Cumberland Island National Seashore remains closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. According to the Park Service, “all visitation to Cumberland Island is suspended until further notice.” All ferry and camping reservations have been cancelled through November 1, 2017 at this writing (note that this date may be extended). UPDATE: The National Park has reopened with ferry service from St. Marys running again as of November 12, 2017.
It’s a challenging situation, but the National Park Service is working hard to get this National Seashore back open as soon as possible and safe for park visitation. The clean up effort has been underway since the Irma came through Sept. 10-11, 2017.
Ferry Docks Damaged
The National Park ferry docks located in St. Marys, the only departure/arrival point for public ferry transportation to/from Cumberland Island National Seashore, were destroyed. An estimated 40 boats were sunk at the St. Marys waterfront and the river flooded businesses and homes.
The ferry concessionaire, Calvin Lang, had wisely relocated his Cumberland Island ferry vessels to safety up the Satilla River before Irma arrived. However, an older ferry docked in St. Marys (but no longer in use), the Cumberland Queen, was sunk.
As of September 29, 2017, the National Park Service stated:
“We do not yet know when we will be able to restore ferry service to the island. Our ferry dock in St. Marys was destroyed. We are working with local partners to determine an alternative dock to use.”
The National Park Service building that hosts the Visitor’s Center on the mainland at the St. Marys riverfront was also flooded.
Island Trails & Docks
Even if the St. Marys’ docks were OK, there are obstacles on the island itself to overcome before the National Seashore will reopen. Trails were flooded as were beach crossovers, and standing water remains in some areas. According to a source on Cumberland right after the hurricane, observations were of beach erosion from 100 to 200 feet in areas along the Atlantic seashore. On this wilderness island of amazing tree canopy, sporadic downed trees and tons of branches in trail areas and near historic buildings require removal. It will take time to clean up island trails and make them safe for visitors (like this photo of the island’s main corridor, Grand Avenue, shown before storm damage).
Cumberland Docks Being Assessed
Last year, in October 2016, Hurricane Matthew had damaged the arrival docks at both Dungeness and Sea Camp on Cumberland.
While Dungeness docks never reopened after Matthew, the Park Service had been able to repair and put the Sea Camp Dock back in service for ferry transportation.
However, as noted above, now Hurricane Irma has created new dock problems on Cumberland. According to the Park Service Facebook page, “Some additional dock damage is showing. . .the docks are being assessed.”
Possible Alternative Dock?
Reportedly, St. Marys is considering utilizing another dock located at a piece of property the city acquired a few years ago. This city-owned dock, called “the Gateway,” formerly the Gilman boathouse property, apparently escaped heavy damage. After the city acquired the property back in 2010, the boat house was torn down. The late Howard Gilman (of the now defunct Gilman Paper Company), was also the previous owner of Nassau County, Florida’s notorious conservation center for endangered species, the White Oak Plantation property in Yulee.
Plum Orchard Mansion
Some good news is that Cumberland’s restored Carnegie mansion, Plum Orchard, came through Hurricane Irma fine, with reportedly just “a little roof repair” needed. The First African Baptist Church is said to be in good shape. Overall, Cumberland’s “historic structures sustained minimal damage,” according to the NPS. Note that the privately-owned Greyfield Inn is open. Their private ferry, the Lucy R. Ferguson, is running between downtown Fernandina and Cumberland Island for the inn’s guests.
Feral Horse Population
A top tourist attraction, some wonder how the island’s notorious “wild” horses fared during the hurricane. Word is the feral horses seemed to be unaffected by the storm.