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.

 

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.

 

 

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Comments 202

Guest - Jessica Howell-Edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 10:15

Lana, beautifully said! 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.

Lana, beautifully said! 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 - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:02

AMEN! 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.

AMEN! 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 - Lance Ofenloch on Thursday, 17 September 2020 16:18

No spaceport on Cumberland Island. Use Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

No spaceport on Cumberland Island. Use Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:03

They definitely have alternative locations they could, and should, consider. 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.

They definitely have alternative locations they could, and should, consider. 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 - Mark McQuitty on Thursday, 17 September 2020 15:37

Cumberland Island does not need a space port, it is much more important to protect it instead of destroying it.

Cumberland Island does not need a space port, it is much more important to protect it instead of destroying it.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:03

Mark, 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.

Mark, 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 - Douglas Rivalsi on Thursday, 17 September 2020 14:55

NO Spaceport near Cumberland! Keep it quiet.

NO Spaceport near Cumberland! Keep it quiet.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:04

Douglas, 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.

Douglas, 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 - Andrew Hellinger on Thursday, 17 September 2020 14:34

Our family had the opportunity to visit Cumberland Island several years ago and enjoyed the beauty serenity and wildness of this very important protected area. It would be a crime against G.D to allow anything to damage the very important and delicate environmental balance that exists there. Please do not destroy another of nature's special places.

Our family had the opportunity to visit Cumberland Island several years ago and enjoyed the beauty serenity and wildness of this very important protected area. It would be a crime against G.D to allow anything to damage the very important and delicate environmental balance that exists there. Please do not destroy another of nature's special places.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:04

Andrew, so glad your family had an opportunity to experience this amazing place! I completely agree with 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.

Andrew, so glad your family had an opportunity to experience this amazing place! I completely agree with 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 - Dalia Salgado on Thursday, 17 September 2020 13:35

So little wilderness remains, and every bit is precious. Please keep Cumberland wild!

So little wilderness remains, and every bit is precious. Please keep Cumberland wild!
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:05

Dalia, YES! 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.

Dalia, YES! 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 - Mary Ann and Frank Graffagnino on Thursday, 17 September 2020 13:16

We must keep the wild in wilderness...True wilderness is disappearing at an alarming rate and we must do all we can to preserve it.

We must keep the wild in wilderness...True wilderness is disappearing at an alarming rate and we must do all we can to preserve it.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:05

YES! 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! 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 - Lehman Holder (website) on Thursday, 17 September 2020 11:33

I've been extremely fortunate to visit Cumberland Island, and will never forget it. It's a very special and unique place. A proposed spaceport nearby is a terrible idea. The solitude and wilderness character of the island should remain as it is.

I've been extremely fortunate to visit Cumberland Island, and will never forget it. It's a very special and unique place. A proposed spaceport nearby is a terrible idea. The solitude and wilderness character of the island should remain as it is.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:06

Protecting that Wilderness character is critical -- and up to us. 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.

Protecting that Wilderness character is critical -- and up to us. 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 - Jo puglisi on Thursday, 17 September 2020 10:10

Cumberland Island is a beautiful place/home for our wildlife and should be protected in every way which includes the airspace above it. It should be considered a NO fly zone in this area!

Cumberland Island is a beautiful place/home for our wildlife and should be protected in every way which includes the airspace above it. It should be considered a NO fly zone in this area!
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:06

Jo, thank you for your support. I agree. 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.

Jo, thank you for your support. I agree. 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 - Karen Phillips on Thursday, 17 September 2020 09:54

Yes, those of us who respect nature must be vigilant. We must never give up the fight!

Yes, those of us who respect nature must be vigilant. We must never give up the fight!
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:07

Thank you for fighting the good fight with us, Karen! 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.

Thank you for fighting the good fight with us, Karen! 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.
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Wednesday, 30 September 2020

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