During the early development of Jekyll Island, from the 1950s through the 1970s, construction of infrastructure resulted in hydrologic alteration and fragmentation of a tidal system that had been known as First Creek. These alterations were drastic enough that First Creek no longer appears on modern maps and have degraded wildlife habitat and visitor experiences.
One fragment of the former First Creek system, known as Fortson Pond, persists in a chronically impaired state adjacent to the island entryway. “Fortson Pond” encompasses about 4.5 acres and was formed when Ben Fortson Parkway was constructed in 1950 to provide the primary artery of vehicle access on to Jekyll Island. This road now completely obstructs the natural flow of tidal water to the south, and the pond receives circulation solely from the north during only the highest tides.
Beginning in 2013, the JIA Conservation staff and partners conducted a holistic assessment of the ecological and chemical conditions in Fortson Pond. The goal of this work was to provide a structured baseline of information to support the case for investing in a restoration project. Our work demonstrated Fortson Pond is the most degraded fragment of the former First Creek system, making it a priority to begin restoration. In its current state, we now know Fortson Pond is an elevated basin that traps and has accumulated extremely high levels of the nutrients, nitrogen, and phosphorous. These nutrients fuel a chronic, year-round algal bloom that degrades water quality and displaces other beneficial species that might otherwise inhabit the pond.
Our future vision of this effort is to restore Fortson Pond, making it a continuum of mosaic habitats, supporting a diverse community of native fish, wildlife, and plants, and providing connectivity with both the headwaters and the estuary. Our efforts around Fortson Pond have been anchored by a collaborative planning effort including faculty of the University of Georgia, NOAA, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Satilla Riverkeeper, and other partners. The most recent development in the campaign to restore Forston Pond was modeling results showing the benefits of different restoration alternatives. Through the modeling, it was determined a culvert under Ben Fortson Parkway would increase the amount of water that enters and exits Fortson Pond. This increase in water will increase the flushing capabilities of the system and should, over time, increase the overall water quality and health of First Creek. In the near future, we hope to secure the funding necessary to add the culverts at key points in the First Creek System. Small alterations may be made in the short term to the northern section of the system, but it make take several years to make major improvements and see signs of progress for this historically fragmented system.