Site Visit: Epworth By The Sea

By Anna Dunn, May 5, 2015

There is a reason Epworth By The Sea hosts 900 groups each year (including the International Association of Conference Center Administrators), and it goes beyond the retreat center’s location along the Frederica River in St. Simons Island, Georgia, a charming coastal town known for its Southern hospitality and laid-back vibe. “Groups come to Epworth because it’s safe and secure,” says Joel Willis, chief operating officer, who has been with Epworth since 1979. “People enjoy walking the grounds and taking in the natural beauty. There are always places to get away for solitude if that’s what they want.”

The 100-acre property has doubled in size and undergone a number of changes over the past few decades, including new buildings and grounds improvements. “We’ve planted more than 100 oak trees on the property in addition to the centuries-old ones already here,” Willis shares. History runs deep at Epworth, as it was the site where British settlers established Fort Frederica in 1735. The Revs. John and Charles Wesley were on that voyage and became enamored with the island. Epworth, England, the childhood hometown of the Wesley brothers, inspired the property’s name when it opened in 1950.

From Lovely Lane Chapel, the oldest church building on St. Simons Island built in 1880, to the 73-room Turner Lodge, Epworth’s newest facility overlooking the river, the property blends the past and present while creating a safe haven for groups, which gravitate toward the on-property adventure challenge ropes course (shown above) and its 600-ft.-long zip line. “They aren’t out there screaming at each other; they’re screaming to encourage each other,” says Willis. “It’s all about teambuilding, group support and positive thinking.”

Other activities include bonfires and trips to nearby Cumberland and Jekyll islands, and on-site entertainment options are an environmental education center, a pool, two lighted tennis courts, a basketball pavilion, an open field for sports, bicycles for rent and two fishing piers. Groups of up to 900 can make use of Epworth’s 235 motel-style rooms, 13 cabins, 36 meeting rooms encompassing 36,000 square feet of space and dining areas that can accommodate up to 400 for a meal. 

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