It’s been a busy week in between service groups here on Cumberland Island. Last Monday, a school group aboard the Roseway World Ocean School sailed to Cumberland Island. We were lucky to have been one of their stops along their route from Boston to the Caribbean. Twenty high school students complete their semester on a 137 foot sailboat where they anchor and complete service work and participate in local educational programs along the way. What a fun semester! We were lucky to have this high spirited group’s hard work for a few hours in helping us complete a variety of service projects, including clipping the main road and prepping pilings for our boardwalk. Afterwards, Jim, Interpretive Ranger Pauline, and I took the group up to Willow Pond to see the gators. It was first time at a number of the students had an alligator, so it was a special moment!
Tuesday was probably my most physically challenging day yet! Jim and I started and almost completed a 90 foot boardwalk next to Sea Camp. This involved lugging 18 pilings that were 10 feet long and approximately 100 pounds each into place. We chainsawed a notch into each one so that they all fit each other. To me it seemed like a more intense version of Lincoln Logs! This boardwalk will serve as a temporary passage while the old Sea Camp boardwalk is being replaced.
Saturday morning commenced a productive and fun service weekend with the Georgia Southern Outdoor Adventure Klub (aka “OAK”… a very appropriate group name for Cumberland!) on their first ever trip. The Adventure Klub was recently formed by a group of outdoor enthusiasts at Georgia Southern University and consists primarily of Outdoor Recreation majors. To sum up this group - they were hard working and hilarious! We hit the trails with a lot of momentum as soon as they arrived on Saturday morning, hiking down the entrance trail to Tar Kiln. Last week, Patagonia Atlanta and I completed about half of Tar Kiln trail, and with 10 hardworking students from Georgia Southern we were able to knock out the rest of it that afternoon.
Sunday morning, we headed down to Lost Trail. I had not hiked that trail yet so I didn't know what to expect. Every time we turned a corner, all of us couldn’t believe our eyes as the trail kept getting more and more beautiful. The lush maritime forest shrouded in live oaks, palmettos and scattered with wildflowers seemed to provide us a Kodak moment every 5 minutes. While we were lopping and trimming, two backpackers passed by and thanked us for all of our hard work. I have to agree with what one member of our group had to say - “wow, that really makes it all worth it seeing people use these trails and know that we’re improving their experience.”
My favorite moment with this group came soon after when one student spotted a cottonmouth just off the side of the trail and curled up in some dead palmetto fronds. The group kept a safe distance, but they eagerly approached to take pictures and make observations. Seeing the cottonmouth really encompassed everything that Jim and I work towards with how people can experience the trails. We want people to have positive experiences with wildlife where they can view species such as cottonmouths at a safe distance without hurting the wildlife or jeopardizing their own safety. The ability for all of us to be able to stand there and take pictures, analyze its patterns and make comparisons was doable because we had a clear path where there was room for both us and the snake. Instead of having someone almost step on the snake due to hiking down an overgrown trail, which wouldn’t be good for anyone involved, a cleared and properly marked trail can help people have a memorable experience with something they perhaps would have feared before.
We wrapped up our day after completing approximately one mile of Lost Trail, along with the access trail. We had time to make the last tour of the day at Plum Orchard. Still in our trail clothes, it was fun for the volunteers to see the contrast of the lavish lifestyle once experienced at the mansion alongside the wildness of the trails we’d in which we had just been immersed. The OAK had previously felt spoiled that we had a fridge and freezer at Hunt Camp, but Plum Orchard definitely set a higher standard for comfy island living! The intersection between wilderness and cultural history is such a unique experience for our groups to see, and one that was fun to share with these volunteers. It was wonderful hearing such positive feedback from the group, and many members wanting to return for both recreation, as well as on a future GSU trip!