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 201

Guest - Pam Fleming (website) on Thursday, 17 September 2020 09:54

Our Wilderness is sacred. We must protect Cumberland Island from the pollution of all kinds that a spaceport would bring. Greed and short-sightedness cannot trump Mother Nature!

Our Wilderness is sacred. We must protect Cumberland Island from the pollution of all kinds that a spaceport would bring. Greed and short-sightedness cannot trump Mother Nature!
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 10:17

Pam, we 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.

Pam, we 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 09:19

Sacred is a good word! 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.

Sacred is a good word! 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 09:08

YES - it's a shame this local community doesn't understand protecting its most precious asset. 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 - it's a shame this local community doesn't understand protecting its most precious asset. 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 - Dave Potter on Friday, 18 September 2020 08:41

.....But Trump can and avidly is trumping Mother Nature.... Speak out; vote.

.....But Trump can and avidly is trumping Mother Nature.... Speak out; vote.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:19

VOTING is the most important thing we can do - and the local level matters!

VOTING is the most important thing we can do - and the local level matters!
Guest - Justin on Thursday, 17 September 2020 09:53

This is a special place, one of the increasingly few pristine wilderness areas left in the U.S. Please keep it clean and untouched, it is precious and must be protected!

This is a special place, one of the increasingly few pristine wilderness areas left in the U.S. Please keep it clean and untouched, it is precious and must be protected!
Guest - jessica howell (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:21

Never underestimate the impact one individual can make! 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.

Never underestimate the impact one individual can make! 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 - Elizabeth Schwartz on Thursday, 17 September 2020 09:19

Do not trash and desecrate our beautiful wild spaces to feed 45's ego!

Do not trash and desecrate our beautiful wild spaces to feed 45's ego!
Guest - Erin on Thursday, 17 September 2020 07:49

Destroying the wilderness to benefit a few wealthy people is unconscionable. We need to protect and preserve wild areas and habitats.

Destroying the wilderness to benefit a few wealthy people is unconscionable. We need to protect and preserve wild areas and habitats.
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:24

YES! Erin, thank you! Your support means so much. 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! Erin, thank you! Your support means so much. 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 09:20

Thank you for your support, Erin. 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 your support, Erin. 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 - Lila-Dave Zastrow-Hendrickson on Thursday, 17 September 2020 06:48

Is this a protected wilderness or isn't it?

Is this a protected wilderness or isn't it?
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:23

Exactly! 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.

Exactly! 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 09:20

RIGHT!?! 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.

RIGHT!?! 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 - Amanda Donsignore on Thursday, 17 September 2020 05:53

Please stop this development. This is wrong. Protect the wilderness and the wildlife!!

Please stop this development. This is wrong. Protect the wilderness and the wildlife!!
Guest - jessica howell (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:18

Amanda, 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.

Amanda, 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 - Lynne Firestone on Thursday, 17 September 2020 05:14

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

So little wilderness remains, and every bit is precious. Please save Cumberland!
Guest - jessica howell-edwards (website) on Thursday, 24 September 2020 09:18

Lynne, 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.

Lynne, 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 - Tom Harris on Thursday, 17 September 2020 01:26

Protect wildlife, the eco-system, and the planet.

Protect wildlife, the eco-system, and the planet.
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Wednesday, 30 September 2020

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