Motorized Tours OK-ed for Cumberland Island National Seashore

Plum Orchard, one of Cumberland Island National Seashore’s historical treasures, is an 1898 Georgian Revival mansion donated to the National Park Foundation by the Carnegie family in 1971. NPS photo.

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.

Comments

No No No No No!!!!!

This is, in my humble opinion, a terrible decision which alows a foot in the door for additional traffic on this beautiful but fragile island. Let'em walk or ride bikes like I did.

I love my wilderness, but I must admit this should put to rest a preservation-use argument that has plagued the island for decades. The trips will never impact the island as much as channel dredging/maintenance and the arrival and departure of eight or so Ohio-class "boomer" submarines. They are ported at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, just two miles west of the island.

Visitation for the island is just over 40,000 per year, not 80,000 as you quoted. It is limited to 300 people per day, though it is only in the spring and a few holidays that the ferry even comes close to that number.

The last time Cumberland Island NS reported annual visitation that low (40,000) was four years ago. According to NPS official stats, recreation visits to the island increased to 44,025 in 2006, jumped to 72,449 in 2007, and hit 82,812 in 2008.

My husband and I visited Cumberland Island for the first time in September 2009. We fell in love with the island and the serenity atmosphere.
We are in our late 60s -- we managed to take the tour, walk the beach, and make the tour to Plum Orchards. PLEASE PLEASE do not take away the peacefulness of such an awesome island.

We changed our travel plans because of a recommendation from friends in Bend Oregon. They had been to Cumberland Island and said it was the best part of their trip. After following their suggestion, we now feel it was the best part of our trip. We would love to return for an extended stay at the B&B.

Don't muck the island up with motorized vehnicles. It was wonderful to walk the beach with no sound but our barefeet on the sand.

Bill and Carla Mundt
Albany, Oregon