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Lake Lanier islands offer an escape
A few pine trees, dirt and sand can provide your own private getaway
Lake Lanier's many islands also a popular destination, particularly for boaters, but the Army Corps of Engineers cautions that if you drop anchor there, make sure to leave the island as you left it: pristine as possible.

Lanier’s named islands

Lake Lanier (resort): 956.7 acres
Three Sisters, 148.7 acres
Big Junction, 138.5 acres
Nix, 109.1 acres
Four Mile, 95.1 acres
Taylor Creek, 62.6 acres
Keiths Bridge, 55.9 acres
Lights Ferry, 52 acres
Flat Creek, 22.1 acres
Wilderness Isle, 21 acres
Little Ridge, 20.5 acres
Chattahoochee Country Club, 19.9 acres
Gaines Ferry, 15.6 acres
Pirate’s Adventure, 15.5 acres
Latham, 14.9 acres
Browns Bridge, 13.5 acres
Little Junction, 13.2 acres
Robinson Crusoe, 6.5 acres
Holiday on Lanier, 1.5 acres

Source: Army Corps of Engineers

Lake Lanier draws millions of tourists to its 692 miles of shoreline, but its approximately 160 islands are also popular destinations, particularly for boaters seeking a break from the waves and wind whipping in their faces.

Brad Carver of Forsyth County is one of those who frequently steers his family to them.

“We’re part hippie, I guess,” he said. “We like the natural part of (islands). We stay away from the Cocktail and Sunset coves. That’s not quite our speed.”

The islands were basically hilltops before the Army Corps of Engineers built Lake Lanier and Buford Dam in the 1950s to tap into the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers flowing from and through North Georgia.

When Lanier rests at full pool, or 1,071 feet above sea level, there are about 160 visible islands, corps Ranger Russ Lundstrum said.

“Some islands will go underwater as the lake rises and some will connect with the mainland when it drops,” he said.

And Lanier’s islands or cluster of islands vary in vastness, from a mere 217 square feet to 956.7 acres. Eighteen islands, not counting the privately run Lake Lanier Islands resort in South Hall, are officially named.

The resort, which dates to 1962 with the state-run Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority, has four islands, including Legacy Island, which is home to a golf course, hotel and other lakefront accommodations.

Operations have changed over the years, now privately run by Gwinnett businessman Virgil Williams, who has invested millions into the resort, including improvements to the beach, water park and infrastructure.

“There’s a really big master plan for the islands that includes four hotels,” said Stephanie Orr, the resort’s vice president of sales and marketing.

The rest of Lanier’s islands are not developed, looking more like deserted spots in the ocean, with Georgia pines taking the place of palm trees.

The largest of those is Three Sisters Island, which sits almost squarely in the middle of the lake, between mainland destinations Aqualand Marina in South Hall County and Two Mile Creek Park in Forsyth County.

Lacking roads or amenities, the islands offer a bit of paradise nonetheless.

“Some of them are ‘claimed’ early in the morning of summer weekend days,” said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association.

Carver said that once family sports activities are done, usually by the end of May, “we start getting into the lake mode, and that means we’re either kayaking to islands or taking the boat out there weekends and weeknights, sometimes.”

His Labrador retriever on board usually hits the ground “before I get the boat turned off,” he said. “Usually, we’re just beaching up or anchoring right off the beach, and getting out there and just (playing with) the dog.”

The Army Corps of Engineers cautions that if you drop anchor at one of its islands, make sure to leave it as you left it — as pristine as possible.

Especially, no camping or open fires are allowed.

“If you want to come in by houseboat, anchor off an island and get on the beach, play volleyball, put up a temporary net, that’s fine,” said Nick Baggett, the corps’ natural resource manager. “But pick up after yourself.”

Islands “aren’t alcohol-restricted, but we recommend not bringing glass on the island, because inevitably, that glass will end up in the sand.”

Carver said islanders don’t always abide by rules.

In fact, “I see (rule breaking) all the time,” he said. “There’s some good parties out there on those islands.”

“What we’re having problems with,” Baggett said, “is people having large events. This is something we’ve had to deal with over the past two or three years.”

A few years ago, some 250-300 people ventured to an island, “and they had all these cash bars set up,” he said.

“The captain disappeared or got drunk, and the whole group started dialing 911 for assistance. When first responders came, the boat was swamped by about 50 people wanting to get on board, half or all of whom were intoxicated.”

Several agencies also showed for the incident, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Boaters tend to have their favorite islands, something the corps is looking at possibly building on through an “adopt an island” program, where people would help keep an eye on islands and ensure they stay as litter-free as possible, Baggett said.

The islands also have another serious issue — erosion.

“The ones that have a lot of wave exposure — they’re more out in the open — are eroding more than other ones,” Cloud said.

The Lake Lanier Association and corps “are going to try to identify a test island and place some riprap shoreline rubble around it, then try to see if it helps with erosion,” she said.

“We’ve got a lot of details to settle, including financing and who would do the work,” Cloud said.

She and others believe preserving the islands is key to the lake’s draw.

“Part of the appeal of Lake Lanier is that it has such a broad mix of things to do, from the campgrounds and public parks to the resort area at Lake Lanier Islands, the islands and small beach areas scattered around the lake,” Cloud said.