PRESERVATION VERSUS COMMERCE ON CUMBERLAND ISLAND

November 12, 2014
by
1 min read

Cumberland Island is, in a sense, a time machine, the kind that takes you away from the tech-driven, text-rattled, always-on-the-go world that surrounds us, envelops us, consumes us.

You can’t even get there by car.

Once you climb off whatever boat or ferry brought you, your feet sink into the soft mixture of sand and dirt as you walk up a path that seems to disappear into a canopied treeline, leaving behind the salty air of the brackish St. Marys River, where more often than not you can see dolphins swimming down the narrow waterway.

You break through the short barrier to find yourself surrounded by ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, a few wild horses in either direction grazing on the grass of the open areas, and a century-old white building — or at least the parts of it that aren’t obscured by the live oaks. The Greyfield Inn, the private lodging place for hundreds (maybe more) of visitors every year, has outdoor picnic tables for those who prefer to dine al fresco, and roofed floor-length porches on all three floors for quiet time alone to read a book or just reflect.

It’s a kaleidoscope of tranquility, of silence and solitude and pristineness. 

There’s a reason you don’t see many other people as you hike away from the Greyfield Inn toward all parts of the island, including one path that leads you on a 15-minute walk (or a five-minute bicycle ride) to the beach, the westernmost shoreline on the U.S. East Coast. Crossing a large, sea-oat-sprinkled sand dune, the Atlantic Ocean vista greets you with breathtaking beauty.

The place is so secluded that in 1996 John F. Kennedy Jr. selected it for his famously secret wedding to Carolyn Bessette, conducted in a small, historic church on the island’s uninhabited north end.

But on an island so unfettered by the modern world, civilization and business ambitions are always looming, casting a dark cloud on even the sunniest of days. 

Three issues have simmered through the years and still hide in the shadows of the live oaks: Should the daily visitor limit of 300 — established in the 1970s by the National Park Service — be increased, maybe even doubled? Will the National Seashore, so designated in 1972, ever be owned completely by the NPS, which several decades ago began purchasing about 85 percent of the island’s 36,000 acres from wealthy private families like the Rockefellers and Carnegies? And then there’s the current battle: Who will get the new 10-year contract to ferry visitors to the island?


Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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