Monday, September 04, 2006

Development on Cumberland Island

Development on Cumberland Island?

There is a proposal out now by the National Park Service to improve access to the North end of Cumberland Island, just off the coast of Georgia. There is great debate about the plan centering around the impact of increased public access.

The basics of the plan can be found on the NPS website by clicking on the link below.

External Scoping - Cumberland Island National Seashore Transportation Management Plan:

Since I will be travelling to Cumberland Island in October (to document the wildlife and uninhabited natural beauty of the seashore), I am very interested in this discussion. The intent of the plan, if implemented, would be to improve access to the North end of the island by providing additional transportation on the existing dirt roads (unfortunately, many people take that to ultimately mean paved roads and all the necessary facilities that humans will need during their tours -- ie: restrooms, food, running water, electricity, parking, information booths, signage, etc.)

I'm all in favor of people seeing this beautiful country of ours, but I'm not in favor of the changes that must take place in order to make areas accessible.

Here's my beef:

What most people fail to understand about granting access to wildlife and nature is that the very accessibility you create compromises the natural state of the environment you are visiting.

People and wildlife have flourished for generations on Cumberland Island. Why? because they didn't have civilization crowding in on them, forcing them to join in on the Industrial Revolution. The roads that are planned, even if it is as simple as grading the existing dirt roads and paths, will facilitate more movement across and around the island, allowing more people to get from point A to point B. And more poeple means more facilities for those people (bathrooms, parking, food, garbage collection, running water, electricity,etc.). It's an inevitiable progression. And, on an island as small as Cumberland, it will have a serious impact.

People have every right to enjoy the park, but if access is increased, the park will change. And it will NOT be the same park you see today.

It's a basic rule of Quantum Physics. The mere act of observation affects that which is being observed.

And that is the bottom line...

Once you allow access to a place, any place, you change the dynamics of that place and it will never be the same again.

Many people complain about how difficult it is to get around the island. Well, it's difficult to get to the top of the Great Pyramid, too. It's encouraging that people are interested in nature and want to see the island, and it's great that the National Park Service wants more people to see it, but providing a shuttle service to the north shore will diminish the natural qualities of the island. There are already several options for people willing to make the effort (bicycles, hiking, the Greyfield Inn's own tour bus). And, it should take effort to get there -- it's not Disneyland, it's wilderness.

One of the arguments, to quote a blogger on Peach Pundit, is that the Island's "current system discriminates against the elderly, the disabled, and those who do not have a propensity to walk 35 miles round trip."

I know it may seem harsh, but if you have physical ailments or disabilities that prevent you from making the trek around Cumberland Island, or you just don't feel like walking, then you'll have to do the exact same thing you'd have to do if you wanted to hike the Grand Canyon, climb Kilamanjaro, or swim the Great Barrier Reef: tough it out. (Or maybe we should provide shuttle service to those places, too?) I'm sorry, but we just can't make everything accessible to everybody.

What seems to be the real issue at hand, what seems to be at the heart of why people are taking sides on this issue in the first place, is this...

Will improved access hurt the island?

I agree that every citizen has the right to enjoy the Park, and you have the right to request improved access. But if you do, no matter how you look at it, it will NOT be the same park you see today. I, personally, don't want to see the island change. But that's just one person's opinion. There are thousands of other opinions to be heard and weighed. And the majority will rule. So, be careful what you wish for -- once all the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-approved services are implemented, and access is increased, Cumberland Island will be a very different place.

You can follow some of this debate at
© Holt Webb Photography

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree! I don't think anything should change for that island. There are enough parks, canyons, areas in general where the wildlife are getting chased out because of people. The last thing Cumberland Island needs is to turn into yet another tourist trap. Why do people think North Park and other areas are having such a problem with coyotes in the neighborhoods? Because they're getting chased out of their habitat to find food in part thanks to people and housing moving into THEIR territory! I totally support keeping C. Island just as it is.