Omni Writing New Chapter On Storied Sea Island

Like rain greening resurrection fern, new owners, Omni Hotels & Resorts, are infusing their own nurture to Amelia Island Plantation.

Resurrection Fern Growing on Tree, Amelia IslandLike rain greening resurrection fern on ancient oaks at Amelia Island Plantation, new owners, Omni Hotels & Resorts, are infusing their own nurture — funding, new leadership and corporate culture. It’s a brand new chapter on the storied sea island of Amelia, with its intriguing past and charming historic district in Fernandina Beach.

Amelia Island, “the Isle of 8 Flags,” was claimed more than any other location in the United States.  It is no wonder considering Amelia’s natural assets. The estuary ecosystem — a vast salt marsh, tidal creeks, hardwood oak maritime hammocks, 13 miles of oceanfront beach, dunes and coastal uplands.  Plus strategic waterways with the Amelia River to the west, its deep water port (Fernandina), and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Located near the Florida-Georgia border, the mouth of the St. Marys River is also at Amelia’s northern doorstep.

On the Marsh, Omni Amelia Island Plantation
On the Marsh, Omni Amelia Island Plantation

Now Omni, one of the premier luxury hotel and resort brands, has made a claim, too, adding this Amelia Island resort to its portfolio.

Called “The Plantation” by locals for decades, the resort began developing its property on Amelia Island’s southend back in the 1970s. Covering a large chunk of this small island, Amelia Island Plantation is the island’s largest resort and one of the biggest employers in Nassau County, Florida.

Tourism fuels the local economy here on Amelia Island. The new owners are vying to steer past the stormy waters of the “Great Recession.” Reportedly, there are plans to expand the resort’s main hotel, the Amelia Inn & Beach Club. Omni may be the catalyst to bring Amelia Island Plantation to its full potential.  An outcome that would be a “win-win” for all.

SPECIAL FORUM: The public is invited to attend a forum on November 10, 2010, with representatives of Omni Amelia Island Plantation discussing resort plans and answering questions. The event will take place in the Meeting Room at the Fernandina Beach Police Department, 125 Lime St. at 7 pm.

Omni Amelia Island Plantation is the best of worlds for the traveler seeking a golf, tennis, and relaxing spa vacation at the beach “in harmony with nature.” With numerous residential communities, it’s also the home of many people who fulfilled their dream of a coastal lifestyle with luxury resort amenities.

Nana Dune System Amelia Island, Florida
Nana Dune System Amelia Island

However, the defining character of this destination is the sea island itself and its natural treasure.  Mother Nature’s estuarine habitat with its thriving saltmarsh on the west and sea oat-laced dunes to the east along the Atlantic coast beachfront. Then along came the developers who planned with great care, one of the finest ecotourism resort destinations in north Florida, sharing an appreciation of nature with its guests and the community.

It’s worth mentioning that a dune system called “Nana,” the tallest dune in the state of Florida, was part of the resort property.  However, during the past decade, the Amelia Island Plantation Company donated 8.5 acres to the National Park Service’s Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve to permanently preserve this magnificent dune which is accessible for public viewing from American Beach.

Blooming Native Flora on Sand Dunes, Amelia Island Plantation
Blooming Native Flora on Sand Dunes, Amelia Island Plantation

Amelia Island Plantation was carefully developed to preserve as much of native flora and fauna as possible. At this barrier island north of Jacksonville, Florida on the Georgia border, Omni Amelia Island Plantation has about 75% of the original (native) tree canopy intact at this 1,350 acre resort on Amelia Island’s southern tip.

It’s quite apparent, once on the Omni property, that much is tucked under the cover of the live oak and magnolia trees. However, unless you take a guided nature tour, you’ll not likely realize the extent of the property and magnificent wildlife that abounds.

REAL ESTATE AT AMELIA ISLAND PLANTATION

Omni Amelia Island Plantation Dune on Atlantic Coast
Omni Amelia Island Plantation Dune on Atlantic Coast

With more than two thousand dwellings, from oceanfront villas to estate-sized single-family homes along the beach, bordering the marsh, and fronting golf fairways, the choices and views are diverse. The folks who actually live behind the resort’s security gates enjoy championship quality golf and tennis (23 Har-Tru courts), peaceful walks on the resort’s 3.5 miles of beach or along wooded trails under the thick tree canopy, all within the boundaries of the resort property.

On a recent visit to Omni Amelia Island Plantation, there were Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks on a lake by a golf hole. Walking on a nature trail on the property, an American Bald Eagle flew overhead, a flock of white pelicans could be seen in the distance at the marsh. A juvenile blue heron was perched on the wooden walkway that leads out through the salt marsh meadow along the intracoastal for nature observance.

To learn more about barrier island nature, visit Omni Amelia Island Plantation’s Nature Center.  The Plantation had the vision, along with Christina Nelson who started the Nature Center in 1996, to create a program to help educate resort guests and local residents about the ecosystem, flora, and fauna.  The staff of naturalists are knowledgeable with backgrounds in biology, environmental studies, and ecotourism.

Nature Center, Omni Amelia Island Plantation
Visit the Nature Center, Omni Amelia Island Plantation

The naturalists also give daily tours around the resort as well as take guests on adventures off site to observe nature. Moonlight marsh paddles, bird watching tours, shark tooth and shell hunting excursions, flora and fauna, Okefenokee Swamp, Cumberland Island, the Talbot Islands and more.

Sure, the golf is great, the pools inviting and the spa soothing. Not to mention the fine dining, bar libations and miles of beachfront at the resort.  But also venture out for rewarding natural discovery. Take time to value Mother Nature around the Amelia Island area.

If you have an appreciation for nature, be sure to also visit Amelia Island State Park adjacent to the resort on its southern border, Fort Clinch State Park on the island’s northend, and centrally located Egans Greenway.  It’s also very easy to island hop around the Amelia Island area. LOCATION!  Explore neighboring barrier islands, snugly located here in northeast Florida. Just off Amelia’s northern tip is Cumberland Island, Georgia (a preserved National Seashore), and just off the southern tip is a twosome, Big Talbot and Little Talbot Islands (Florida State Parks).

GREEN LODGING DESIGNATION

The Florida Green Lodging Program is a designation by the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, recognizing lodging providers committed to conserving and protecting Florida’s natural resources. The program includes education, waste reduction, reuse and recycling, water conservation, energy efficiency, indoor air quality and transportation.

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By W.B. Lawson

"PERSPECTIVE" column -- Observations of island life, news & opinion.