Call of the Wild

An Exploration of Cumberland Island
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There are only three ways to see Cumberland Island.

One: Take a day trip from St. Marys, Georgia to the Dungeness dock and wander around the southern end of the 17-mile-long preserve. Peer at the ruins of wealthy landowners, talk to the park rangers. Enjoy less than a third of what the island has to offer.

Two: Book into the exclusive Greyfield Bed & Breakfast, with rooms starting at $290 per night, and let their staff pamper you by driving you down the island's narrow sand roads in a jeep to see the major historic sites — Dungeness, Plum Orchard, and the Settlement.

Three: If you've got the spirit of adventure, you can see all of Cumberland Island National Seashore on your own — by backpacking.

Winter is that rare time of year on the Georgia coast when there aren't many mosquitoes, so backpackers descend like flies on this rare and historic coastal wilderness. I'm with a group of six hikers from the Florida Trail Association, experienced in dealing with Cumberland's backcountry. We launch our journey to the island by ferry after an overnight of luxury in the tiny town of St. Marys.

Dolphins! Racing, chasing our ferryboat, slicing through the icy waters, playing in the wake. I count one pair, two, three — everywhere I turn, I see dolphins. This is a playground for the Atlantic bottlenose, the ebb and flow of rivers and tides through the estuary. After a dozen, I stop counting.

We tie up at Sea Camp ranger station and go through the orientation process, soon glad to shoulder our packs and move rapidly out of the southern"day tourist" end of the island into the designated wilderness area north of Plum Orchard. While campers can kick back in comfort at Sea Camp, less than a mile from the ferry dock — with showers, picnic tables, toilets, and park programs — we're headed for the backcountry campsites, serene clearings in the forest. Gnarled oaks, twisted by stiff salt breezes, shade us as we walk down the Parallel Trail, a corridor lined by thickets of palmetto. Larks twitter in the trees; lizards scurry underfoot. Cumberland Island pulses with life — and the further north you go, the wilder it gets.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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