A weekend on the Darien River leads to making new friends

DARIEN – After a weekend here, I’ve walked away with new friends and a glimpse into the life and times of a coastal community that’s experienced the vagaries of life – some good, some bad – but now seems to be headed for heady times.

Darien will be a place to visit for several reasons. You can come here to communicate with nature. You can choose the seat of McIntosh County for its unsurpassed scenic beauty or for hunting and fishing. First class golf courses in the area are as common as boat docking.

If you haven’t already, you need to take a breather here on the third weekend of April to bless the fleet. That would be the annual blessing of the shrimp boats that ply the Atlantic for some of the East Coast’s healthiest shrimp.

The University of Georgia Marine Institute’s impact on Sapelo Island is a “world-renowned field destination that supports research and education in coastal ecosystems.” The Institute has set high standards for those involved in harvesting fish, shrimp and oysters.

Pollution is Enemy #1 for the institute. UGA is one of the few colleges for land grants and sea grants. The institute’s research often makes headlines and improves the economic well-being of those who work and play in this part of our diverse state. These and other positive aspects make Darien attractive for business and development.

“The future of Darien,” says Art Lucas, who has invested in real estate here, “is very bright. The city is on the verge of a positive upswing. There is energy in Darien’s step.”

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With Art’s upscale boutique hotel “Oaks on the River” as my anchor, early morning waking habits connected me to Jeremy Clark, Bishal Singh and Tom Wood, all of whom imbued with genuine hospitality that added to the vibe of our home away from home on the Darien River.

A long chat with Wood as he offered me a much-needed cup of coffee – it was 5:30 am and I’d been up an hour – made my day perfect. A hereditary liver transplant has prolonged his life; If anyone has consistently emphasized the positive, it’s this jack of all trades (and jack of all trades), motorcyclist, internet junkie who finds an app that tells you how to operate a locomotive or a giant crane, or how to fix one flat bike tires, if necessary.

He’s so fascinated with how things like this work that he connected to an app that allowed him to simulate a jetliner cockpit, which he could use to pilot a jetliner from LaGuardia in New York to London Heathrow. If he doesn’t satisfy his curiosity with that, he might jump into the kitchen and help with the dishes. The maintenance man is a Renaissance man — one who could head to Greenville, SC “for a burger and fries” with his wife Stacey in tow. As he says, “just riding” makes their day.

At the counter of Art Lucas’ pretty bar, made of cedar from the family farm, our conversation was pleasantly interrupted by Doris Nelson and her husband Selwyn. He is from Trinidad; She grew up in McIntosh County and they have lived in New York for years. They “come home” and wanted to thank Art for his dedication to improving life on the banks of the Darien River. Art thanked them for their support and thanked his general manager, Bernard Sarme, who has “managed five-star hotels around the world.”

One morning, just after a memorable sunrise over the swamp, Steve and Paula sat Lloyd at a neighboring table at breakfast and soon revealed that she was born in Athens and he is a UGA graduate. They are blown away to be free from the hassles of heavy traffic in suburban Atlanta.

“Coming here has changed the way we look at life,” Steve said.

It also changed that of Colleen Conley. Originally from Boston, she settled in nearby Pine Harbor for two main reasons. “I don’t like the cold and politics up north.” Her comment reminded me of an assessment of New England by former Red Sox owner Haywood Sullivan, who is from Ft. Myers, Fla. In a taped interview, he once said, “Ever hear from someone who’s retiring and moving up north.”

On the day we left (it was such a sweet sorrow to say goodbye) a rabid bulldog fan drove up from Waverly for breakfast. A mutual friend, Jason Payne, had introduced Brandon Chonko, the grandson of former Bulldog lineman Bill Chonko. Brandon’s Bulldog legacy makes him do things like he’d start crying when Kelee Ringo scored against Alabama in Indianapolis last January.

Brandon farms 31 acres and grows a variety of things including pigs that make tasty bacon. He also has a creative streak. He writes a column for the Camden County Tribune and the Georgian and has a radio show on WBQO in Brunswick. How about this pig farmer? Stay tuned.