This Cumberland Island journal entry is the first of 2017 and the first from our newest Cumberland Island Trail Restoration Fellow, Cara Murray. Cara will be on the island for five months leading volunteers on trail service work and Hurricane Matthew clean-up efforts. Learn more about our 2015/16 Cumberland Island Trail Restoration Project, made possible by REI.
It’s been a crazy few weeks since I arrived on Cumberland in January for the Georgia Conservancy’s annual MLK Service Weekend. I had no idea what to expect in terms of how I was going to get all of my stuff to my new residence, the White Cottage, and what the plan was after the trip was over. I had barely recovered from a sinus infection and my drive to Atlanta from Bloomington, IN, but I was ready to get settled into the Cumberland groove. The MLK Service Weekend was a great reintroduction to the fun of Georgia Conservancy trips and a chance to get to know the trail system that I would be taking care of during the next five months. Our group that weekend re-routed part of the Kings Bottom Trail and managed to haul four heavy boardwalks damaged by Hurricane Matthew out of the woods.
Once many of my new Georgia Conservancy friends had departed for the mainland at the end of the weekend, Georgia Conservancy Stewardship Coordinator and last year’s Cumberland Island Trail Restoration Fellow Laura Buckmaster and I had the opportunity to explore the whole island with the National Park Service. We learned about our access points from the Main Road and I had the opportunity to meet Jim Osborne, the notorious National Park Service trail master of Cumberland Island, and Laura’s main trail partner during her stay on the island. Once Laura left me on my own to explore the trails with Jim, I spent a couple of weeks scouting the trails, running island errands and splitting lots of wood downed by the hurricane.
Finally, I was joined last Monday by first service group! A 19 REI staff members took the ferry to Cumberland and took part in several days of trail work and exploration, a true hackathon. This group had some old friends from my time working at REI Atlanta, and a great deal of the best gear the co-op has to offer. I was excited to get started on our trail work, as I had planned out a nice challenging trail re-route project for early Tuesday morning.
We set out for Brickhill Bluff trail and campground where I had planned to spend most of the day using these trailblazers to clear the length of the trail and re-route a section of it to avoid the bank erosion gradually destroying this section of trail. The newly cut section of trail was densely overgrown and partially blocked by a fallen pine, so I assumed it would take the group some time to hack through and get it cleared, but I vastly underestimated the tenacity of the workers, and they breezed through Brickhill with nonchalant ease.
Hope Oldham, one of the group’s leaders, had made me responsible for the general fatigue these workers were supposed to feel by the end of the day, so I couldn’t let them be done so soon with so little sweat to show for their labors. After lunch and a long discussion of ticks with a demonstration of an embedded tick by Curry, a pro trail hacker, we set out to clear a stretch of Bunkley Trail, a trail with much less shade and many more creeping weeds. With the promise of a trip to the First African Baptist Church, the crew pushed through Bunkley and finally got tired. I had done my job.
Our attempt at sightseeing at the end of a long work day was thwarted by car trouble, though as we made our way back to Hunt Camp, crammed tightly into my pickup truck, we did catch a glimpse of wild hogs. Sightseeing was much more successful on Wednesday, the designated day of fun. Some made it to Dungeness to explore the ruins and nearby beach, a couple made the hike all the way back to the north end to see the church, and some went on a twilight hike around Terrapin Point, the northernmost trail on the island. Doug Hoffman, the NPS biologist for Cumberland Island, came and gave a talk to the group about sea turtles, coyotes, hogs, and his approach to managing the array of species on the island. The group asked questions and snacked on fresh s’mores roasted on the campfire.
I couldn’t have asked for a better group to kick off the volunteer project! They worked fiercely and were incredibly flexible, no matter what obstacles came our way. I look forward to the next group, knowing that I’m ready to tackle the volunteer program like these champs tackled Brickhill Bluff.