Volunteers in Parks (VIPs) are an important aspect of any park. Volunteer opportunities provide ways to engage the community while expanding the offerings of a park. We are grateful to have such wonderful, dedicated volunteers at Cumberland Island National Seashore. Read on to hear some of their stories.
Jerry and Kirsten West
We first discovered Cumberland Island during a road trip through the southern coastal states. We had little knowledge of the island or of the national seashore. But like many others, we paid our park fees, purchased a ferry ticket, grabbed our lunch bags and some bottles of water and boarded the ferry for the 45-minute ride from St. Marys for a day-visit to the island.
Once the ferry had docked, we spent the next 6 or 7 hours exploring the historical sites and the natural environments on the South end of the island. We visited the Dungeness ruins, and walked miles of beach and maritime forest trails where we encountered few other visitors and virtually no man-made structures. We were mesmerized by the twists of the branches on the live oaks and by the abundance of palmettos. The sight of the feral horses and the encounters with the armadillos became part of an experience we would never forget.
Quite simply, we fell in love with Cumberland Island and over the years we returned many times as campers, backpacking the wilderness alone and with friends. During these trips we explored more parts of the island, experienced its quiet nights void of artificial lights, and identified our favorite spots and animals.
In 2015, we both retired and began looking for volunteer opportunities that matched our love of the outdoors and tent camping. We do not own a RV, which is often a necessity when volunteering as a campground host, so we searched for volunteer openings with the National Park Service that did not require one. To our great surprise, we discovered an opportunity for campground hosting on the Cumberland Island National Seashore that met our requirement. We immediately went to the park’s website, contacted the volunteer coordinator, and were soon interviewed for the job. When selected we were two very happy campers.
Volunteering on Cumberland Island has been a truly rewarding experience.
Every day, we would learn something new about the human history of the island, its wildlife and natural resources. We then had the opportunity to share what we had learned with day visitors and campers during the afternoon Dockside Program and through the many informal conversations that take place when you interact with the visitors and campers during the course of the day.
The visitors come from near and far. We have met people from all corners of the U.S. and around the world. Some come for the first time, others are repeat visitors. We are always amazed at the number of return visitors from families who have come to the island as campers over several generations. Cumberland Island has a way of growing on you and make you long to return.
As a volunteer you support the group of dedicated people that makes it all work. The team includes Park Service staff as well as the ferry crew. The daily duties and responsibilities of the volunteers are varied and meaningful. There are set routines such as raising and lowering the flag, posting the weather forecast, maintaining Sea Camp and Stafford Beach campgrounds and running the Dock Side Program. However, we quickly learned that each day is different and that there is never a dull day. Weather conditions and the number and composition of the visitors determine how each day takes shape. Our motto became: “Be flexible and prepared for the unexpected!”
On your days off, if you are not spending your time hiking the different trails on the island, you can go ashore to shop for groceries or to explore different coastal Georgia and northeast Florida towns and attractions. We especially enjoy patronizing the local restaurants, hotels and inns, and getting to know the owners and staff. We have found that the folks in St. Marys always make a couple of out-of-town visitors from Maryland feel welcome.
In summary, if you have time to give, enjoy meeting and interacting with new people, and tackling a variety of tasks and assignments volunteering for the NPS on Cumberland Island is for you!