St. Simons Island couple want to open their marsh to public access

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ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — It’s happened a lot of times on this barrier island. A new owner picks up a piece of land and an old path or set of woods is suddenly fenced off or has no trespassing signs.

A St. Simons Island couple want to do the opposite – keep their recent acquisition open for those who have worn a footpath across it and to preserve that access in the future.

“The public has been using it for years,” Julian Smith said. “We assume they want to keep using it.”

He and his wife, Hannah Smith, have owned a house on the island for about 20 years. They’re inviting the public to take a walk on their land.

It started with Valentine’s Day, when she bought a 2,100-foot-long piece of marsh that is 200-feet wide in the west and narrows to 100 feet on the east. Along the middle of the 11 1/2 linear acres is a dike.

Kids have worn a path through the marsh and along the top of the dike for years. Not only does Hannah Smith want them to keep coming, she wants to assure they can walk that dike as long as they like.

The Smiths split time between St. Simons and Durham, N.H., where Julian Smith, a 75-year-old retired University of Florida professor of film studies, has served in town government.

When Hannah Smith, 71, was out for a walk, she found a path into the marsh and followed it to another along the dike. Wondering who owned it, she found her answer in Glynn County property
records.

“I wrote (the owners) a letter and asked if they would want to sell their land,” she said.

She offered them $8,500 – $1,000 more than the assessed value. The owners made a counter offer and they settled on $11,500.

She didn’t tell her husband about her purchase until she traveled to New Hampshire in March for their anniversary.

Julian Smith said he wants the public to be able to use that land.

They’ve cleared some impediments from the trail and Hannah Smith’s iPad has a collection of sunrise and moonrise photos shot from a high spot on the dike.

They’ve been in discussions with the St. Simons Land Trust and might talk to the Trust for Public Lands on how best to keep it open. The best access is along neighbor’s land, but the most worn access is through the common area in the small Settlers Point subdivision.

They have some experience in access. They are working to link trails along a farm they own in Durham to a public trail system in the town.

“Some of the trails on that map,” Julian Smith said of Durham’s system, “aren’t protected.”

Adding his might make the system too popular to reduce, he said.

They also want to make sure that it is kept natural because some other public accesses have hardened paths.

“The emphasis needs to be on access that isn’t asphalt or concrete,” he said.

For now, a wrought-iron sign hanging from an oak says, “Welcome, Hannah’s Marsh.”

Other paper signs on trees welcome visitors with an admonition to “leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures.”


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