By BILL WALKER
It’s not unusual for Bunny and Jeff Anderson to begin their Saturday mornings with a boat ride on the tidal creek a short distance from their runway home at Eagle Neck Airpark in coastal Georgia. The Andersons are a flying family but being near the water was one of the key attractions that brought them to this aviation community developed amid one of the most pristine salt marshes on the East Coast.
Eagle Neck Airpark, 1GAO, sits a few feet above the tidal flow of the Atlantic behind St. Catherines Island 45 miles south of Savannah, Ga. About 30 families live on the airpark and there are approximately 50 additional building sites within the heavily wooded development.
The Anderson home is among those along the 3,475-foot runway, while other houses are grouped on the opposite side of the airpark beside the marsh. There is a community dock and some of the homes have private docks. There is also a swimming pool, tennis court, playground, public fishing and dock area, and other group amenities within the gated community.
The Eagle Neck taxiways, which double as the airpark road network, wind through groves of stately live oaks and stands of pines. Every few hundred feet a home and hangar are visible from openings in the trees and thick coastal undergrowth. The live oaks, state tree of Georgia, create great areas of cooling shadow throughout the airpark.
“We were looking near the coast here,” Jeff said. “There is actually another subdivision down the street called Belvedere and as we were driving back from there we saw this big strip that looked like a runway.”
“After that, Belvedere lost all chance of having the Andersons as residents,” Bunny said. “It was pretty much a done deal once we found Eagle Neck. I fish and Jeff flies and three of our four sons are pilots, so it’s perfect.”
“I came down thinking I was going to build a Velocity,” Jeff said. “But since there’s six or seven RVs in the neighborhood and everybody has tools and knows what they’re doing I figured I’d start where I had a lot of help.”
One of those RV owners is Wayne Owens, a retiree whose front porch looks out on the marsh and the community dock where the Andersons tie up their boat.
Owens and his wife Marian moved to Eagle Neck eight years ago from inland Georgia. They owned a lot on an airpark in Arizona, but Marian wanted to be close to her family in Savannah. “You can’t get a Georgia girl out of Georgia,” said Owens. Rather than build a home, they purchased one that came on the market.
Owens, a retired elevator mechanic, said he loves to build aircraft and work with just about anything mechanical. His RV-9, with twin glass panels, autopilot and a long list of electronic extras, would make most steam gauge pilots green with envy. It is his second homebuilt.
The two couples agree that Eagle Neck is a great place to live. “Oh, so relaxing,” Bunny Anderson said. “It’s quiet like a church. The sky at night is just unimaginable. It’s so bright. We’ve never seen anything like it. The air is terrific. We get out here on the dock and catch our own shrimp and crab.”
McIntosh County, where Eagle Neck is located, is rural, noted Owens. “It’s a very laid back style around here,” he said. “There is not a stop light in the county — just a four-way flashing caution light in Darien, a town about 20 minutes away by car.”
“It is so far away from shopping,” Bunny Anderson said, noting it’s about 45 minutes by car to Savannah. “But I don’t care about that. That’s not something that bothers me.”
The airpark, which has been around some 25 years, has “a pretty good cross section of people living here,” according to Owens. “We’ve got a retired policeman, retired doctors, still-working doctors, retired people from Gulfstream and people still working at Gulfstream.”
Ray Snyder and his wife Lorraine have been residents of Eagle Neck for 18 years. When they moved in the airfield was still turf. It was later paved. Snyder, a retired police officer from Bethlehem, Pa., said he and Lorraine conducted an extensive search of the popular airparks in Florida before deciding on Eagle Neck. “We liked the trees here,” he said. “The access to the water was nice. It was the best of both worlds, so we settled here.”
He said the weather was a surprise. “We thought we’d have a change in seasons,” he explained. “But here you have hot and less hot,” Lorraine said with a laugh.
Ray, a U.S. Navy veteran, painted his RV-8 with Navy insignia and named it “Sweet Lorraine.” He built the aircraft over a period of six years while working in Georgia after retiring as a police officer.
Snyder said he enjoys working on aircraft and once rebuilt a Stearman. Early on in his aviation repair work, he also rebuilt a couple of Aeroncas and a Ryan PT-19. He flew a Cessna 120 while building the RV. “A neighbor had an RV-4,” he said. “But that wasn’t enough room for me. I’m 300 pounds, 6-foot-3. Van’s brought out the RV-8 and I bought the kit. The neighbor down the street bought one right after that and we built them together.” Ray finished his plane in 2004.
“At Eagle Neck we rely on one another just like any small community,” he said. “If something happens, everyone wants to help out. Everybody who comes to visit says, ‘you’ve died and gone to heaven.’”
There’s a Saturday morning pilots’ breakfast group that meets at the local McDonald’s down the road from the airpark. “We sit there for two hours drinking one cup of coffee,” Snyder said. “They treat us well despite that,” Owens added.
Michael Mock also lives in Eagle Neck. He works at Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah as manager of avionics and electrical systems and has had a home in the airpark since July 2008. He flies a Cessna 340. “I decided to live here because of the affordable hangar space, the ease in working on my plane, which makes airplane ownership more affordable, and for free you get a dream workshop,” Mock said. “One thing that is really slick: Some people like boats and some people like airplanes. I like both. My boat is down at the dock and has been for weeks. We can go down to the dock and boat and go out here and fly.”
One of the biggest attractions along this section of the coast is the nearby Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge includes the 1,200-acre site of an old World War II pilot training base and the 2.7-mile hike around the old airfield perimeter is one of the best nature trails within the 2,762-acre refuge.
The airpark website, EagleNeck.org, offers information on homes and lots for sale. Recently, four marshfront homes ranging in price from $480,000 to $794,000 were listed. Lots were offered ranging from $49,000 for a 1.1 acre runway lot to $199,000 for a 1-acre marshfront lot.
Eagle Neck does not offer fuel on the field but the homeowners’ association spokesman said work was being done to open a commercial pump once used at the field.
For those landing on invitation, “Watch for two towers 1,200 and 1,024 feet above ground level approximately two to three miles south and southwest of the airport,” a website advisory notes. Also the 100-foot pines flanking the runway can cause swirling air currents as you descend below them in crosswind conditions.
The common traffic frequency is 123.0. Position announcements on approach and in the pattern are necessary because the tall pines restrict the view from the ground. The runways are 1-19 with standard traffic. Airfield coordinates are 31.38.2N 81.19.5W. Contact the Eagle Neck Homeowners Association for permission prior to landing at 912-832-6778 or 912-832-6718.