River's End Campground In Tybee Island, Georgia
Owner Woody Hemphill Discusses History & The Future
MRV: The Buzz, Your Outdoor Lifestyle Insider
Pristine Natural Balance: River's End Campground
Owner Woody Hemphill Discusses Peaceful Life & The Future Within The Oasis Of Tybee Island In Georgia
For close to ten years, campground manager Woody Hemphill has held Tybee Island & River’s End Campground on the coast of Georgia close to his heart keeping the pristine natural balance while understanding the necessity in embracing the aspects of the future. This is only helped by his addition responsibility of directing the Parks & Recreation department for the island. Hemphill sat down with The Buzz to discuss the uniqueness of the area, stories that define the geography and maintaining and planning for the evolution of the next generation.
The Buzz: What makes Tybee Island and River’s End so special from your point of view?
Woody Hemphill: The proximity to nature as well as its historical significance of the area [is key]. We have Fort Pulaski right down the street which was Robert E. Lee’s first station after Westpoint. It was also the part of the river where James Edward Oglethorpe sailed right by to go set up the new colony in Georgia. At the Northern end of the island is where the Union Army fired on the Fort during the Civil War. And then we have a lighthouse [Tybee Island Light] which is the oldest locally commissioned building in the state. It is 5 miles to Hilton Head by water. We are right on the shipping channel so you see all the boats coming and going. Then it’s just a big area with a beach. It is a small island and therefore a small town. We’re not overrun by corporate high rises. It is just a nice place to come and get away.
The Buzz: But the layout of what this place is completely feeds into that.
WH: Our tagline is “Where the river meets the sea”. We’re three blocks from the ocean…and about two blocks from the river beach where the Savannah River empties into the channel. You’ve got birds that only roost here at certain times of the year, some of which are endangered. You have fish that are only found in this area. You have proximity if you want to reconvene with nature or just have some time to yourself. Sometimes you want to go out on the beach with your family and enjoy an afternoon. It more a blank canvas for wherever you are, whatever you’re into and wherever you want to be. Because you’re right there in the city limits and you have proximity to the pier, restaurants, good seafood. If you want to go out to eat or cook it yourself, it’s all possible here.
The Buzz: Is it mostly about maintaining an “old school” chill but with local flavor?
WH: A lot of people travel to see something new or see something they can appreciate. Tybee [Island] sort of gives you the opportunity to do both. It has a small town feel so whether you’re new in town or you’ve been here for a little while or long while, there is a community vibe you only get in a small town. We always say 99% of the best people you meet have a camper behind their vehicle or a rig in front of their car. There are certainly some correlations between those two postulations. They endear themselves to one another.
The Buzz: You probably have some unique stories of the Island…
WH: Well for years…right now in the street [it] is the River Beach. You have to watch where you go, especially certain times of day depending on when the shrimpers and the fishermen come back in with their catch. You can see tons and tons of dolphins. I just learned a year ago that the first live birth of a bottlenose that was ever captured on camera was right out her at that same beach. The local university was doing a population carrying study and that was actually caught on video right down the street from our campground. We have people that come from Canada, Michigan, and all over the country who are into birding. They come from thousands of miles away to find what is nesting right in our own backyard. A lot of times it is news to us so we meet them in the park.
The Buzz: Can you talk about the cross-section of the clientele inside the campground itself?
WH: I think it has to do with a couple of variables. One of the things is that our cabins are their own kind of neighborhood. They are laid out around our swimming pool. [We have a lot] of people who come for group camping as well so if you want to come camping and also have a camper, your parents or grandparents or brother or sister can also come with multiple levels of accommodations [available to them]. You can do it primitive and rough it or you can have all the comforts of home. We are set up to accommodate everybody. And now, of course, sometimes there are certain people that want to go to bed at 8 o’clock but also other people don’t check in until 9. So there is some courteousness that comes into play…but we have a real nice volunteer after hours staff that makes sure everybody plays nice and gets along.
The Buzz: Can you talk about the evolution of camping especially from the administrative point of view as someone with a lot of experience?
WH: Absolutely. It has been a priority since day one. When I first came to Tybee back in 2006, [it was] 50 Amps…Everybody wanted 50 Amps but very few parks could accommodate. If you wanted Wi Fi …it was like…”Wow…who are you?” [It was] kind of “hoi-toi“ kind of thing. But now it is an expectation. I think some of that is generational. As more of our generation gets out and the baby boomers adopt it as a culture, I think you are going to see [more of a] swing in the expectation level. But I think some of that has been a good thing too. It has caused the outdoor hospitality and the hotel industry to kind of share resources and share some of the positive aspects of their individual cultures. I kind of find it interesting that a lot of the conservation and outdoor stewardship and initiatives that go on now take place through digital media which is totally different for me. When I was coming up, you left all that stuff at home and went out camping in nature to get away from [technology] whereas now it is being adopted as a platform to preserve habitats and outdoor resources and all that.
The Buzz: After watching this property and area continue to grow for 10 years, what is your hope in the texture of the future?
WH: When we first came into being, we were here to preserve just that. We were here to preserve the campground because we were the only…hell…to this year for 9 of those 10 years, we were the only public campground in the State Of Georgia. So a part of that was preserving the land so that future generations would be able to camp on the island and be able to experience the island much like the Indians and the ancestors and all such as that [did]. But it was also to give a different level of accommodation on the island other than short term rentals which [could be] thousands of dollars a week or a hotel room which was hundreds of dollars per night. We didn’t really want to become another Hilton Head. We kind of wanted to continue to be….”Tybee Island is Georgia’s playground”…I think was an old tag line that I saw somewhere. We more or less didn’t want to price the middle class out of the market so to speak. We wanted to be an affordable option to provide access to Tybee and to the outdoors. And I think we’ve certainly done that. We’ve got the nicest tent sites in the State. They have their own charcoal grill and fire ring and tent pads. Not many other places can you get as much for whatever you’re paying per night.
A graduate of New York University's Tisch School
Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim
has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde
Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct
craft beers among other things.
Make Sure To Stay At:
River's End Campground, which has over 100 sites that offer services ranging from full hook-up
capacity with water and sewer and free cable, to water and electric
service only, as well as primitive tent camping sites. They also offer complimentary Wi-Fi
for those who need to stay connected during their stay.