Wilderness areas are wild places where one can retreat from civilization, reconnect with earth, and find healing and significance. In wilderness areas, the ecosystem is in a natural state and human impact is minimal.
The United States was the first country in the world to define and designate wilderness areas through law. In 1964, our nation’s leaders formally acknowledged the immediate and lasting benefits of wild places to the human spirit and fabric of our nation: in a nearly unanimous vote, Congress enacted The Wilderness Act, which permanently protected some of the most natural and undisturbed places in America.
In designated Wilderness Areas, legal protections prevent human interference with the natural functioning of the ecosystem. This means that wildlife habitats are preserved, as well as opportunities for us to experience the land in a pristine state.
In 1982, nearly 9,000 acres of the northern half of the island were designated a Wilderness Area by Congress, making it one of the largest barrier island Wilderness Areas in the country.
In addition, over 11,000 acres were designated as ‘potential wilderness’ which, legally, must be managed in the same manner as the Wilderness Area.
The wilderness includes saltwater marshes, old-growth maritime forests, and towering sand dunes where endangered sea turtles and shorebirds nest.
A handful of private residences remain in the wilderness; these residents no longer own their land, but they retain rights to continue living in the wilderness until their rights expire over the next few decades.
Congress envisioned that the wilderness character of the island would eventually be restored over time — retained rights would expire, feral animals would be removed, and naturally-occurring wildfires would be allowed to burn.
For now, wilderness backpackers will be forced to leave wilderness trails and seek refuge on other trails as the noise, dust, and sights of the vehicular tours consistently impinge on the island’s solitude.
New nodes of non-conforming use activity will be created within or adjacent to the Wilderness Area effectively shrinking the overall size of the Cumberland Wilderness Area for all to use and enjoy.
Wilderness Act of 1964
September 3, 1964
A national wilderness preservation system was created.
Cumberland Island National Seashore Established
October 23, 1972
Cumberland Wilderness Area Act
September 9, 1982
Congress designated 8,840 acres as wilderness and an 11,718 acres as potential wilderness.
The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals: Wilderness Watch V. Mainella
June 28, 2004
NPS & Greyfield Inn were found to be violating the Wilderness Act.
Cumberland Island Boundary Adjustment Act of 2004
October 6, 2004
Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston added a rider bill just hours before it passed, removing the route of Greyfield Inn and NPS motorized tours from the wilderness designation, mandating NPS tours,
Visitor Use Management Plan?
June 24, 2020
With no public updates, the Visitor Use Management Plan’s status is unknown.