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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.
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!
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: