Many businesses in St. Mary’s rely directly on Cumberland Island visitors to support their businesses. Former Mayor and longtime co-owner of the Riverview Hotel, which sits directly across the street from the island ferry dock, Jerry Brandon, said 90 percent of his business is Cumberland related.

“If they start building houses on the middle of the island, that’s going to have a detrimental effect on tourism, and certainly to the purpose of the park, which means we’ll probably lose business,” he said.

Brandon was especially concerned that once rules were changed regarding potential development on the island, future generations of Candlers could push for even more and larger-scale developments. That could spell trouble for the island, he said.

The same wealthy families who have been claiming that they ‘saved’ Cumberland are now saying they want to rape it some more.—Carol Ruckdeschel

Negotiations between developers, conservation groups, and the Park Service are ongoing, and no official deadline has been set. With the power of eminent domain, the National Park Service could act on behalf of the public, the original Congressional intent for Cumberland, and the long-term future of the island.

“Acquiring the remaining private land on Cumberland Island is probably the most important step that the Park Service can take to protect the future of the national seashore,” says Kearns.

However, Candler believes that private property rights should trump the concerns of the general public.

“On Cumberland, I observe that some elements of the public want to let all the present houses on the island fall into ruin. Other elements of the public want to respect the rights of private property owners, wherever that property is,” he wrote. “Cumberland Island is…both public and private. Some of us have no history at all there, and some of us have a long history there. None of us should be embarrassed about being there.”

Another resident and former property owner, Ruckdeschel, acknowledges that Candler’s desire to build more houses on Cumberland is understandable, but protection of one the country’s last wild islands should take priority over private vacation homes.

Says Ruckdeschel, “The same wealthy families who have been claiming that they ‘saved’ Cumberland are now saying they want to rape it some more.”