When Cumberland Island National Seashore was created in 1972, the general public and the island residents who sold their land to the park overwhelmingly expressed a desire to limit total number of visitors so that the islands wild and natural state could remain unspoiled. When the Park Service proposed a tour service on Cumberland Island a few years later, conservation organizations, island residents, and the general public joined together to oppose the tours. In 1982, Congress designated much of the north end of Cumberland Island as a Wilderness Area.
As a result of the public outcry, the Park Service enacted an island management plan that caps the total number of visitors at 300 and prohibits any unnecessary development, especially on the north end of the island.
For many years, the Carnegies’ Greyfield Inn as well as the National Park Service operated motorized vehicle tours through the wilderness area illegally. Thanks to the grassroots efforts of groups likeWilderness Watch, in 2004, the Eleventh Circuit Court put a stop to these tours. However, in 2004, Congressman Jack Kingston attached a last-minute rider to the House Appropriations Bill, which passed without any opportunity for public comment. The bill removed the entire Main Road from Wilderness on Cumberland Island, along with a large section of the north end and the entire beach. Equally devastating was the bill’s requirement that the National Park Service conduct five to eight tours to the north end of the island daily. In addition to the Park Service tours, the Carnegies’ Greyfield Inn continues to conduct daily private vehicle tours to the north end and along the beach.
This is the first time in U.S. history that land designated as a Wilderness Area has been removed from wilderness and fragmented into smaller areas. Dividing the Wilderness Area and allowing motorized vehicles to drive through sensitive natural areas sets a dangerous precedent, not only for Cumberland Island, but for Wilderness Areas everywhere.
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