Spotlight on Dog Island

Sunset on the Beach

As much as we consider St. George Island to offer the epitome of “island living,” one of the best aspects of the Forgotten Coast is that there is more than one isle to visit.  Stand at the easternmost point of St. George Island State Park and there in the adjacent St. George Sound you’ll see Dog Island.

Known locally as “the island that time forgot,” Dog Island has a tremendous local history and even enjoyed a bit of national publicity in the 1980s thanks to advertisements run in large northern markets such as New York and Chicago. An article published in the New York Times in March 1987 made a point that, “Dog Island is indeed secluded and everyone on the island wants to keep it that way.”

And on the island, such seclusion isn’t a negative, but one of the goals for visitors. There’s no magnificent bridge connecting the mainland—you have to take a water taxi to the island, which sits 4 miles south of Carrabelle. And the average day tripper is known to disembark with hiking boots, shell bags, a camera, and binoculars.

Dog Island measures nearly seven miles long, 1,800 acres, with approximately 60 percent of the island residing in the Jeff Lewis Wilderness Preserve. Lewis, a Florida businessman, paid $12,000 for Dog Island after World War II and later sold it to the Nature Conservancy in the early ‘80s for its preservation.

The natural beauty is incredible on the island. Two hundred species of birds call Dog Island home at some point during the calendar year and can be found everywhere on the island. Permanent residents such as egrets and herons share space with migratory shore birds like black-bellied and snowy plovers.

And considering it’s a barrier island like St. George, shell collectors are in heaven throughout Dog Island’s white sands. In terms of flora, there are almost 400 native and naturalized plants, including two species of orchid, 15 species of fern, and dunes filled with oak scrub, sea oats, and rosemary. Along the old Jeep trail, you can still see slash pines with horizontal gashes in their trunks, made by early 20th-century turpentiners gathering tree resin to be made into turpentine.

As Hurricane Michael revealed in 2018, Dog Island was once a place of shipwrecks, thanks to another hurricane — one that rocked Carrabelle in 1899. During that disaster, 15 ships ran aground on the island as the Category 2 storm wreaked havoc all the way to St. Teresa Beach. After Hurricane Michael hit the Forgotten Coast as a Category 4 storm, the hulls of the shipwrecks once again saw the light of day, offering yet another photo opportunity for visitors and residents alike.

Speaking of residents, there are about 100 cottages on Dog Island, which are mostly used during the summer and as rental properties. There are around 30 full-time residents on the island, one of whom chose to ride out Hurricane Michael in the 2,000-square-foot house he built in 2003 to withstand such storms.

Bradlee Shanks, a University of South Florida art professor, said he wanted to see how his home would perform during a hurricane, and later told the Tallahassee Democrat, “It’s performed marvelously.”

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