Back in 2004, Congress ordered the Park Service to provide motorized tours to historical sites at Cumberland Island National Seashore. More specifically, the legislation that mandated the motorized tours – the Cumberland Island Wilderness Boundary Adjustment Act (Public Law 108-447) -- directed the Park Service to:
complete a management plan to ensure that not more than eight and not less than five
round trips are made available daily on the Main Road north of the Plum Orchard Spur and the
North Cut Road… for the purpose of transporting visitors to and from the historic sites located
adjacent to Wilderness.
To facilitate the motorized tours, the law excluded the island’s Main Road, Plum Orchard Spur, and North Cut Road from wilderness designation.
It was clear from the outset that a very thoroughgoing environmental assessment would have to be conducted. This beautiful park, which is situated on a 15-mile long barrier island not far from Jacksonville, Florida, protects one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States.
Ever since Cumberland Island National Seashore was created on the Georgia coast in 1972, people who have taken the boat ride out to Cumberland (there were nearly 83,000 last year) have had to tour the island by foot or bicycle. Now, however, the way has been opened to the faster and easier transport alternative that Congress mandated. The recently completed draft environmental assessment for the park’s North End Access and Transportation Management Plan indicates that no significant threat to the island’s wilderness qualities is posed by motorized tours, at least not the tours in the areas and amounts specified.
Dennis Parsons, Cumberland Island’s chief ranger, says that the park will probably begin offering motorized tours in a few months, but must first arrange funding for vehicles and additional staff.