At 17 miles long and 3 miles wide, Cumberland Island is the largest and southernmost barrier island off the coast of Georgia. It is a mosaic of different ecosystems: ocean and estuary, beaches and dunes, oak and pine forests, and salt marshes and freshwater wetlands. This diversity of ecosystems allows for a huge variety of plants and animals to thrive. Shorebirds like pelicans, egrets, herons, oystercatchers, piping plovers, red knots; manatees, North Atlantic right whales, loggerhead sea turtles, gopher turtles, and countless other protected or threatened species.
Cumberland Island is a mosaic of different ecosystems: ocean and estuary, beaches and dunes, oak and pine forests, and salt marshes and freshwater wetlands. Photo by stevbach1.
For those who appreciate quiet and solitude, or value natural resource challenges — it’s a priceless refuge. It’s a different kind of place, that offers a different kind of experience — and it was intended to be. It’s a National Seashore, after all, not a National Park. The North end of the island also features a protected Wilderness area, where no mechanization is allowed — yet a road runs through the middle of it. And while some public lands are only now instituting reservation systems to minimize visitor overuse and damage, Cumberland Island has always had that protective mechanism in place.
Cumberland was protected by Congress in 1972 under the National Wilderness Preservation Act. “The Seashore shall be permanently preserved in its primitive state, and no development of the project or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna or the physiographic conditions now prevailing,” the legislation states. In fact, Cumberland Island National Seashore is the only one of ten seashores that includes this very specific language; it was then followed with an additional layer of protection with Wilderness designation in 1982.
Why is this relevant right now? Because the National Park Service (NPS) recently released its proposed Visitor Use Management Plan for public comment. Unfortunately, the proposed plan does NOT align with the purpose and intent of the Seashore, and it will fundamentally change everything about the Cumberland Island experience
Its nearly 300-page plan recommends adding an on-island retail store, boat rentals, and boat tours; adding additional infrastructure, including septic and power systems; and more than doubling the number of daily visitors, with no maximum number established; and more.
There are lots of spaces for the public to connect with the outdoors and find every amenity one could desire; there aren’t a lot of places like Cumberland Island. If we don’t exhibit the restraint necessary to ensure that places like it remain undeveloped now — none will remain in the future.
Comments are due to NPS by the end of day, today, December 30. Please take this opportunity to remind the NPS that they have a responsibility to protect and steward our public lands for future generations. Submit public comments here.
We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.Donate