The Georgia Trust


By Gregory B. Paxton, President & CEO of The Georgia Trust

The following editorial was printed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Dec. 9, 2004, as a guest editorial.

The role of The Georgia Trust regarding Cumberland Island’s wilderness designation is inaccurately characterized in Sally Bethea’s Nov. 29th letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Georgia Trust has always sought a balanced management approach: we agree with the environmental community that the natural ecosystems and plant and animal species that comprise the island’s unique environment should be conserved. But, we also believe it vital to halt the further degrading of the significant historic resources on the island, which include Indian shell mounds, Gen. Oglethorpe’s fort, a former-slave community, and Plum Orchard, the largest historic house in Georgia. Also:

People have lived on Cumberland Island for 3,000 years and the island was entirely cleared for much of the last 200 years. This legislation will not set a precedent for further development of the island: that is already prohibited in the agreements between the federal government and families who have used the island for generations, and who donated or bargain-sold their property to the park service years ago to expressly prevent further development, which no one wants to see.

Legislation designating conservation of the island’s historic resources preceded the wilderness designation. Overlapping wilderness and historic designations cause conflicts, and the Trust has been among those working to resolve them for over 20 years. Every compromise has been met with “paperwork”—unmerited lawsuits wasting taxpayers’ money.

As Charles Seabrook’s excellent article noted (11/26, “Change looms for pristine island”), the language passed is identical to a previously introduced bill, which had undergone periods of public comment during which environmental advocates twice testified before Congress, as did I. The bill had bi-partisan support.

The Georgia Trust first learned about the language’s inclusion in the bill through the AJC. The fact is that much legislation is passed as part of larger bills. Rep. Jack Kingston has long sought a solution for Cumberland and is a nationally recognized leader in preservation.

Realistically, "motorized traffic" on the island’s 200-year-old, one-lane sand main road will add little to the couple of dozen daily trips that are already made. Residents and the small Greyfield Inn have the generations-old rights to use the road. Visitors are not, and will not be, permitted to bring vehicles, and additional Park Service traffic will be limited to one or two round trips on the average day due to the restricted number of visitors to the island.

The legislation will not increase the number of visitors to Cumberland Island, but allow those who do visit it the more complete experience that they have said they desire, and the chance to understand more fully the important role the island played in Georgia’s history.

E-mail your comments on this issue to Alison Tyrer at



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