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Cumberland Island Alternative Spring Break
This spring, Cumberland Island National Seashore will welcome over 250 college spring breakers to its remote beaches and backcountry wilderness – not your typical college spring break destination. Cumberland Island spring break volunteers will hike and service trails in need of maintenance and work with the National Park Service to repair facilities, allowing the Park 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 leader and 2014 Cumberland Island Service Weekend veteran Julia Moore will lead Cumberland Island's spring break volunteer program during March and April - continuing the Conservancy's storied history of stewardship and conservation on the island.
"We were having to limit the number of volunteer projects we could support and that was limiting the numbers of school we could invoice in the college spring break program," says Cumberland Island Chief of Interpretation and Education Maggie Tyler. "College spring break is, by far, the time of the year when the most volunteer work is completed, and the Georgia Conservancy is providing the National Park Service with a staff position to help us continue to host this program."
Check back for weekly updates from Julia during her three month stay on Cumberland.
April 28 - Short, But Sweet
In April, 11 students and a professor from Georgia Southern University’s Tribeta Biology Honors Society made a short but sweet service trip to Cumberland Island! These committed future biologists, with overwhelming excitement to see the island’s biodiversity and to volunteer, organized their two-day trip right before finals. Yikes! Fortunately, I think Cumberland gave them just the boost they needed to get through studying!
Traveling from Statesboro, the students arrived at the Saint Marys dock early Saturday morning. After loading onto the ferry at 9 AM, they traveled to Dungeness Dock to meet yours truly. We loaded up the truck and volunteer van with gear and tools and drove north to Hunt Camp, on the outskirts of the Plum Orchard grounds. The students had a couple of hours to set up camp and make turkey sandwiches for lunch before we began the first service project, clearing Pratts Trail. In some sections, the trail was extremely overgrown, but a fast clip we finished the trail maintenance by 5 PM. The group enjoyed some free time on Stafford Beach, the sun still shining for a few more hours before dinner.
On Sunday morning, we began the second service project - a beach cleanup from Duck House Trail Marker to Willow Pond Trail Marker. By 1 PM they had finished the beach clean-up and concluded the journey with a hike down Duck House Trail to Hunt Camp. Chicken fajitas were on the menu for lunch! After lunch and with no time to rest, the group cleaned the campsite and packed up their gear. They departed on the ferry from Sea Camp Dock at 4:45 PM, arrived in Statesboro by 9 pm – just in time to start studying for finals!
Even though the students camped for only one night, they soaked up every bit of organism interaction that graced their path, from the plethora of beached Cannon Ball Jellyfish to Puff Ball Mushrooms along the trails. They especially enjoyed meeting Armadillos who rustled around their campsite day and night, making as much noise as a family of wild horses. The Nine-Banded Armadillo, derived from the nine rings that decorate the mammal’s hard shell, is the only type of Armadillo living on Cumberland, and it is still unknown how the non-native creature made its home here. Due to their limited hearing and eyesight, you will often run into one of these hairy-legged, anteater-snouted animals rooting around for worms and bugs along the island’s hiking trails. Although they are lacking in the ears and eyes department, Armadillos can jump high to escape a predator and have the ability to transform into a flotation device by drawing air into their shell. As Ranger Ron would say, “they’re so ugly, they’re almost cute.”
The Georgia Southern Tribeta students contributed 10 volunteer hours, cleared 2 miles of trail, and collected 8 full bags of trash from a one-mile stretch of beach. It is a great accomplishment for such a short trip!
It brought me joy to be a part of twenty year-old biology major Katie Miller’s first visit to Cumberland and first time camping. “My favorite part was the camping, because I never had been before,” she said “I had fun pitching a tent and gathering firewood. I also loved the scenery! What I value most about volunteering on Cumberland is that I get to fix what I contributed destroying - whether it directly or indirectly.”
April 17 - Bubble Gum Lichen
Since February 7, a Boy Scout troop, followed by five diverse spring break college groups have visited the island, put in 139 volunteer hours, collected a total of 61 bags of trash from the beach, cleared overgrowth from 23 miles of trails and roadway, and completed 5 different maintenance and cleaning projects all over the island. During my ninth week on the island, a time in between volunteer groups, I begin a hodgepodge of jobs around the island. Work is never boring on Cumberland and there is always plenty to do - from helping trim fig vines on the Dungeness mansion ruins to cleaning and sharpening loppers and hand saws in the volunteer tool cache. Another task assigned, training to staff the Sea Camp Ranger Station, has afforded me the chance to learn more about human and natural history of the island.
There is a landmark in Seattle called the Gum Wall, where tourists create pictures or simply make their chewing gum contribution to a wall in Post Alley. Some parts are said to be a few inches thick. Cumberland has a similar and unique characteristic, but it is naturally occurring. Bubble Gum Lichen can be seen in the island’s maritime forest, living on trunks and branches of Live Oaks and other trees. The blue-green algal element of this lichen provides food for the host fungus that in turn supports the pink blooming bodies of the algae. While hiking the south end where Bubble Gum Lichen is prominent, the feminine feature of light and deep pinks scattered across the rich green of the trees leads me to think of the strong women leaders of Cumberland, and how this display reflects their influence on every part of the island.
The most well-known matriarch of the island is Lucy Coleman Carnegie, whose descendants played an instrumental role, along with the National Park Service and the Georgia Conservancy, in establishing Cumberland Island National Seashore in 1972. But the story I found most intriguing is that of Beulah Alberty.
In The Settlement on the north end of the island is where Beulah Alberty lived in an adorable white house. The house is located about 75 feet from The First African Baptist Church, where the Cumberland Gullah Geechee community celebrated birth, death and baptisms for decades. According to Cornelia Bailey, a leader in the nearby Geechee community on Sapelo Island, islanders on the coast of South Carolina called themselves Gullah and islanders on the coast of Georgia called themselves Geechee. So, Beulah may have referred to herself as a Saltwater Geechee just like Cornelia, but we will never know for sure.
After attending Selden Institute in Brunswick, GA, Beulah returned home to Cumberland and used her educational background to become a schoolteacher. As secretary of the church, also used as a schoolhouse, Beulah took care of it during the 1950’s and 1960’s and was often called “mother of the church.” In addition to teaching, caretaking, and serving as the community’s unofficial mayor, most of her time was spent raising money in order to send her niece, Peggy, to school. She pulled out all the stops and coordinated several moneymaking schemes, which included trapping raccoons for their pelts and selling moonshine liquor, to bring her dream to fruition. We know that Beulah succeeded. Peggy did go to school, but what she studied and where she is now is unknown. NPS historians and guides are still researching in order to provide the full story. Beulah Alberty was born on Cumberland Island on December 4, 1905 and died on Cumberland Island on March 11, 1969. She will always be remembered for her ambition, leadership and wild spirit.
Stories like Beulah’s inspire me to put my all into every project on Cumberland during the time that I am fortunate enough to live here and thereafter. The women of this island have set the bar high. All we can do is strive to give back as much as the island gives to us every time we visit.
April 6 - University of West Georgia Performs Service on Cumberland
Traveling south from Carrollton, five University of West Georgia students arrived on Sunday morning with a few years of Cumberland Island spring break experience under their belts. Student guide, George Lincoln, has led volunteer groups to the island for the past two years, and UWG has been participating in the program for more than five years. I expected grand results after meeting these service project veterans, and they delivered!
Due to rainy weather, the students’ first workday consisted of house cleaning projects at Plum Orchard and The Settlement. The Plum Orchard tour provided by National Park Service volunteers is a popular attraction among island visitors. Millions of dollars were put into the preservation and restoration of the Carnegie family mansion, built by Thomas Carnegie for his oldest daughter Margret. With a vacuum, a couple of brooms, Simple Green cleaner, towels and a mop, the students shined up the mansion’s pool house (including the bottom and walls of the pool itself) and the squash tennis court. It has been over a year since that section of the house had detailed cleaning attention.
The Settlement, an important historic site on the northern most end of the island, is where freed slaves from plantations on Cumberland Island bought land and settled at the end of the Civil War. Two special buildings at The Settlement, the Alberti House and The First African Baptist Church, were restored by NPS and will continue to be preserved for years to come.
After eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a porch at Plum Orchard and taking in the view of old live oaks stretching out their long branches in the rain, the students and I headed north. Our afternoon was filled with the music of sweeping brooms and scrubbing brushes, finishing with the satisfaction of a very productive first day.
Gordon Jackson, a reporter from The Brunswick News who was writing a story on the Cumberland’s spring break program, came to visit the students on their first day of work. Gordon asked George, a 22-year old junior and student guide at UWG, why he chose to do service work instead of partying with fellow classmates at other spring break destinations. “It’s important to do volunteer work,” he replied. “It’s significant to protect this place. If you’ve ever been to Cumberland, it’s a no-brainer.”
The following two and a half days of service projects included three miles of roadway clearing from Stafford Field towards Hunt Camp, a two-mile beach cleanup from Stafford Campsite to the Willow Pond Trail marker, and a quarter-mile section of the dreaded Bunkley Hill Trail. It was fortunate that the UWGA group could all fit in the cab of my truck because they collected the most beach trash this spring break season. Twenty over-stuffed black trash bags brimmed over the edges of the truck bed as we drove the load to the dumpster on the south end. So much junk leaving the beach was a glorious sight to see!
That evening the group invited me to join them for dinner. They prepared a traditional Boy Scout meal called Silver Turtles, which is essentially a ball of meat stuffed with veggies cheese and seasoning cooked over a campfire. While waiting for our turtles to cook, we watched the sun set over the Brickhill River at the edge of Hunt Camp.
This spring break trip was 21-year junior Alyssa Hyatt’s first visit to Cumberland. “My favorite part of the trip was seeing all the wildlife, whether it was alive or not,” said Alyssa.
The “or not” part of her answer is in reference to a Loggerhead turtle necropsy that Doug Hoffman, an NPS wildlife biologist, performed on the beach. The UWGA students and I watched in amazement as Doug dissected the inner workings of the turtle, pointing out organs and bones and explaining their functions. We felt lucky to receive a private lesson.
On Saturday morning, while I was helping the students bring down their gear to Sea Camp Dock for departure, volunteers from all over Georgia were gathering for the annual horse count. During the weekend, volunteers split up into pairs, hiked different sections of the island, counted the horses they saw, and made field notes about their age and physical characteristics. It is not an exact science, but it tends to be mostly accurate. This year 143 horses are living on the island, which is considerably higher than last year’s count of 98. The National Park Service is permitted to conduct an annual count, but other interaction, like vaccinations or population control, is not allowed.
Cumberland’s horses are a major attraction for visitors to the National Seashore, but there is some misunderstanding about the nature of their relationship with the island. As descendants of Carnegie family horses set free to roam in the early and mid 1900’s, the horses are a non-native species that has caused degradation of vital dune and salt marsh vegetation. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue with different proposed solutions; from full-sweep sterilization to maintaining a max of 50 horses as a representative population. The final decision was to do nothing – let them be. Even though horses on Cumberland are feral, like the hog population, it is still wonderful to see them gallop across the main road in the early morning or watch them strut out onto the beach at sunset. They are a familiar element of the landscape. It is hard to imagine Cumberland Island without them.
- Julia Moore
March 23 - Atlanta, Cleveland and New Hampshire Converge on Cumberland Island
During the second week of March, Spelman College students made history by taking their first spring break service trip to Cumberland Island. The four young women and their fearless leader, Renee Allen-Alston, kept me laughing at every moment with their contagiously playful personalities. For some of the students, their stay at Hunt Camp was a first time camping experience, and what a perfect setting it was!
The campsite lives on the west side of the island, backing up to the Intercoastal Waterway, and offers amazing views of Golden Isles sunsets. During high tide, you can look out over the Brickhill River from the nearby Plum Orchard dock and see bottlenose dolphins come up for air as they feed on small fish and plankton. At night, a particular type of marine plankton called Bioluminescent dinoflagellates lights up the water, like a reflection of the stars in the night sky above. When disturbed by fishing boats or a hand reaching in to feel the coolness of the water, this plankton glows. The bioluminescence is created from photosynthesis, which also makes them an important food source for ocean mammals, finfish and filter feeders like oysters and clams. The dinoflagellates reproduce and increase in number during hot summer months, filling up the water like a southern backyard filling up with lightning bugs when it starts to get muggy outside.
The Spelman ladies drove the long distance from Atlanta on Monday morning, stayed for three nights, worked two full days, and packed up at first light on Thursday morning. Now that is commitment to service! Spring break groups usually stay for a whole week with a day off and free time worked into their schedule. Spelman’s first task was to complete a beach cleanup from the Duck House Trail marker up to the South Cut Trail marker, a distance of two miles. They hiked from Hunt Camp down Duck House Trail (2.5 mile trail) to the beach and started picking up trash tangled up in dead cord grass that infests the edge of the dunes. Seven hours of beach combing produced 16 large black bags full of trash. The ladies then retired to Hunt Camp that Tuesday evening for some of Renee’s homemade chili. Yum!
Clearing palm fronds and hardwoods off the Tar Kiln Trail (1.4 miles) was Wednesday’s project. Taylor, one of the students who did trail maintenance work on Cumberland during the Georgia Conservancy’s annual service weekend in January, said that I underestimated the overgrowth. Perhaps I did! They essentially forged a new trail – the Tar Kiln Spelman Trail. These hard working ladies made it back to their campsite in enough time to eat dinner and pack up in preparation for departure the next morning. It brought me joy to see the positive Facebook comment that Renee posted on their very first night of the trip. “This place is awesome,” she wrote. “People find it hard to believe it really exists. Wish I could get more people to explore it.” I couldn’t agree more!
Spelman was not the only spring break group volunteering on Cumberland Island during the past two weeks. Eight students, led by Betsy Banks, from Cleveland, Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University and ten students, led by Samantha Anderson, from the University of New Hampshire made the long journey south to Cumberland – a drive of 20-plus hours for UNH. Case Western bunked at the YCC volunteers dorms while the UNH students, all young ladies, shared Hunt Camp with Spelman for the week. This was probably the first time that this campsite, which is usually filled with hunters or coed volunteer groups, hosted two ladies-only groups. Charles Seabrook, writer of Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses, might say that these ladies were just following suit to the generations of strong women who explored the outdoors of Cumberland before them.
Case Western students, who performed their work with a seemingly bottomless pit of energy, completed projects for the National Park Service Maintenance Department on the island. Their tasks ranged from brick-picking at the White Cottages ruins site, which involved collecting scattered pieces of brick and loading them into a dumpster, to pushing piles of invasive bamboo through a wood chipper. Maintenance department employee Jim said, “I was relieved when the wood chipper broke that first afternoon because the kids were wearing me out.” After Jim put a brand new belt on the wood chipper that next morning, the students finished the project early.
The University of New Hampshire students worked for two full days on the worst mile stretch of Bunkley Hill Trail, tearing through thick bushes of wax myrtle covered in thorny vines. Unfortunately rainy weather flooded the trail on Tuesday night, so they spent Wednesday clearing overgrowth off the Main Road near Stafford Field. Due to the student’s tireless efforts, two miles of roadway and another one-mile section of the Bunkley Hill Trail have been cleared. On Friday, the UNH ladies and I completed their half-day project of building and arranging furniture at the White Cottages. Earlier in February, a storage unit in Saint Marys was emptied in order to save money, and the furniture was brought to the island. Half of the girls spent the morning removing old mattresses and couches, while the other half built bed frames and tables. Our work was paused only for a few minutes to watch a bald eagle land on a scraggly cedar branch outside of the house. What a treat for their final day on the island!
It was a pleasure to have three hard working spring break groups from different parts of the country come together with a shared purpose to leave Cumberland Island better than they found it.
March 12 - Belmont Bruins Invade Cumberland
A group of seven Belmont University students led by Margaret Ross Long, an admissions counselor, drove down from Nashville early on a Sunday morning to begin their spring break on Cumberland Island. Belmont University has an extensive alternative spring break program that offers a variety of themes and destinations – from exploring art in Indianapolis to understanding the crisis of human trafficking in the Dominican Republic. The theme for their journey to Cumberland Island was creation, and they definitely succeeded in creating a productive and positively spirited work week! They were such a pleasure to be around!
After settling in for the evening at Hunt Camp (a campsite designated for hunters and volunteer groups) on the north end of the island near Plum Orchard mansion, the group arose early on Monday morning eager to get to work. Their first task was to complete a beach clean-up from the South End Trail marker to the Sea Camp marker, a distance of about five miles. Picking up and hauling trash down five miles of white, soft sand is considerably more strenuous than your average stroll down the beach at sunset. Let’s just say you that feel more heat in your calves than you do from the sun shining down upon your face. Six hours and 15 trash bags later, Belmont left the beach in much better shape than they found it. Plastic of all kinds, balloons released in celebration and glass bottles are carried in on waves at high tide and dispersed over the first layer of sand dunes. Beach trash, which is hazardous to sea creatures that accidentally ingest the waste, can also create unwanted obstacle courses for Cumberland’s favorite babies on their first journey to the ocean. Sea turtles!Loggerheads are the most common sea turtle to visit Cumberland Island during nesting season. Leatherbacks and Green turtles also lay eggs on the island, but in far fewer numbers. Loggerheads, which are named for their large bulky heads, reach up to 275 pounds in adulthood and are currently a “threatened species” (only one step away from endangered). Green turtles, reaching 350 pounds, and Leatherbacks, over 1000 pounds, are both on the US Fish and Wildlife Service list of endangered species. Every two or three years, the same female Loggerheads make their journey to the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina to nest. Guided by moonlight at night, they swim to shore and slowly scoot up the beach into dunes past the high tide line. After tirelessly digging with back flippers, moms deposit 100 to 150 eggs into a deep narrow hole, and then cover it up before heading back to the ocean. Sixty days later, baby turtles hatch, breach the surface, and make a mad dash for the sea. Over 30 % of Georgia’s sea turtle hatchlings are born on Cumberland Island. Dedicated wildlife biologists who work hard to keep down predator populations make a huge difference – so does the lack of condos and hotels!
The rest of Belmont’s work week was dedicated to trail maintenance all over the island. On Tuesday, they took the first bite out of Bunkley Hill Trail, known to be the most overgrown and difficult trail to clear on the island. The trail, hiked mainly by backpackers, parallels the main road on the north end of the island and leads hikers to The Settlement and Wharf Ruins. Thick thorny vines, saw palmetto and wax myrtle grow out of control throughout the trail, making it nearly impossible to walk through without a pair of loppers. A machete would work much better. Seven hours and eight cramping hand muscles later, a mile of the trail is cleared. It felt great to walk back to the van without having your face grabbed by bushes and smacked by palm fronds. All of Wednesday was spent clearing trails and roadways around Stafford Beach campsite, and then a half-day project on Friday consisted of clearing a back road that leads from Dungeness Dock to the White Cottages. NPS workers avoiding walking tour traffic on Coleman Road often use this road. Thanks to Belmont students, another eight miles of trails, roadways and beach are now clean and cleared!
When asked what she enjoyed most about her first trip to Cumberland Island, Madalyn, a sophomore majoring in English at Belmont responded, “I loved the week. Sure, it was a little chilly and wet with that polar vortex, and the work wasn't easy going, but it was truly a chance to rest. Being cut off from my cell phone is a glorious thing - and the rush, rush, rush of the city is gone. I need to do more camping in places with no cell phone service. And it’s nice to hear birds chirping instead of cars rattling to a start.”
Madalyn wrote a short poem about the sunrise during their last morning on the island:
The clouds glowed afire,
Atop rugged mirror-glass
Turned to mere mimic,
As a sky yet dusty violet
Birthed red-glowing gold,
Great disc of many names
February 28 - "Scouting" the Island
A Boy Scout troop from Marietta, Georgia was the first group to set the stage for Cumberland Island’s volunteer season, and they enthusiastically paved the way! Troop 29, led by John Wood, Recreation Fee Program Manager for The National Park Service SE Region, arrived on Friday afternoon after powering through Atlanta’s Ice-apocalypse. Twenty volunteers, nine fathers and eleven boys, excited to experience Cumberland with intentions of putting in as much as they get out of their weekend stay.
It brings me joy to be a part of this Boy Scout troop’s first visit to the island, watching their faces light up in awe of her natural wonders. I first came to Cumberland when I was 12 years old. My mother, a high school English teacher, brought me along with her student environmental club to perform a service project in the summer of 1998. We camped at Hunt Camp for a week; everyday cleaning up an old dumpsite that still lingered on one of the National Park Service’s acquired lands. I remember sitting at the edge of the Brickhill River at night as the full moon reflected off of a White Egret-filled tree behind us, wishing we could stay longer. I hope that the Boy Scouts left the island with the same feeling.
Work day one: On Saturday morning, after breakfast and a tool safety briefing, we hit the trails at nine. The group split up into two teams in order to cover the Nightingale Trail, the River Trail and sections of the Main Road. Our mission was to cut back saw palmetto and hardwoods obstructing the trails and roadways. Patrick and Jeremy, two boys working towards their Eagle Scout designation, each led a team, while John and I kept up the cabooses. By lunchtime, 4 miles of trails and roadway are cleared and looking pristine! Rudy, 11 years old, is our lopping aficionado! Five minutes did not go by without someone yelling, “Hey Rudy, come lop this one!” We had to pry the lopper from his determined hands just to get him to take a break. Over four hours of lopping, hedge trimming, hand sawing and sweeping the trail clean of all debris is not easy work, but these guys completed the task - joking and laughing the whole way. After lunch, they had free time to do whatever they so desired. For some, that consisted of napping on picnic tables to nurse their exhaustion. For others, that was hunting for shark teeth at Raccoon Bluff.
When it comes to trail maintenance in Cumberland’s maritime forest, anything and everything is cut back from the trails EXCEPT for live oaks. Hacking away at these mystical beauties is strictly forbidden. You could plant a live oak in your backyard today and it would outlive your great, great, great, great grandchildren, reaching over 450 years old. Few of such age are left on Cumberland today. “Live oakers” harvested their shapely limbs for building ships in the late 1700’s, and thousands of others fell to make way for crops.
Live oak branches are a cozy place for various air plants and lichen to call home. The most noticeable are resurrection fern and Spanish moss. Resurrection fern changes dramatically from shriveled up and brown during dry spells to a brilliant green, uncurling when rain hits - hence the name “resurrection”. Interesting fact: The resurrection fern is also the Georgia Conservancy logo. Spanish moss, not actually Spanish or moss, is most closely related to the pineapple. Horses are often seen snacking on these low-hanging “grey beards” swaying in the wind. Since air plants extract nutrients from the air and water, they are not parasitic to the tree they inhabit, which allows them to enjoy the benefits of a symbiotic relationship.
Work Day two: Pancakes for breakfast! Delicious. After cakes and coffee, we set out to clear the South End Trail. It took two truck trips to get everyone and the tools down to the trailhead south of Dungeness Beach. The trail takes you through densely vegetated dunes, salt marsh, and spits you out on an oyster-covered beach. Our tasks were to cut back overgrown bushes and thorny vines encroaching on the trail and clean the beach of any trash. We find more than enough trash to fill our bags, but the best discovery is the bones. Some of boys partly excavate a fully intact horse skeleton while others find a dozen different animal vertebrae and jawbones. What a treat! By lunch at 2:30, an additional two miles of trails are cleared and 10 bags of trash are removed from the beach. Six hours of hard labor are rewarded with turkey sandwiches and chips back at the kitchen house.
In celebration of service projects completed and the conclusion of their trip, the troop built a campfire in the fire pit outside the kitchen house, and enjoyed making up songs and singing them into the night. Bright and early Monday morning, the troop is ready to leave on the ferry departing from Sea Camp Dock. It is sad to see them go! They will be a hard act to follow!
February 18 - The Keys to Cumberland
My introductory week on Cumberland Island: a time for exploration, familiarization and adjustment.
Upon arriving at St. Marys, Georgia on February 7th, I am introduced to National Park Service (NPS) staff in the Cumberland Island National Seashore administration building on the mainland, given a parking space and ferried to the island with personal items and groceries. Maggie Tyler, Director of Interpretation and Education on Cumberland, also my supervisor, gives me an informal orientation of the island as she helps to bring my gear ashore. The Turtle Dorms - where interns live while working for Doug, a wildlife biologist for NPS, during turtle nesting season - is to be my home. After touring my new digs and assessing the stockpile of tools that will be used during my stay, I visit the Sea Camp Ranger Station and the office at Dungeness dock, where Maggie presents a stack of historical books for assigned reading, paperwork to sign, and keys to the island. When I say "keys to the island", I mean a handful of different keys for all the buildings and rooms that I will need to access. Not quite the master key, though I feel pretty special.
Our tour continues to the very south end of the island to visit a trail which Maggie would like the first volunteer group to work on. The South End Trail, accessed from the beach, is marked by a black and white pole marker on the west side of the island. Maggie’s Park Service truck carries us down the beach to the trailhead. We spot a giant hog rooting around for food in a salt marsh as she leads me through the trail, showing the encroaching overgrowth of wax myrtle and squash palms, among other plants.
After Maggie heads back to the mainland that evening, I am left to unpack and settle in. The days following, I set forth on my goals of hiking every trail on the island by March 1st, reading "Cumberland Island National Seashore: A History of Conservation Conflict” by Dilsaver, and shadowing several NPS educational programs that are held on the island. It has been said that islands have their own sense of time, and that is definitely true of Cumberland. Days go by fast, but at the same time, I feel as though I have lived here for years.
Tomorrow, I will welcome my first volunteer group, a Boy Scout troop from Marietta, GA. A full night of sleep will be difficult to achieve due to my overwhelming excitement! Insuring the boys and their fathers have a wonderful experience on this incredible island is very important to me. Another priority is demonstrating to both of my supervisors, Maggie and Bryan Schroeder with Georgia Conservancy, that they picked the right person for the job.
The luxury of an open schedule this past week has allowed for Cumberland and I to get to know each other. Every day is full of peace and wonder; a calm before the storm (so to speak) of college students who will begin to arrive in March. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct my favorite kind of work - coordinating volunteer service projects - while living on my favorite island.