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Undoing Cumberland, you don't know, Jack

On nature

POSTED: October 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.

I’ve always been wild.
Imagine this. I’m eight months pregnant. Once the baby arrives, no telling when I can camp again, so I stuff a backpack and board the ferry to Cumberland Island.
The giant belly is definitely a handicap. Every time I stop hiking to rest, I have to get on my hands and knees to stand up. But I’m happy.
I’ve been dozens of times to Cumberland. It’s one of my favorite places on the entire planet. I don’t care about the ruins and trappings of wealth — I like the kingfishers, sea turtles, dolphins and pelicans. I like the sea oats and live oaks. The royal tern.
Now all that wildness is in jeopardy. The National Park Service wants to run motorized tours through it. They want to rewrite history: Take 9,800 acres of wilderness and hamstring it. They want roads — Moses in an 18-passenger van.
A legal wilderness is, by definition, free of motors. If you want to clear a trail in the wilderness, you can’t use a chain saw. Which means you can’t joyride through wilderness. Driving through alligator wallows is inconsistent with the spirit of the Wilderness Act.
An 11th Circuit Court judge agreed. No motor traffic. But the National Park Service and Cumberland landowners have a friend in Rep. Jack Kingston, and he performed a little magic trick for them. He made a bill that would redraw the wilderness. After the bill failed more than once on its own, he attached it as a rider — one of an infestation of anti-environment amendments — to the Omnibus Spending Bill of 2004. The bill passed, so the rider rode through.
Abracadabra!
Here’s where we are. The National Park Service has developed a transportation plan and they have to take public comment on it. We’re in the public comment period. Now through Oct. 15, you get to say what you think of the only coastal wilderness in the east being chucked quicker than you can get out of a fire ant bed.
The public, which is you and me, can read the plan online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/cuis. Submit comments to CUIS_Transportation@nps.gov. Or mail them to Mr. Charles E. Fenwick, Acting Superintendent, Cumberland Island National Seashore, P.O. Box 806, St. Marys, GA 31558.
The National Park Service folks scheduled three sessions for public outcry. They bill these as “open houses,” which means that they’re cunningly trying to figure out how not to listen to what you have to say.
Two of the meetings are in Atlanta, Sept. 23 and 24, at the MLK National Historic Site, and the third is Sept. 30, in the community room of the Camden County Public Library in Kingsland. I invite you to join me there.
I don’t mind island tours. If somebody is wheelchair-bound or elderly, or even scared of armadillos, I hope they get a chance to see Cumberland Island, too. But I say, obey the law. Conduct animal-powered tours. Horse-drawn buggies. Heck, you could even put some of the wild horses to work.

A community organizer, Ray is the author of three books of nature writing, including “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood.”

 

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