by Ed Jackson
- In many ways, Cumberland Island is the crown jewel of Georgia's
barrier islands. It is not the largest of the islands (when counting both land and
tidal marshes)--but it is the largest in terms of continuously
exposed land area. It certainly is not the most visited island,
as the National Park Service limits how many humans can be on
the island at any one time. Most people who come are campers
or day visitors. Still, Cumberland Island is a unique treasure--not
just for Georgia but the entire nation.
- In terms of ecosystems, Cumberland Island has three major
regions. Arriving by ferry, you see large areas of saltwater
marshes along the western edge of the island. At low tide, these
marshes appear to swell the size of the island. Also immediately
noticeable are the gnarled live oak trees covered with Spanish
moss and the palmetto plants along the ground that mark the edge
of Cumberland's dense maritime forest. Of course, Cumberland
Island's most famous ecosystem is its beach, which stretches
over 17 miles from Long Point on the north to the southern tip
opposite Florida's Amelia Island. Along this long, uninterrupted
stretch of white sand you will find horses, birds, and other
wildlife. But what makes this area very special to environmentalists
is that it's a nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles.
- Cumberland Island is really two islands--the island proper
and Little Cumberland Island--connected by a marsh. Little Cumberland
is privately owned and not generally open to the public. Historically,
Cumberland Island was in private hands, but large areas were
deeded to the National Parks Foundation by members or heirs of
the Carnegie family in 1971. Other lands in private ownership
were purchased with funds provided the Mellon Foundation and
Congress, and in 1972 Cumberland Island was designated a national
seashore. A small number of people--principally descendants of
property owners--still have houses on the western and northern
regions of the island, though only a very few people actually
live year-round on the island. Many, however, have sold their
property to the National Park Service (NPS), which in turn leases
the property back to the former landowners during their lifetime.
Eventually, the property will revert to the Park Service and
become part of the national seashore.
- Relatively few Georgians get to visit Cumberland Island.
The Park Service limits the number of tourists
and campers to 300 per day. Campers, moreover, are restricted
to a 7-day stay. There is one private facility--Greyfield Inn--for
those who desire luxurious overnight accommodations, but it only
has a limited number of rooms.
- Transportation is another problem for visitors to Cumberland
Island. You have to ride a ferry (which makes two trips a day)
or make other arrangements to get out to the island. Unless you
own or lease property, you cannot bring a vehicle onto the island.
There are no buses or vans on the island (except a van used by
the Greyfield Inn to transport its guests and NPS vehicles).
Visitors are not even allowed to bring a bicycle (though the
Greyfield has some for its guests). Even if you had a vehicle,
all roads and trails are dirt--and some very rough. So, essentially,
most visitors to Cumberland Island have to walk everywhere they
- At its greatest width, Cumberland Island is less than six
miles in width, but some areas of the southern end are less than
one mile across. At the Sea Camp dock, it's just over one-half
mile to the Atlantic beach--so hiking on the southern end is
not a problem. However, the island's eastern seashore is 17.5 miles of continuous
beach. While the main camping area at Sea Camp Beach has running
water and bathrooms with cold showers, the other camping sites
have no facilities. There are no stores of any type on Cumberland
Island, which means all food, ice, and supplies have to be shipped
in by boat. Of course, during the summer, there are bugs and
the heat to contend with. As a result, the great majority of
visitors coming to Cumberland never get a chance to see the entire
island--particularly the northern end.
- In May of 2001, I was fortunate to spend four days on Cumberland
Island at the home of Sonja Olsen Kinard. Her father had worked
for the Candlers, who had given him land. Here, he built a house
in the early 1960s, which the Olsen children inherited after
his death. They have since sold their property to the National
Park Service but have the right to continue leasing the house
and land throughout their lifetime.
- Sonja lives in Brunswick but frequently visits the old family
home, which is located on the north end of the island at Half
Moon Bluff on the edge of the marsh that separates Cumberland
from Little Cumberland islands. Because Sonja had a Jeep, I had
an opportunity to see all areas of the island--something few
visitors get to do. But perhaps most interesting was hearing
about the island from someone who has a personal knowledge of
it. Sonja remembers the Carnegies, Candlers, Rockefellers, and
other famous people who had homes on the island. Incidentally,
in 1999 Sonja and her late sister, Thora Olsen Kimsey, compiled
Memories from The Marshes of Glynn: World War II, which
is a very interesting history of what the Glynn County area was
like during the Second World War based on interviews with people
who were living then and extensively illustrated with photographs
from the time. (For information on obtaining a copy of Sonja's
book, send her an e-mail).
- Because of this rare opportunity, I took extensive photographs
and have incorporated them into this Cumberland Island Photo
Gallery so that all Georgians will have an opportunity to see
and appreciate the special beauty and uniqueness of the island.
Again, I want to thank Sonja Olsen Kinard for her kindness and
invaluable assistance in making this possible.
- Ed Jackson
- Senior Public Service Associate
- Carl Vinson Institute of Government
- University of Georgia
Go to Cumberland Island Photo Gallery table of contents