Last week I spent Sunday through Tuesday on Cumberland Island. As with my earlier visits, I stepped off of the ferry into the most peaceful vacation paradise that I know.
This time I camped with a friend making her first trip. Since she has foot problems that limit her walking, we decided on only a three-day visit (IMO four days or longer would be ideal). Here’s how we spent our time:
After the orientation at Sea Camp and receiving our campsite assignment, we set up camp and strolled along the beach to Dungeoness, where we followed the boardwalk across the dunes and along the edge of the salt marsh. We explored the Dungeoness area and returned to the Sea Camp dock on the River Trail, which I believe is the shortest connector between the Dungeoness and Sea Camp docks. Back at Sea Camp we attended an excellent ranger program on sea turtles given by a volunteer for the Student Conservation Association who had worked closely with the turtle program this year. The short days and shadows created by the live oak canopy shrouded campsites in almost total darkness by 6 p.m., so we returned to camp for a quick dinner and spent the rest of the evening reading by the light of our headlamps.
We lingered over breakfast, chased a beautiful but unwelcomed garter snake away from our tent and into the palmetto palms, and packed lunches to eat at Dungeoness. After lunch we joined a park ranger for an hour-long tour of the area (the tour is currently offered after the ferry arrivals at 10 and 1 and comprises an excellent introduction to the history of the island. The ranger pointed out that a house marked “private residence” had recently been acquired by the park, leaving its grounds and dock on the salt marsh open for exploring, so after the tour, we meandered over this new area, where we found orange trees ripe with fruit.
In mid-afternoon we returned to Sea Camp, this time following the road. My friend continued to the campground, but I enjoyed a rocker on the office porch until time for the afternoon ranger program. Though today’s ranger had intended to show the sea turtle PowerPoint, he decided on a Plum Orchard presentation after learning that the sea turtle program had been given the day before. I’d seen the Plum Orchard program about two years ago, but it is so detailed that I welcomed the chance to see it again, since a visit to the mansion is included in the Lands and Legacies Tour, which we had scheduled for the next day.
The recently introduced Lands and Legacies Tour, which leaves the Sea Camp office soon after the first ferry arrives, takes visitors to the north end of the island. We were divided into two groups for separate vans and tours. During travel along the road, our ranger narrated the history of the island, occasionally stopping the van for points of interest. While driving, he spoke into a mike, and passengers in the rear of the van listened through a transmitter and earbud. Unfortunately the batteries in some of the transmitters failed before the turn-around point, depriving those in the rear seats of a good part of the narrative. We roamed around Stafford cemetery, were led through the restored Plum Orchard mansion, visited the site of a former wharf at Terrapin Point, and finally stopped at the modest First African Baptist Church. The van returned to Sea Camp about an hour before the last ferry. Since we were leaving the next morning, we opted out of the ranger program and returned to camp to organize our gear.
We left on the first ferry. I always feel sad watching the island fade into the distance, but dolphins leaping among the waves but a nice touch on the final minutes before arrival in St. Mary’s.
(I’ll add some general thoughts in a reply.)