Wilderness Experienced: Cumberland Island

By Jessica Howell-Edwards

JessicaCumberland Island Wilderness is part of the Cumberland Island National Seashore in southern Georgia, administered by the National Park Service (NPS). It was previously sanctioned as a UN Biosphere Reserve, and is located just miles from Kings Bay Naval Base and also nuclear warhead storage.

 

I firmly believe that all Wilderness experiences have the potential to be transformative in our lives, but Cumberland Island Wilderness offers a complex variation of ecosystems that only a southeastern barrier island can: towering sand dunes, freshwater lakes, maritime forest, salt marshes, and deserted beaches.

 

With over 9,000 acres of Wilderness ecosystems to explore, I lose myself for days among curtains of Spanish moss. I watch dolphins frolic from the shore, and witness sea turtle hatchlings making their way to the sea. I can watch the sun rise over the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, set over the Cumberland River, and see the Milky Way like never before.


Bald eagles, osprey, wood storks, herons, American oystercatchers, least terns, and other shorebirds are all common sights when I visit; look closely and discover alligator, bobcat, armadillo, and coyote tracks.


The magic begins with a calm boat ride (a passenger ferry, to be precise) that departs from the friendly town of St. Mary’s, GA. But really, my journey is just beginning; when I disembark, I’ll hike miles on the beach or through the maritime forest before I set up camp. 


Afternoons on Cumberland Island are best spent dozing in a hammock hung among the ancient live oaks -- a welcome reprieve from hiking in the heat and humidity. (All I can say is, it’s not hard to be confused by feral horse paths leading you away from the hiking trails. Ahem.) 


Late one humid afternoon, I was sitting in the shade, observing hummingbirds and writing (truth be told, I was mostly wishing for a good afternoon thunderstorm to cool things off).  


Suddenly I heard a low rumble, similar to a plane, but getting increasingly louder. 


As it moved closer, the sky above us went dark. 


I looked at my companion; clearly, she was as startled as I. 


Everything seemed to go completely, eerily still. We clambered our way to a clearing and looked up—it was far too large to be a shorebird. We couldn’t believe our eyes. 


It was the Goodyear blimp, directly overhead—flying low enough over the Wilderness area to completely darken the sky for several startling seconds. 


As the blimp flew farther north, we returned to our shaded area. My heart was beating rapidly, my palms were sweaty—it was unnatural, what I had just experienced—and was NOT what one wants in a Wilderness experience. I was shaken.


I am accustomed to hearing low-flying planes and helicopters, even in this Wilderness area—but I never imagined seeing a blimp. But this blimp gave me a reminder of how much worse it could get. After all, if Spaceport Camden stakeholders get their way, rockets will soon be flying overhead. 


As I watched the sun set over the Cumberland River that night, I could not even imagine the potential devastation to this delicate ecosystem if this spaceport, located only four miles away, is approved to shoot commercial rockets directly over this Wilderness area. 


One failed launch could eradicate over 40 years of conservation efforts. It also threatens every aspect of Cumberland Island’s wilderness character:

Wildness

Solitude

Remoteness

Noise

Visual intrusion

Primitive and unconfined recreation 

Undeveloped nature

Transcendent and spiritual values

Connection to the past

Ecological and evolutionary processes


The idea of a private, for-profit spaceport launching rockets over a Congressionally-protected Wilderness area nearly makes my head explode. 


I firmly believe protecting Cumberland Island Wilderness in 1982 was one of the best choices our leaders ever made—but I also believe that it is our job to hold public officials accountable to protecting and maintaining the integrity of Wilderness character on Cumberland Island. 


That includes opposing any version of a spaceport that would be located just four miles from the Congressionally-designated Wilderness area on Cumberland Island.

 

OCTOBER 2020 UPDATE: Please join us at www.change.org/norocketsoverwilderness!

 

Jessica is a lifelong Georgia resident and mom of four (ages 12, 7, 4, and 4) who currently resides in DeKalb County, GA. She offers more than two decades of journalism, marketing, and activism experience – and most importantly, a passion for protecting the native ecology of Cumberland Island. She currently serves as Program Director for Wild Cumberland, a nonprofit dedicated to the stewardship and preservation of the Cumberland Island Wilderness and its native ecology.

 

Cumberland Island

 

Spanish moss on Cumberland Island

 

Photos: 
Author Jessica Howell-Edwards, on Cumberland Island.
The spaceport location would be visible from Cumberland Island Wilderness.

Live oaks draped with Spanish moss in Wilderness. Photo by Jessica Howell-Edwards.

 

 

Editor's note:

“Wilderness Experienced” is a platform to share stories of recent experiences in Wilderness. Stories focus on the virtues of Wilderness and/or challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Commenting guidelines:

We encourage readers to engage the authors and other commenters through the comment feature. Please be respectful and thoughtful in your response, and focus your comments on the issues/experiences. Please refrain from personal attacks and harassment, using rude or disruptive language, providing misinformation, or promoting violence or illegal activities. We reserve the right to reject comments. Thank you for your cooperation and support.

 

 

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Comments 206

Guest - Janet Duran on Wednesday, 28 October 2020 15:45

I have always wanted to visit this beautiful Island. We must protect it. Thank you all for your wonderful comments.

I have always wanted to visit this beautiful Island. We must protect it. Thank you all for your wonderful comments.
Guest - Jessica (website) on Wednesday, 28 October 2020 16:38
Yes! Please join us at change.org/norocketsoverwilderness!
Guest - Kevin Kriescher on Monday, 28 September 2020 11:00

Wilderness for wilderness sake! From it we come and to it we return; there is still nothing more beautiful. We might be better at achieving this if more of us, more often, made ourselves feel like genuine components of wilderness (immersed ourselves, did not pollute, etc.) We must also admit that human over-population of the planet is a very real, concomitant challenge...and perhaps tractable.

Wilderness for wilderness sake! From it we come and to it we return; there is still nothing more beautiful. We might be better at achieving this if more of us, more often, made ourselves feel like genuine components of wilderness (immersed ourselves, did not pollute, etc.) We must also admit that human over-population of the planet is a very real, concomitant challenge...and perhaps tractable.
Guest - Jessica (website) on Wednesday, 28 October 2020 16:37

Absolutely! Please join with us at http://change.org/norocketsoverwilderness

Absolutely! Please join with us at change.org/norocketsoverwilderness
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:51

Yes! We must ensure our leaders adhere to the intent of its enabling legislation! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport! Please be sure to visit wildcumberland.org for up-to-date information on this situation.

Yes! We must ensure our leaders adhere to the intent of its enabling legislation! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport! Please be sure to visit wildcumberland.org for up-to-date information on this situation.
Guest - Ronit Corry on Wednesday, 23 September 2020 14:20

Cumberland Island is a beautiful home for wildlife and all nature. It should be protected in every way and that includes the airspace above it. This area should be considered a NO fly zone!

Cumberland Island is a beautiful home for wildlife and all nature. It should be protected in every way and that includes the airspace above it. This area should be considered a NO fly zone!
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 08:56

I completely agree! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!

I completely agree! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!
Guest - Kathleen Smith on Friday, 18 September 2020 13:05

Preserve and protect this sacred wilderness. It cannot be replaced.

Preserve and protect this sacred wilderness. It cannot be replaced.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 08:56

Well said! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!

Well said! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!
Guest - Bonnie Hill on Friday, 18 September 2020 10:14

I have been to Cumberland Island and it was an unforgettable experience. Wilderness areas are rare, especially in the Southeast. A spaceport can go somewhere that is already spoiled.

I have been to Cumberland Island and it was an unforgettable experience. Wilderness areas are rare, especially in the Southeast. A spaceport can go somewhere that is already spoiled.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 08:57

I am so glad that you had an opportunity to experience CI! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!

I am so glad that you had an opportunity to experience CI! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!
Guest - Jacob Meyer on Friday, 18 September 2020 09:02

Protect this little slice of magnificent wilderness! It is so unique with so many special creatures

Protect this little slice of magnificent wilderness! It is so unique with so many special creatures
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 08:57

Jacob, thank you! I completely agree! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!

Jacob, thank you! I completely agree! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!
Guest - Lynn M. Chapman on Friday, 18 September 2020 08:07

All I can say is Ms. Howell-Edwards said it best when she remarked: "The idea of a private, for-profit spaceport launching rockets over a Congressionally-protected Wilderness area nearly makes my head explode". My sentiments exactly. Will the almighty dollar prevail again? I hope not....

All I can say is Ms. Howell-Edwards said it best when she remarked: "The idea of a private, for-profit spaceport launching rockets over a Congressionally-protected Wilderness area nearly makes my head explode". My sentiments exactly. Will the almighty dollar prevail again? I hope not....
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 08:58

Thank you, Lynn! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!

Thank you, Lynn! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!
Guest - Russ Thayer on Friday, 18 September 2020 01:22

protect these areas for future generations ! We have already lost to much that we will never get back.

protect these areas for future generations ! We have already lost to much that we will never get back.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 08:59

So important, Russ. Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!

So important, Russ. Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport!
Guest - Julie Glover on Friday, 18 September 2020 00:13

Protecting Cumberland Island Wilderness in 1982 was one of the best choices our leaders ever made. WE MUST PROTECT the integrity of Wilderness character on Cumberland Island -- that includes opposing any version of a spaceport that would be located just four miles(!) from the Congressionally-designated Wilderness area on Cumberland Island. (WHAT A FIASCO!)
One failed launch could eradicate over 40 years of conservation efforts. It also threatens every aspect of Cumberland Island’s wilderness character, such as Wildness, Solitude, Remoteness, Absence of Noise and/or Visual intrusion, Primitive and unconfined recreation, Undeveloped nature, and protection of Ecological and evolutionary processes.
DON'T YOU DARE MESS WITH THIS PRECIOUS PLACE!

Protecting Cumberland Island Wilderness in 1982 was one of the best choices our leaders ever made. WE MUST PROTECT the integrity of Wilderness character on Cumberland Island -- that includes opposing any version of a spaceport that would be located just four miles(!) from the Congressionally-designated Wilderness area on Cumberland Island. (WHAT A FIASCO!) One failed launch could eradicate over 40 years of conservation efforts. It also threatens every aspect of Cumberland Island’s wilderness character, such as Wildness, Solitude, Remoteness, Absence of Noise and/or Visual intrusion, Primitive and unconfined recreation, Undeveloped nature, and protection of Ecological and evolutionary processes. DON'T YOU DARE MESS WITH THIS PRECIOUS PLACE!
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:01

Julie, thank you! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport! Please be sure to visit wildcumberland.org for up-to-date information on this situation.

Julie, thank you! Thank you for your support. Please stay tuned - we will need your help to stop this Spaceport! Please be sure to visit wildcumberland.org for up-to-date information on this situation.
Guest - Marcia Kellam on Thursday, 17 September 2020 18:03

There is absolutely NO reason to do any development in our wilderness areas. They're wilderness! Time to stop exploiting our beautiful planet. It is not ours.

There is absolutely NO reason to do any development in our wilderness areas. They're wilderness! Time to stop exploiting our beautiful planet. It is not ours.
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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

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