“When you step off the ferry at Sea Camp, the first thing that strikes you is the silence,” says Alex Kearns, a frequent visitor to Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia’ largest and southernmost barrier island. “Then you hear the wind, and the distant thrum of the ocean, and you hear your breath for the first time.”

Less than a mile from the dock, you climb towering dunes and spill out onto a wide, windswept beach, where gulls and terns dance with the tides. Cumberland Island has no beachfront houses or developments, so you often have the entire seashore to yourself.

A few property owners are jockeying for permission to build on about 1,000 acres of private land still remaining on Cumberland Island National Seashore, including an 88-acre parcel right next to Sea Camp.

However, the island’s scenery and silence may soon change dramatically. A handful of wealthy island families are planning a beachfront development next to Sea Camp that could forever mar the wild, pristine seashore.

A few property owners are jockeying for permission to build on about 1,000 acres of private land still remaining on Cumberland Island National Seashore, including an 88-acre parcel right next to Sea Camp.

Those property owners are in the midst of negotiations with conservationists, the local county zoning board, and the National Park Service, which owns a vast majority of the island and oversees management and visitation of the park.

“To rezone those 1,000 acres for development is to create a blueprint for destruction of the island,” says Kearns.

PARADISE LOST?

The 88-acre property planned for development stretches across the width of the island just north of Sea Camp Campground, from the ferry dock to the beach. It is adjacent to the island’s most accessible and most visited campground.

Lumar Limited Liability Corporation, a company formed in 1997 to buy and hold property and conceal the identity of its owners, purchased the tract in 1998 for $3.5 million from Georgia Rose Rockefeller, a descendent of the Carnegie family, which collectively owned 90 percent of the island at one time. Lumar, LLC, includes members of the Candler family, descendents of Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler, which have also owned land on the island for several generations. The Candler family currently live in several houses on nearly 1,000 acres on the north end of Cumberland Island.

Reverend Sam Candler of St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta has spoken publicly about his family’s intentions with the Lumar property, which according to him are only around ten homes for his current and future family. He says his family wants to build “unobtrusive” homes invisible to the eye of any hikers and campers recreating nearby.

But most hikers and outdoor organizations worry that any new second-home developments in a national park would be bad for the island.

“Development will lead to more people and vehicle traffic on the beach,” says Carol Ruckdeschel, an island naturalist. “The development will require roads, septic systems, well drilling, and infrastructure for garbage. Taken in total, the impact is going to be a lot larger than a few houses, and they will permanently change the character of Cumberland.”

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