at Musgrove and Cannon's Point are safe. Finally, Musgrove supports essential habitat for fish hatcheries along Musgrove Creek. The upland forests help prevent erosion that can lead to sedimentation and other water quality problems like an overabundance of oxygen and nutrients. The tidal saltmarshes provide habitat for species such as red drum and spotted sea trout (both favorites of Georgia anglers), Atlantic medhaden, and crustaceans.