• info@wildcumberland.org
  • PO Box 872 Scottdale, GA 30079

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is the most important idea to understand when you visit any wilderness or natural area. It means that you leave the area as close to the way you found it — or, even better!

Here are some in-depth examples of ways to practice the “Leave No Trace” minimum-use philosophy on Cumberland Island National Seashore. 

Here are some tips that may help:

  • Plan your meals to minimize mess, smell, and waste.
  • Carry more bags than you think you’ll need to haul your trash off (and maybe even someone else’s!). 
  • Secure your trash, food, and hygiene products from wildlife at all times.
  • Before departing your campsite, check for tiny bits of food and trash…even organic matter, like citrus peels. 
  • Take advantage of the compost bin located at Sea Camp! 
  • Trash and recycling bins are conveniently located where you exit the ferry dock in St. Mary’s. 

What you bring in with you, you must bring out.

So. If you bring snack wrappers or drink bottles, you take them out with you.

Visitors to Cumberland must be extra diligent to Leave No Trace and minimize their impact given the Island’s Wilderness and proximity to our rivers and ocean.  We all know how long trash takes to decompose, but it also gets into our water systems (including the ocean). Even worse, small animals and marine life will often try to eat it, and it can kill them.

Remember…whatever you bring onto the island with you, you must bring out! This is also mandatory — there are no public waste receptacles on the island.

For a day hike on Cumberland Island, that’s easy; campers face more challenges.

Animals on the island are wild. Leaving food remnants –  or feeding the wildlife – causes them to break the natural cycle of finding native food sources. It also creates a dependency on food that is brought by guests.

Do not feed the animals or leave food remnants behind.

Take only what you need.

This means that if you are collecting things from nature, take only enough for yourself – leave the rest.

You found wild blackberries! Yum! But remember that they are a food source for the animals who can’t go to a grocery store, like most of us do. 

Picking “a few flowers” doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? If you only picked a few flowers, it wouldn’t; but, if every single visitor “just takes a few,” a more significant impact will result. Consider taking a picture or sketching it instead! 

Allow other visitors to experience the thrill of discovery: the best things to take home from a trip to Cumberland Island are your memories.  Before taking anything else, please remember that some items may not be removed from a National Seashore.  Read full restrictions for Cumberland Island National Seashore here

Tread lightly.

  • Stay on established paths when possible, so you don’t damage plants, small insects, nests, or eggs. 
  • Freshwater is a scarce resource on Cumberland Island. Avoid disturbing surface waters in any way.
  • Protect beach-nesting birds by walking and digging below the high-tide line. 
  • Pay attention where you step in order to avoid stepping on shorebird nests. 
  • Do not dig near the wrack line (or areas with dense seaweed and debris) since these areas are frequently used by chicks as foraging habitat and shelter.

Also, don’t leave holes in the sand.

Holes on the beach are a hazard for adult sea turtles coming ashore to nest, as well as hatchlings headed towards the water! 

If they fall in, it takes a LOT of energy to get out – if they are able to do so at all! Typically, they fall in headfirst and die. They lack the capability to back up — as well as the strength to climb out of holes.

Any obstacles that sea turtles face on the beach have the potential to alter their perception of the nesting habitat. This can force them to nest elsewhere, too close to the water, or abandon their purpose altogether. 

  • Always fill any holes in the sand before you leave the beach. 
  • When crossing a dune, please use designated crossovers and walkways. Do not disturb dune vegetation.
  • Don’t disturb turtle tracks. Researchers use them to identify species and mark nests for protection.

Do not harass wildlife.

Every creature has a right to be there; you are a privileged guest. Whether it’s the dung beetle to the alligator, you are a visitor to their home. 

  • Avoid lighting on the beach at night during sea turtle nesting season (including flashlights, flash photography, and cell phones).
  • Stay a minimum of 50 feet away from feral horses. 
  • If you find your path blocked by an animal (ex: feral horse or hog, alligator, or snake), take a short walk and come back. Don’t sit down on the trail or attempt to “move” or “herd” them along. 
  • Do not touch wildlife. Did you know that amphibians absorb water through their skins? This also means they can absorb any oils, salt, sunscreen, or chemicals (ie, bug spray) that are on your hands.
  • Observe shorebirds from a distance. If you see a group of birds sitting on the ground above the high tide line, there is a good chance they are sitting on eggs! Give them space. 
  • Back away from nesting birds if you disturb them. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest. When birds are chased or disturbed, they waste precious energy that they will need for nesting and migration!
  • Keep dogs leashed, and never fly kites or drones over beaches during nesting season.

Minimize your campfire impacts.

Sea Camp and Stafford campsites offer fire rings, but campfires are not permitted at any of the Wilderness campsites.  

  • Campfires are allowed in designated fire rings only. Use only dead and downed wood. Do not burn trash. 
  • Never leave your fire unsupervised. 
  • Put out flames with water, not dirt.  Water is the best choice to be sure the fire is totally extinguished.  Always extinguish your fires completely before going to bed or leaving your campsite.  

Match your noise level to your surroundings. 

Music and speaking loudly disturbs wildlife — and the experience for other visitors who are seeking quiet. Always consider how your experience is affecting the way others enjoy theirs

Naturalize your site.

When breaking down camp, take time to naturalize the site. In the most basic sense, this means making it look like you were never there! 

For kids, it helps to make a game out of it. Before departure from your area, ask your young campers and hikers to try and completely “erase” any indication humans have been there. This can be more challenging than it sounds!

Other items to consider:

  • Help native species remain in their habitat. Check your seashells to be certain that nothing is still living inside, and be sure your sand dollar or sea star isn’t still alive! If in doubt, please put it back. 
  • Save the trees. Never hammer into trees for hanging things, cut down live branches, or carve initials into trees. 
  • Recycle your fishing line.  Many local public boat ramps have opportunities for anglers to recycle their monofilament fishing line. 
  • Keep your trash out of the water. Boaters can be sure to carefully secure any trash on their boats to keep it from blowing or falling off into the water.
  • Pack out everything. Anything you bring to the island should be with you when you leave. This includes trash, pet waste, unused food products, etc…

Kids Packet

Do you have a young naturalist or Wilderness advocate with a passion for art? Check out our Wild Cumberland Kid’s Packet!