Weekend Get-Aways // Cumberland Island Offers Unspoiled Nature

Cumberland Island Offers Unspoiled Nature

by Scottie Davis
Special to Sun City Packet

An aura of mystery surrounds Cumberland Island on the Georgia/Florida border. Known as “the Emerald of the Georgia Islands,” Cumberland is accessible only by water, limits the number of visitors to 300 a day and fiercely protects its privacy. A National Seashore maintained by the Park Service, Cumberland Island is raw nature at its finest.

There are no stores; no places to buy anything. You bring everything to the island with you and take all garbage off when you leave.

Little has changed on Cumberland since the mid 80s when I first began writing about it. Now, I also take groups to the island to experience firsthand what a treasure it is.

The public ferry, the Cumberland Queen, departs from St Marys, GA. For the 45 minute ride to the island. Pets and bikes are not allowed on the ferry and reservations are necessary.

Nature lovers, hikers, photographers, and birders are particularly drawn to Cumberland. Fifty miles of hiking trails loop and slice through the interior of the Cumberland. Wild horses roam the beach and graze lazily in the fields; armadillos slither across the paths. The dunes are so high you wonder if you are on a beach or a dessert and there are 300 species of birds on the island.

American royalty have had a long love affair with Cumberland. Thomas and Lucy Carnegie bought the island in the 1880s and built an opulent mansion, Dungeness, where guests were entertained with polo matches and wild boar hunts. Though the mansion burned in 1959, the ruins, dressed in vines of green, still remain to tell of their lifestyle.

Plum Orchard, a 30 room Greek revival, was built for son George in 1898. The mansion has recently been renovated and tours are available through the Park Service.

Greyfield was built for daughter Margaret in 1901. This mansion is now the only inn on the Cumberland and the dining room at Greyfield is the only place to eat on the island. There is something wonderfully romantic about a candlelight feast served in the middle of the wilderness on the original dining room table from Dungeness.

The late John and Caroline Bassette Kennedy were married on Cumberland, exchanging vows in the tiny First African Baptist Church followed by a celebration at the Greyfield Inn. Area locals still tell stories about how this coup was pulled off!

Day trips to the island are very popular, but you can stay at the inn or camp if you want to overnight on Cumberland. There are 16 campsites in Sea Camp nestled behind the dunes, each with its own cooking facilities and picnic table. Water and showers are in the main camp. Reservations are necessary.
The National Park Service operates and maintains Cumberland Island National Seashore. Rangers also lead programs on the island. Check the board when you arrive to see what they are offering that day.

Cumberland is unlike any other island you will ever visit. Its mystery and beauty will linger with you long after you leave its shores. Cumberland is truly raw nature at its finest and “the Emerald of the Georgia Islands.”

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