This past week, me and another Mountain Crossings employee took a trip with some friends down to Cumberland Island. The Island is located off the coast of Georgia near St. Mary’s and is only accessible by boat. It is the largest of the barrier islands and contains 9,800 acres of Congressionally designated Wilderness. There is much to do, and see on the island. It is rich with history and has several structures open to visitors where you can learn about former inhabitants of the island. You can hike, bike, take a van tour, or just sit on the beach. The island is your playground!
Many people have lived on the Island over the past few centuries. Some believed to date back to indigenous people 4,000 years ago. There are various Native American artifacts found around the island that are now in the Ice House Museum. The museum is a great place to learn about the history on the Island. There are other awesome places of history you can see on the Island.
The first place would be Dungeness. These are ruins located on the southern tip of the Island and was the site of homes of several families through the decades. James Oglethorpe, Henry Lee, Nathaniel Greene, and most recently, Thomas Carnegie. The Carnegies moved out in 1925 and the mansion burned down in 1959. It is preserved now by the National Park Service.
Plum Orchard is the more famous site of the Carnegies. Plum Orchard is an 1898 Georgian Revival mansion building by Lucy Carnegie for her son, George and his wife, Margaret Thaw. This mansion was donated to the National Park Foundation by the Carnegie family in 1971. The contribution of Plum Orchard helped achieve congressional approval for establishing Cumberland Island National Seashore. Tours to the Plum Orchard Mansion are conducted daily as part of the Lands and Legacies Tours.
On the northernmost part of the island, there is a small church called the First African Baptist Church. In the 1890s the site was established for African American workers. There was no more slavery, but many of the African Americans stayed behind and continued to work as free people for the Carnegies and other families. Most recently, the church was the site of the September 1996 wedding of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette.
This is the most popular site for campers on the island. It is a short distance from the docks and there are carts you can rent to take your belongings there, so it is basically car camping. People get very comfortable there with large tents and tarps, grills, coolers full of delicious food, and whatever luxuries they want. There are bathrooms and cold showers there as well as potable water. The beach is right next to it and is a great place for a sunrise.
Our group definitely took some luxury items, mostly good food, but we are all hikers and campers so we carried smaller tents, fewer clothes, and I don’t think any of us took a shower. The tent I carried was the Big Agnes Fly Creek. It is a great tent ranging from one person, to three person sizes and is comfortable. I kept all my belongings in there with me and was able to backpack with it for a night. Hanging around the fire at night was a popular pastime. These Helinox chairs were comfortable and the perfect height to sit around and talk. Sea Camp is great for those who don’t want to get too dirty. It makes it easy for anyone to enjoy the Island.
There are many hiking trails on the island. The island is more narrow at the south end and widens as you go further to the top. It’s about 17 miles if you walk from Dungeness up to the Settlement. There are many small connecting trails you can take to get from one end to the other. The dirt road is the most direct, but not as fun as you might run into vehicles and bikes. The parallel trail is a popular one as many people like to also camp at Stafford beach, just 3.5 miles from Sea Camp. I hiked through a series of trails up to Brickhill Bluff campsite. It was a beautiful site on the West side of the island right on the water. Hiking 11 miles to this spot led me through a beautiful Palmetto and Live Oak forest. At times I came across various ponds and marshes in the middle of the island. Wildlife was everywhere. Armadillos are the most abundant, but I also saw deer, horses, hogs, and squirrels. Even though it is December, it was still fairly warm and buggy down there! The mosquitos were out and I was glad to have some lightweight long underwear to keep them from biting. Since I was walking on sand a good bit, having camp shoes at night was a must to let my feet breathe after getting sandy and sweat. These Xero camp shoes are super lightweight and comfortable. I was a little sore after hiking 23 miles, but I was happy to see more of the Island.
The day after I returned from the Island, a subdivision was approved to be built on the island. There are still several private residences there and they are free to divide 88 acres of property to build more homes for their families. In 1972 when the island was given to the National Park Service, the families that lived there were able to negotiate to keep their properties and continue to pass it down to their families. The land, which stretches from the marshlands to the beach, currently carries a “conservation preservation” zoning. The families are trying to get the county to waive the zone so they can build. Even though more than 5,000 citizens and other Environmental groups signed a petition to prevent this from happening. There is still a chance to stop the development. Organizations and individuals have a 30-day window to appeal the planning board’s decision. Once that appeal is filed, the matter will go before the Camden County Commissioners. Help out and sign this petition to stop the development on the Island!