An Excursion to Nearby Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island Sand Road

Tree Lined Main Road on Cumberland Island

If you want to see what Daufuskie may have looked like prior to the presence of developers, take an easy two hour trip down I-95 and catch a ferry to our Georgia neighbor, Cumberland Island. Like Daufuskie, Cumberland is a barrier island accessible only by boat, but is over seven times bigger 
( 36,000 acres compared to Daufuskie’s 5,000 acres).

While visiting this spectacular sanctuary recently, we discovered a wonderful book by Cumberland Island Conservancy President and Founding Director Thornton W. Morris. In a beautiful presentation, Morris tells how the original private owners worked hand in hand with public interests to make Cumberland a protected National Seashore. In his book Cumberland Island: A Place Apart Morris writes:

“Cumberland Island is a place that changes people. It has changed visitors and politicians, as well as the owners themselves. This book is a personal account of some of the emotional and spiritual values of those owners, and how they worked with a coalition of interested persons to keep Cumberland from being another housing development located on the Atlantic seaboard.”

With exquisite photography and in the form of a personal memoir, Morris celebrates and honors the culural and historical aspects of the island, and writes with great passion about the people:

“As I think back upon the last 40+ years of my life on Cumberland Island, I realize that the natural areas on Cumberland have brought great serenity to me and have helped me, meditatively, to arrive at my present spiritual beliefs. Fully mature long-leaf pines tend to be more effective with me than spires and steeples. But the thing which has been the most effective in sculpting who I am today has been the people living on the Island. It was the people from whom I learned. They have tended to be the teachers of my life’s lessons. And, although Cumberland is blessed with more natural, cultural, and historical resources than almost any place in the country, still it was the people, the living humans, who have affected me the most.”

Plum Orchard Cumberland

With Park Ranger Rene Noe

On our visit, it was the people who most impressed us, too. Particularly Rene Noe, the Park Ranger who was our guide on the Lands and Legacies Tour. Her first job right out of college was at Cumberland where she lived for more than 30 years, only recently moving to nearby St. Mary’s on the mainland. With a laid back personality and a slightly mischevious smile, Rene told stories that entertained and enthralled us for the entire 20 mile, four hour van tour. As we bumped down the sand road headed toward the north end of the island, Rene was a hoot and a veritable font of information.

Church on Cumberland

Church on Cumberland … Site of JFK Jr’s Wedding

When we stopped at the tiny Cumberland Island Church, she shared details about JFK Jr’s wedding (where she was one of only 35 guests); as we stood on a bluff in the maritime forest looking out  the white sand beach, she provided homemade remedies for chiggers and deer flies; when we finally arrived at Plum Orchard Mansion (once a Carnegie family home), she plopped herself down and played a rousing Scottish tune on the piano in the palor.

Horse Grazing on Cumberland Island

Horses Roam Free on Cumberland

On the way back to the ferry at the end of the day, she slowed the van down to make sure we saw the horses in the meadow and the bobcat that crossed the road right in front of us. Then she finished off the day telling us how friends at her high school reunion couldn’t believe this former cheerleader and homecoming queen had been spending her days fighting forest fires and  hanging hogs after  island-wide pig hunts. Hers has been a life that others can only imagine. Never married*, Rene has certainly has a long love affair with Cumberland Island. We were the lucky folks who got to spend an extraordinary day on one of the nation’s national treasures with this extraordinary Park Ranger. She is, in our opinion, a National Treasure herself.

*(“I was always geographically undesirable,” she told us. “Who wants to catch a ferry to go on a date?” and ” I always wanted to marry someone named Wey so I could say my name is Rene Noe Wey”).

 

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