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Melon Bluff opens offering new theme
Live oak trees getting their due
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The Melon Bluff Nature and Heritage Preserve is reopening this month with the theme “The Georgia Coast’s Most Valuable Natural Resource and Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution.”
Melon Bluff’s Live Oaking Trail explores the time when Southern live oak, Georgia’s state tree, was as valuable as oil is today.  It was the world wide wood of choice, for building the tall ships, including Old Ironsides whose timbers was cut on Georgia’s barrier islands.
In the 1800s, live oak became the most sought after wood in the world, a period of “Live Oak Mania,” a fascinating era that resulted in the first Federal Forest Reserves on Blackbeard Island and in the first attempts at conservation and forestry.  
To harvest it, shipbuilders from northern shipyards spent winters here enduring incredible hardships, depicted in Melon Bluff’s live oaker camp on site.  Costumed re-enactors describe the facets of life and adventure along this exceptionally beautiful woodland trail that includes early Georgia folklore and a trip to the tree tops on the viewing tower with its miles-wide view of rivers, marshes and forests.
For this special event, the trail explores ship building, seafaring music, and especially, tales of Old Ironsides, America’s most famous tall ship that still sails Boston Harbor on her live oak keel laid in 1794.
There are interactive experiments in why live oak, the wood that doesn’t float, results in ships that do. It treats live oak as the amazing resource that it was and invites discussion of what the coast’s new most valuable resource might be. In so doing, it traces yellow pine from tall ship time when it was valuable for naval stores and planking, to now, when pine can be used to produce ethanol, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Melon Bluff has just become the Georgia Chapter for the Live Oak Registry and on Saturday, visitors will be invited to sign up for winter picnic days when they can join the staff exploring the woods to find, measure and record giant live oaks for the Live Oak Registry.  Oaks with a circumference of eight feet at four and a half feet above ground level are eligible and those with a girth of 16 feet can be registered as in the most elite, revered category. Registrations will be processed at Melon Bluff.
The reopening event is set for 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 22.  The trail will run self-guided every Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. except Thanksgiving weekend. The next event with re-enactors will be March 8, 2008 and the program will run through mid-May when the nature reserve will close for the summer.
Melon Bluff Nature and Heritage Reserve is at 2999 Islands Highway, three miles east of I-95 Exit 76.
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