The McQueen’s Island Historic Trail
by Courtney Thomas
It’s Fall, a time of year cherished by Savannah locals, when the strident heat of summer gives way to a gentler, more temperate tone. Mornings are crisp and clean, afternoons are ideal for lazy outdoor naps, and evenings take on a golden hue that slowly hushes the low country into the chill of night. Now we truly feel the lyrics of Johnny Mercer’s haunting “Autumn Leaves”, gleefully don light jackets, and celebrate our grand old Southern city once again.
Answering the siren song of this gorgeous weather, I packed up and drove out Highway 80 towards Tybee for a walk down the McQueen’s Island Historic Trail. Locals better know the trail as the Savannah-Tybee Rails-To-Trails area, and if you have not made the trek down the six-mile trail, here is a little preview to whet your walking shoes.
The Trail has an intriguing history. By the late 1800’s, Tybee Island had become a bustling resort area, and in order to transport beachgoers to the Island from downtown, the Savannah and Atlantic Railroad was constructed. The railroad has found its way into Old Savannah lore: Conrad Aiken writes of it in his memoir Strange Moonlight and Harry Hervey’s indomitable heroine Zelda rides the legendary rails in his epic novel, The Damned Don’t Cry.
With the advent of the automobile, though, trains lost their niche, and the railroad became defunct. The rails slumbered peacefully until 1991 when the National Rails-To-Trails Conservancy decided that the old rail line met all the criteria for conversion to a public nature trail. Today, covered with crushed stone and running parallel with the south channel of the Savannah River, six miles of the former Savannah and Atlantic Railroad cut a gorgeous swath through the stunning marshes of McQueen‘s Island.
My walk along the Trail far exceeded my expectations. Here was not only an exercise in physical health, but also an exercise in history, nature, and peace. I passed bikers, walkers, photographers, and joggers. I mingled with great blue herons, red tailed hawks, brown pelicans, diamondback terrapins and jackrabbits, and tiny little sand crabs fascinated me as they scuttled across my path. I fixated on the drifting brown waters of the Savannah River, and, amazingly, I actually got to walk along with a pod of dolphins as they made their leisurely way out to sea. The natural beauty was overwhelming. There is nothing in the world like the smell of salty air, a gorgeous view, a perfect sea breeze, and nature’s music in your ears to melt away the stress of the workaday world. When I returned to my car, I felt as if I had been on a sort of “mini-vacation”… it was wonderful!
If you have not visited the McQueen’s Island Historic Trail, take an hour and head out! This is the perfect time of year and the Trail is one of many reasons why our city is like no other place on Earth. Pack a picnic basket, tie on your most comfortable walking shoes, and enjoy!
The trail is open from sunrise to sunset every day. To get to the trail take Highway 80 East toward Tybee Island. The entrance/parking area to the trail is located on your left soon after crossing the Bull River. Questions? Comments? Email the Editor
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