Tybee Island; GA
Tybee Island is one of those places that has found its stride. For a place that is only a couple of square miles, to handle the incredible volume of tourists that stay here with the summer while retaining its small beach town charm and personality is not something that has happened by accident. There is never time enough to research and give credit to all who are responsible, but in some part all of the permanent residents have to play a role or it wouldn't work.
There is always a margin between what we desire and what reality dictates that we can accomplish. To maintain the charm of a small beach town and deal with all of the eclectic characters it takes to give a place a genuine personality one has to constantly be striking balances of on sort or another. As Tybee Island's Public Works Manager, Joe Wilson ends up playing some sort of role in about anything of importance that happens here, and ultimately is the guy that has to strike these balances. Joe oversees the public works on the island, which includes having a hand in most things that are required to make a place like this work.
Tybee Island waste water release site
I spent a good while with Joe, and although I do not have the space to write on many of these issues, I can cover a couple. On the Island's north end, there is a bird sanctuary at the same place that the island's waste water is discharged after it has been processed. Large flocks of birds make for lots of bird droppings, which foster a lot of bacteria as they naturally decompose. But there are regulations for the amount of bacteria that can be in the water - if the tide is running the wrong way when inspectors take the samples, the influx of the naturally occurring bacteria can push the bacteria counts over the acceptable limits.
Further, water run-off from the streets picks up oil - cars leak it and black-top releases it. These among other things have led to the creating of banks of oysters that have been built and seeded. Oysters naturally purify water, and Joe tries hard to find the best natural practices to employ in the effort to keep the water clean.
A new project has Joe soliciting hair from everyone he can. That's right - human hair. Hair absorbs large amounts of oil, and Joe has had mesh cages built where the storm water runs off the island and is filtering the water through human hair. It is a natural thing that there is a recurring supply of and it works. Next week he is teaching a class on ecology to the local charter school students and will be asking them to save their hair after hair-cuts to donate to the city.
Then there is the whole thing with maintaining a communities personality. The chain restaurants have batteries of high-powered attorneys and are always looking to wedge their way into any community they can extract a buck from. But a beach community attracts a whole different set of people - many of the artisans and the free spirits of our culture migrate to these coastal areas.
Fast food restaurants have been kept out so far - in fact, there are no big-box stores here of any kind that I have seen. Each business mirrors the personality of its proprietor, each has a unique feel and personality of its own.
Take this Fish Art place for instance. Douglas Jones arrived here about ten years ago in an old bus he had converted - loaded up with is art-work that he had been peddling along the coasts for some years prior.
Douglas's work, which is "junk" that he turns into all manner of art, sold out shortly after he arrived. He soon set up a tent in a field just outside of town. This quickly grew to three and five and then seven tents set up along the main road coming onto the island.
Joe was able to help Douglas get the wood from old beach walkways that were being torn out to build a permanent structure. Of course Douglas supplied initiative - Joe doesn't do for people what they should do for themselves. But today Douglas has a thriving business on the island, is employing several people and is an integral part of the community - housed in a structure built of materials that would have been in a landfill somewhere and selling unique art that is made from items that likewise would be rotting away in the ground.
A woman from Asheville has Doug sign one of his works
Speaking of Douglas, when you visit Tybee it is worth a stop by his store on the way in. The variety of objects in his store is a good precursor for the variety of personalities you are going to meet here. In a shop beneath his home across the street from the business, Douglas turns musical instruments into water fountains, driftwood into pieces of art - all manner of cast away objects can be found here.
old electrical insulator
I see people like Joe and Douglas as the backbone of this country - those that take what comes their way and use their ingenuity to make good use of what most folks will idly pass by or pitch in the trash. They and a couple thousand other folks like them make up the year-round residents of this unique little island.
Tybee is one of those places that could supply a few more weeks worth of unique stories with ease, but the road calls. Savannah lies a half hour away, with all of its historical homes, gardens and parks along with another unique set of people. I hope you all have a great Sunday - I am Savannah bound.
Have a great Sunday !!
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