Cumberland Island Alternative Spring Break

We're back! After an extremely successful first year leading the Cumberland Island Alternative Spring Break program, the Georgia Conservancy returns to Cumberland in 2015 to support dozens of collegiate, high school and scout volunteers for three months of service in its wilderness backcounty and on its deserted beaches.

This year, the Georgia Conservancy's team leader is intern Claire Northcutt. Claire, a vital volunteer leader during our 2015 Cumberland Island Service Weekend in January, is a 2013 UGA graduate and a trained geologist based out of Jacksonville, Florida. Her role on Cumberland Island this winter and spring will be to coordinate and lead service projects throughout the island - maintaining and clearing trails and repairing National Park Service facilities - allowing NPS to provide a safe environment for visitors throughout the year.

Cumberland Island (CUIS) National Seashore, a unit of the National Park system, is a barrier island accessible only by passenger ferry service and has the annual visitation to the island of approximately 45,000. Visitors enjoy undeveloped beaches, ranger programs and over 50 miles of hiking trails. In addition to daily visitors, CUIS is also a popular destination for service groups, including Boy and Girl Scouts, church groups and college groups during spring break season.

The Cumberland Island spring break volunteer program has existed for a number of years, but due to budget constraints, the 2014 season was in jeopardy. In stepped the Georgia Conservancy. In 2014, Georgia Conservancy stewardship trips veteran Julia Moore led more than 250 volunteers - continuing the Conservancy's storied history of stewardship and conservation on the island.

Read about the Georgia Conservancy's 2014 Cumberland Island Spring Break Program.

We are very excited for this year's service programs and look forward to reading the weekly reports that Claire sends back from the island!

Weeks 3 & 4

Blazing Trails with Spring Break Volunteer

What a whirlwind couple of weeks! Time is just flying by with all the great service volunteers and clipping and snipping we’ve been doing! This week I was graced with the presence of a group of Spelman and Morehouse students, as well as a group from the University of Central Florida. Both groups were really excited to be here, and I couldn’t thank them enough for donating their Spring Break time to making the Cumberland Island trails better for everyone. The groups arrived on Sunday, and our boat ride to the island was quite exciting! We saw numerous dolphins and some students spotted some neat shore birds and a few horses grazing in the marsh. Once the work commenced, there were horses, armadillo, wild hogs, and a few alligators bringing excitement to the trail. When the groups had some time off from working, they got to see the Plum Orchard mansion and grounds, the Settlement, Dungeness, and the beach, of course! I was so pleased to have such enthusiastic volunteers and dedicated workers who were excited just to be on the trails and see more of the island. Over the course of the week, the groups cleared all of Willow Pond Trail, Kings Bottom, and Ashley Pond. Trail clearing is hard but rewarding work, and I believe they felt very accomplished and proud of their work on Cumberland Island. I can’t wait to see what the volunteer groups can accomplish in the next few weeks!

Week 2

Clearing Trails and Looking for Gators

My second week on Cumberland Island has been filled with lots of trail work! Jim and I have been steadily improving the condition of some of the most overgrown trails on the island. In my first week, we powered through the North end of Bunkley Trail, and this week we worked further on Bunkley and through Brick Hill trail. The terrain is fairly smooth and constant on these trails; wide open sky and a few swampy areas accompany the views. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of trails to spend so much time on! Our progress has been documented with a few before-and-after photos, and I must say there is such a strong sense of triumph as we move down a trail and are able to look back and see how far we’ve come!

With warmer weather moving in, being outside all day has been awesome. Warm, sunny days mean more wildlife will be venturing out! We have seen a few male turkeys with their impressive mating plumage, and we can’t help but notice the little armadillos that scout the trail ahead of us foraging for food. Even a few horses gathered on the trail today just to see what we were up to. They didn’t offer to help us out with the trail work, but their moral support and curiosity was much appreciated. I’ve been keeping an eye (or two!) out for snakes and alligators, as well. No sign of any reptiles yet, but I’ll keep you posted!

Our first Spring Break Volunteer Groups will be arriving this coming weekend. I am so excited to meet all the new people, and see what great efforts we can put towards making these trails even more beautiful!

North End swamps:

Pelican on watch:

Brick Hill Trail (before and after):


Week 1

One Week Under the Island Belt

In my first week on Cumberland, I have come to realize how easy it is to describe the island in one simple word: magical. My camera is literally filled with innumerable photos of the sunrises and sunsets that I have had the pleasure of witnessing, as well as the beautiful live oaks and palmettos that enclose the trails. Each day is beautiful and different and new. And it has only been a week! Even working the overgrown trails this week has been awesome…blisters, slight sunburn, and thorny Similax vines included!

Island beauty aside, this introductory week also included some serious business and preparing for the volunteer guests of honor to come and stay. I certainly feel special getting to serve with the Conservancy and being welcomed into the National Park Service family. My supervisor, Pauline, was very welcoming and helpful when I arrived and had dozens of questions for her. We had a day to travel around the South end of the island and allow me time to get my bearings on locations of tools and supplies and practice using the mystical powers of the master keys. The rest of my first week included exploring and grooming the densely vegetated trails on the Northern section of the island. I followed Jim around as he showed me the trails of interest for our volunteer spring breakers this year. We focused our efforts this week on Bunkely Trail beginning at North Cut Road (which was clearly named after me!) and working southward toward Brickhill trail. Being that this area is in the Wilderness, we relied on machetes, bush axes, and loppers for our trail coverage demolition. Although the effort put in to clearing these trails with thick vegetation is hard work, it is truly remarkable how much every plant thrives on this island! The trails must be maintained frequently or else the trees, palmetto, and vines grow too fast for their own good! I snapped a few before-and-after shots of our work on Bunkley, and the results of our work were pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

Today also brought with it new and exciting experiences; I assisted Doug, the island wildlife biologist, and some visiting birders with the annual winter bird count. My birding partner, Theresa and I were assigned to the 6-mile stretch of beach between Sea Camp and Duck House trail. Our day was filled with counting awesome shore birds on the beach, including hundreds of Dunlin and even a few Avocet. Overall, it was a fascinating experience! And thanks to Theresa, I am now a pro birder who can identify and count flocks of birds with ease! 

As the start of my second week on Cumberland presents itself, I am more and more excited to see what new adventures await me. I still feel as though I am being spoiled! It’s definitely the experience of a lifetime!

Bunkley Trail Before and After:

Sunrise on Cumberland:

Sunset on Cumberland: 

Spotting Birds: