Cumberland visitor plan creating concerns

Dec. 3—Environmental groups are expressing concerns about the proposed visitor use management plan for Cumberland Island National Seashore.

The organization Wild Cumberland makes it clear it disagrees with the wide range of changes proposed by the National Park Service (NPS).

"We disagree with the NPS' assessment that the proposed Visitor Use Management Plan aligns with the purpose and intent of the seashore," the study says.

Among the big concerns are plans to rent bikes and ebikes on the island and to allow the users to travel on the dirt road that runs the length of the 17-mile barrier island.

Wild Cumberland believes the plan appears to open all administrative roads and additional trails to bikes and ebikes, which the group says would be in "explicit violation of the Wilderness Act and a deliberate act to undermine wilderness protections."

"While public roads are open to bicycles and ebikes per NPS policy, no environmental analysis has been provided on ebike use within or adjacent to the wilderness on Cumberland Island," the group claims.

What is being proposed may be contrary to the legislation approved by Congress when the national seashore was established in 1972, it contends.

The law states that the seashore "shall be permanently preserved in its primitive state, and no development of the project or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna or the physiographic conditions now prevailing."

Cumberland Island is only one of 10 national seashores with this very specific language.

The plan would also double the number of daily visitors to the island. Currently, 300 visitors a day are allowed on the island. Under the proposal, the number would increase to 600 daily visitors.

Wild Cumberland officials have expressed concerns there is no data to indicate what is needed to accommodate the additional visitors.

"It is well documented that the NPS is experiencing issues in staffing, funding, and housing the types of diverse experts needed to employ these adaptive management strategies effectively and accurately across our nation," they said. "Cumberland Island will be no exception."

David Kyler, co-director for Center for a Sustainable Coast, criticized the National Park Service for approving plans and failing to coordinate them with one another.

Kyler said "nothing could contradict more" with the enabling legislation to create the national seashore than to allow bicycles and ebikes in the wilderness area or on trails.

"That's the kind of decisions lawsuits are made for," he said. "It destroys the whole purpose of the island. We're very opposed to it."