Cumberland Island is part of the barrier islands that line the east coast of the United States. We’ve heard other boaters sing the praises of this National Seashore Park but have never made it a priority to visit when in the area. Our travelling friends, Ron and Deb on s/v Scheherazade, wanted to visit and since we were much further south, much earlier than we were last year, we decided it’d be a perfect opportunity to take some time and visit the park.
The park encompasses a maritime forest, undeveloped beaches, wildlife marshes and sand dunes which separate the ocean side beach from the dripping spanish moss covered forests. The dramatic landscape changes from one area to the next was remarkable as we only had to walk less than 5 mins to find ourselves with a completely different backdrop in this beautiful park.
Deb’s mission was to see some of the wild horses that inhabit the island. It turns out that was easily accomplished and she saw a couple the very first night when she joined Tim and Poppy on their evening shore visit. (Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed.)
This is from the National Park Service Website…
“The National Park Service has conducted population surveys since 2003 that have returned counts ranging from 120 to 148 horses a year. These numbers are not considered a total count of all horses present, but rather they are a measure of abundance. The total number of horses on the island could be 30 to 40 animals higher than the annual survey results.
Cumberland has the only herd of feral horses on the Atlantic coast that is not managed (no food, water, veterinary care, or population control). The herd is affected by all the natural stressors faced by native wildlife.
The lifespan of horses on the island may be as long as 9 to 10 years. Causes of mortality include high parasite loads, drought-related stress, age, natural accidents, and suspected eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.”
Sadly, while we were walking along the ocean side beaches, we saw a cluster of vultures circling the dunes nearby, Tim and Ron went to investigate and discovered (as we had all feared) a dead horse. It wasn’t the highlight of our day.
We also saw a number of crabs that were hiding in the shallow pools of water as the tide was starting to recede. Tim tried to engage one, but he didn’t want to play and just kept backing up and snapping his claws in defence of his territory. There were hundreds of broken shells on the beach (not so great for shelling) and the whole remains of horseshoe crabs.
Once we crossed back into the forest, the other predominate wildlife we saw was the armadillo! They seemed to be unafraid of us for the most part and would continue forging for food close to the walking paths even though we were talking and not making any efforts to hide our presence.
They only scurried away when Deb, in her mission to get a good photo, would follow them in the woods. Eventually she got the picture she was after and abandoned stalking the poor creatures. 🙂 Seeing these wild mammals scurrying around was very strange. They have a prehistorical look about them and did not fit into the vision I had of a southern Georgia seashore experience. It’s a great experience to have you perceptions shook up once and a while!
This special park is only accessible by passenger ferry or private boat. The ferry prices are $28 for adults and $18 for children and would make for an expensive day visit for a family of four. We are lucky to be travelling on our sailboat and be able to ferry ourselves to shore. I think the way to maximize a visit here (and the cost of the ferry) would be to stay in one of the three campgrounds for overnight camping. We saw a few late season campers while we were there and their campsites made me feel nostalgic for our camping days. I would love to someday come back here and spend the night in this beautiful forest.
While we were exploring the island I got turned around and started guiding our group north though the park instead of south… I’m guessing we walked an extra mile and a half before Tim finally insisted we were going the wrong way and Ron pulled out his phone to check our location, we indeed were going the wrong way! Whoops! While Tim doesn’t have the greatest sense of direction, he was right on this occasion. We returned to the spot where we’d made the wrong turn and stopped for a quick lunch to fortify ourselves for the three miles we still had to hike back to our boats.
The return trip was rewarded with more horses, armadillos and spectacular forests.
Due to the damage here from Hurricane Matthew, we were unable to use the dinghy docks and had to beach our dinghy instead that morning. The tide was fully out by the time we arrived back at the Sea Camp and our little tender was high and dry. Poor Tim and Ron had to drag it back to the water about 80 feet away. Everyone agreed that despite some of the challenges of the day, it was well worth it and we’d all return to visit this cool place again.
And of course there is always a beautiful sunset to look at.