At Tidelands Nature Center, Kids Can Interact With Jekyll Island's Natural Wonders

UGA 4-H Tidelands Nature Center on Jekyll Island Appeals to Kid's Inner Animal

On my last trip to Jekyll Island, I made it a point to stop by Tidelands Nature Center. I hadn't been there since our kids had grown.

This time, I was on a mission. I wanted to meet Dawn Zenkert, Tideland's Program Specialist, and ask her about the origins of Sharks Tooth Beach. I somehow had the impression it was formed by dredge material taken from the excavation of Rixen Pond. Dawn (with her sidekick Bailey) was gracious enough to answer my questions.

"Sharks Tooth Beach is a natural formation," she said, "and the oyster shells covering the beach are a natural occurrence. They're not spoil material placed there by Native Americans or more recent inhabitants."

We talked a bit more about Sharks Tooth Beach, and then our conversation turned to Tideland in general.

Dawn told me about upcoming renovations and exhibits, and about their new Right Whale exhibit (pictured below). She also introduced me to Buddy Hale, an outgoing, enthusiastic artist participating in the creation of a new 3-dimensional mural that will be Tideland's gateway exhibit, predominately displayed at their new entrance.

Tidelands Nature Center's Right Whale ExhibitTidelands Nature Center's Right Whale Exhibit

"The exhibit will tie together all the natural sciences we study here," Buddy explained. "From maritime forest environments to marine ecology. It will reflect our coastal context."

Tidelands Nature Center is a part of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Georgia 4-H Program, and offers marine science based educational programs to individuals and groups visiting Jekyll Island.

Not surprisingly, the educational programs at Tidelands revolve around the sea. After all, it's situated on one of Georgia's premier barrier islands.

It's even less of a surprise that kids don't think of the interactive, fun programs at Tidelands as education. To them, it's all fun.

Step inside, out of the heat of a typical sub-tropical Jekyll Island day, and you'll see what I mean.

Fun Walks and Interactive Programs -

At Tidelands Nature Center, kids can get in touch with their inner animal.

There's the young sea turtle that they can make friends with. Alligators to check out. Crabs to ogle over. Fish and, yes, even snakes.

On Jekyll Island, animals abound, and kids can learn all about the island's wild side, either through hands-on experiences with Tideland's touch-tank, fun walks along the nature trails winding among the plants of the maritime forest, or by taking the guided kayak tour of the Jekyll River and the tidal salt marsh ecosystem.

Indoors at Tidelands Nature Center -

Your Tidelands adventure starts indoors, with the live-animal exhibits showcasing sea turtles, crabs, snakes, baby 'gators, fish, and fresh water tortoises.

Then, explore the touch tanks, showcasing weird things from the sea like hermit and horseshoe crabs, anemones, and whelks.

Stop by the aquarium. It's salt water, and is home to star fish, tiny shrimp and crabs and way-big drum fish.

Step Outside for the Total Tidelands Nature Center Experience -

Now it's time to experience nature on it's own terms. Outside, you'll find

  • the "Fish Inside and Out" exhibit
  • the Right Whale Sculpture
  • a gopher tortoise habitat (the gopher tortoise is Georgia's State Reptile)
  • a birding area
  • nature trails
  • Rixen Pond, where you can kayak, canoe and fish

Tidelands Nature Center Guided Walks -

Tidelands schedules guided 1.5 hour fun walks throughout the year. All walks start at 9:00 a.m. and - at the time of this writing - adults pay $5.00, kids 8 to 18 $3.00 - pretty budget-friendly adventures. They cap the fees at $25.00, so large families get a break.

  • Mondays - Clam Creek to Driftwood Beach Walk. Starts at the North end of Jekyll Island, at Clam Creek Picnic Area. Enjoy the beach environment, and check out all those driftwood trees.
  • Wednesdays - St. Andrews Point and Beach Creek walk. This walk explores the maritime forest and the beach of St. Andrews Point. Folks have a chance to climb the wildlife observation tower for great marsh views.
  • Thursdays - Landscape Walks through the Historic District. You're introduced to the stately live oaks, and plants used in the design of the area. Tip - look for Resurrection Fern in the trees!
  • Fridays - South Dunes Picnic Area - Meet at South Dunes Picnic Area. Walk across the boardwalk, and explore the beach and dune communities.

Kayak Tours and Canoe Rentals -

Kayak tours concentrate on Jekyll Island's salt marshes. These 3-hour tours are guided. If you've never paddled a kayak, don't worry. Tidelands Nature Center staff will take you under their wings, providing basic paddling instruction and all equipment you'll need.

What will you see? Maybe birds - egrets, storks, and herons, pelicans and terns. Keep an eagle eye out for eagles and ospreys. Another feathered prize - the elusive marsh hen.

Or crustaceans - crabs are everywhere. I'm always on the look out for dolphins.

Cost for the guided trip is $55.00 per single kayak, $95.00 for tandems. Reservations are required.

Call (912) 635-5032 for trip times and to make reservations.

If you like to fish, rent a canoe and throw a line in Rixen Pond. The pond is in Tideland's back yard, and you'll have a shot at Red Drum and other saltwater fish.

Canoes are $15.00/hour, or $30.00/day (duh - you KNOW what the better deal here is). You'll need to bring your own gear, but there's no cost to fish Rixen. You can even bring your own canoe or kayak, but gas-powered boats aren't allowed. All Georgia fishing regulations apply.

Bring a good pair of binoculars, also. There's lots of bird life along Rixen's shores. I've seen ospreys nesting here (actually saw one catch a fish out of the water), as well as wading birds like herons. Ducks float the pond in the winter season.

Group Programs -

Tidelands Nature Center is a premier learning destination for school and scout groups. Here are some of the programs they offer.

  • Beach Ecology - learn about the living beach, how it's affected by tides, erosion and waves, and the critters that live there.
  • Herpetology - yep, snakes (and other reptiles and amphibians living on Jekyll Island). Don't let snakes scare you - in almost 30 years of coming to Jekyll Island, I've only seen 2 in the wild. These critters actually play an important role in Jekyll Island's ecosystem, and you'll learn about them here.
  • Salt Marsh Ecology - What is salt marsh, and why is it important to our society? Find out about tidal creeks, estuaries, and marsh grass, and their role in the ecosystem.
  • Seining and Nets - You'll learn hands-on how to use a seine net, and examine your catch - the fish, shrimp, crabs and other marine life that live in Jekyll Island's waters.
  • Other programs might include dock study; maritime forest ecology; ornithology; sea turtles; sharks; marine mammals; plankton lab; environmental issues; and astronomy. Believe it or not, all of these subjects are connected and important to the health and well being of not only Jekyll Island, but humans as well.
  • Scout Programs - Girl and Boy Scouts can earn merit badges and activity patches through participating in Tideland Nature Center programs. Call (912) 635-5032 for more details.

On your next visit to Jekyll Island, make it a point to drop by Tidelands Nature Center. Your kids will thank you for it.

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