Cumberland Island Former Reserved Properties Management Plan

Cumberland Island is a place of legend. Its tidal marshes, undeveloped beaches and dunes, and lush, maritime forests make it one of Georgia's most spectacular and memorable barrier islands.

Its undisturbed, preserved habitats create a home for hundreds of imperiled species, including sea turtles, wood storks, and migratory piping plovers and oystercatchers. America's elite, including the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Kennedys, have visited the island for vacations and even marriages. 

In 1972, the fate of Cumberland changed forever when the island became a National Seashore, the largest wilderness island in the United States. As part of the seashore's creation, about 21 homes that had been built on the island were purchased by the federal government. Many of the families struck agreements with the National Park Service that allowed them to retain a right of use and occupancy for either a set amount of years or until they or specified heirs died.

Read more about our history of involvement with Cumberland Island including our annual service trip.

Now, some 40 years later, the first of those agreements has expired. Now, some families are finding it hard to let go. One family, which formerly had a retained right to use a historic property called the Grange, has asked to lease that property -- plus the Beach Creek Dock House -- back from the park service in return for a commitment to pay for their upkeep. The request has raised questions about the future of all the homes that remain on the island.

"The Cumberland Island National Seashore belongs to the people of the United States of America," said Pierre Howard, president of the Georgia Conservancy. "Allowing a family to obtain an historic lease for the Grange and dock house, and to keep those buildings in private use, would set a dangerous precedent for other buildings on the island and for other National Parks across the country."

In keeping with the original agreements, the National Park Service released a draft plan in July 2011 that will transition almost two dozen properties into park ownership and, for a limited few, park operation and maintenance. 

Read more about the draft management plan. 

In July 2012, the reserved properties management plan officially went into effect. The Grange and six other properties and their associated structures on Cumberland Island were the focus of the NPS plan. Three structures, one of which is located in a federally-designated wilderness area, will be removed.  Three other structures will be converted for the housing of park employees and volunteers. The Grange, which is located in the Dungeness Historic District, will eventually be used as an interpretive and educational center for the island.

Read the National Park Service press release regarding the Reserved Properties Plan

“The release of this plan is an important step towards achieving a long-term vision that the island would be preserved in a primitive state and that it will provide for park visitor recreation and educational services for the public,” said Fred Boyles, Park Superintendent of the National Seashore. “We also want to ensure that this plan provides a way forward for dealing with other retained rights properties as they expire in the future.”

This is an historic transition for Cumberland Island and one necessary for the island as it returns to its once primitive state.

The preservation of the Cumberland Island National Seashore will remain a focus of the Georgia Conservancy. Every year, we take dozens of volunteers to the island to perform service work at Cumberland’s historic structures, remote backcountry trails and deserted beaches.  The service work that was performed this year by Conservancy volunteers was some of the best that the island has ever seen.

“The National Park Service is increasingly dependent on volunteer support to accomplish resource protection work,” said Boyles. “The Georgia Conservancy work weekend over the MLK Holiday in 2012 was an outstanding success for Cumberland Island National Seashore and the best work weekend in the history of the program.”

With the addition of these structures for use by the NPS, the partnership between Cumberland Island and Georgia Conservancy volunteers can only improve.

Click here to read Charles Seabrook's article from the fall issue of Panorama about Cumberland Island.