As of now, nearing the end of 2023, Cumberland Island is the most adventurous and overall fulfilling hike I’ve done for a few reasons; It offers various landscape changes, has more wildlife than usual, is far from urban areas, has a fascinating American history including the Dungeness abandoned mansion ruins, and has a the mystery of the wild horses.
8 Landscape Changes of Cumberland Island
1. Island Grassland
You’ll see the grasslands with scattered old-growth trees and palm trees the moment you walk off the boat at the first stop from the ferry near the Dungeness mansion.
2. Old Growth Forest on Nightingale Trail
on the main road, you’ll see a sign for Nightingale trail on your left, take it! This trail showcases the island’s old-growth forest which is possibly my favorite ecosystem I’ve traversed to date.
3. Sand Dunes
From the Nightingale trail, as you walk closer to the shore, you’ll trek near neat sand dunes for another vast landscape change.
Within 20 minutes, you go from the cool old-growth forest to a lovely beachside. What makes it unique is its seclusion with barely anyone on the beach.
Heading your way towards the Dungeness mansion from the beach, you’ll encounter the boardwalk which takes you on an easier stroll through the maritime forest.
6. Driftwood Dunes
Past the boardwalk, you’ll run into more sand dunes. But this time, scattered driftwood covers this region.
7. Salt Marsh & Wetlands
Yet, another stark landscape change. From driftwood sand dunes to wetlands showcasing a fair amount of wildlife on the island including fiddler crabs and wading birds.
8. Ruins & the Dungeness Mansion
Soon after, you’ll find many historic ruins and eventually run into the Dungeness mansion.
Cumberland Island History
Cumberland Island has a rich and diverse history that spans Native American settlements, colonial periods, plantation life, and the Gilded Age. Here’s an overview of Cumberland Island’s history:
- Native American Presence: Cumberland Island has a long history of Native American habitation. The Timucua people were among the earliest inhabitants, and evidence of their presence, including shell middens and pottery fragments, has been discovered on the island.
- Colonial Era: In the 16th and 17th centuries, European explorers, including the Spanish, explored the Georgia coast. By the 18th century, the island became a part of the British colonial territories. The British established forts on the island to protect against Spanish invasions.
- Plantation Era: In the early 19th century, plantations were established on Cumberland Island, primarily focused on cotton and rice cultivation. The island became known for its wealth, and grand estates like Dungeness, owned by the Nathanael Greene family, were built during this period.
- Civil War: During the Civil War, Cumberland Island was not heavily affected by battles, but the economy suffered due to the disruption of trade and the emancipation of enslaved individuals. Many plantations were abandoned or fell into disrepair.
- Gilded Age and Carnegie Family: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cumberland Island underwent a transformation. Thomas Carnegie, brother of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, purchased most of the island. His wife, Lucy Carnegie, built the grand Greyfield Inn, and their daughter, Margaret, later renovated the mansion Dungeness.
- Cumberland Island National Seashore: In 1972, portions of Cumberland Island were designated as a National Seashore, protecting its natural and cultural resources. The National Park Service manages the island, preserving its unique ecosystem and historical sites.
Cumberland Island Wild Horse Mystery
The wild horses on Cumberland Island, known as Cumberland Island horses or simply Cumberland horses, are a captivating and somewhat mysterious aspect of the island’s ecosystem. Several theories and mysteries surround these horses, contributing to the intrigue and fascination for visitors. Here are some of the mysteries and theories associated with the wild horses on Cumberland Island:
- Origin: One mystery surrounding the Cumberland Island horses is their exact origin. It is widely believed that the horses are descendants of Spanish mustangs brought to the Americas by early explorers. However, there is ongoing debate among researchers about the specific breeds and genetic backgrounds of the Cumberland horses.
- Shipwreck Theory: One theory proposes that the horses on Cumberland Island are descendants of those that survived a Spanish shipwreck near the island in the 16th century. According to this theory, the horses swam ashore and established a feral population on the island.
- Colonial Plantation Horses: Another theory suggests that the horses on Cumberland Island are descendants of those brought to the island during the colonial plantation era. Plantation owners may have used horses for various purposes, and when plantations were abandoned after the Civil War, the horses were left to roam freely.
- Genetic Diversity: The Cumberland Island horses exhibit a diverse range of coat colors and markings, leading to speculation about their genetic diversity. Some researchers believe that the horses have retained a unique genetic mix due to their isolation on the island.
- Survival Adaptations: The horses on Cumberland Island have adapted to the island’s environment over the centuries. They are known for their resilience, navigating through maritime forests, marshes, and dunes. The mystery lies in the ways they have evolved to thrive in this specific ecosystem.
While these theories and mysteries contribute to the allure of the wild horses on Cumberland Island, the exact origins and adaptations of these animals remain topics of ongoing research. The horses continue to be a symbol of the island’s natural beauty and historical connections.