cumberland island wilderness
In 1982, the northern half of the island—roughly 20,000 acres—was designated a Wilderness Area by Congress. It is one of the largest barrier island wilderness in the country.
The wilderness includes saltwater marshes, old-growth maritime forests, and towering sand dunes where endangered sea turtles and shore birds nest. Trails wind past Lake Whitney, a scenic freshwater lake in the heart of the wilderness. Wilderness trails also lead to Terrapin Point and Table Point, which offer expansive views of the saltwater marshes. Several footpaths meander through the dunes and out to the beach, where hundreds of loggerhead turtles crawl ashore each summer.
There are also a handful of residences still in the wilderness. These retained rights holders no longer own their land, but they can continue living in the wilderness until their rights expire over the next few decades. The Cumberland Island Wilderness Area was envisioned by Congress to evolve over time as retained rights expired, feral animals were removed, and naturally occurring wildfires returned.
For many years, the privately owned Greyfield Inn illegally operated motorized commercial tours in the wilderness. In 2004, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court ruled that these Wilderness tours were illegal and must cease. Instead of abiding by the court’s decision, the Carnegies at Greyfield lobbied for the removal of Wilderness designation from several parts of the island to accommodate their tours. Late in 2004, south Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston added a rider to the Omnibus Spending Bill just hours before it passed, taking the route of the Greyfield Inn motorized tours out of Wilderness designation, as well as the beach and large swaths of the north end of the island. It was the most substantial removal and fragmentation of Wilderness in U.S. history. The public is still mostly unaware of the deed.