cumberland island coin, emblazoned
The Cumberland Island National Seashore Quarter shows a snowy egret, perched on a branch near a salt march, ready to take flight. Credit:

By David Pendered

Even as the U.S. Mint releases a new quarter to honor the “primitive, undeveloped character” of Cumberland Island, two other federal entities are considering proposals to shoot space rockets over Georgia’s coastal island and to develop houses there.

cumberland island coin, emblazoned
The Cumberland Island National Seashore Quarter shows a snowy egret, perched on a branch near a salt march, ready to take flight. Credit:

This situation illustrates the internal inconsistencies in some of the clashes over development that have roiled for decades on Georgia’s environmentally fragile coastline.

Here, the National Parks Service has intervened in the proposal to build up to 25 houses on privately owned land on Cumberland Island. The Brunswick News reported in January that a possible agreement may allow the residential construction. No further formal word has been issued by the parks service, which is a bureau under the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Meantime, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Kingsland last week to join in the celebration of the issuance of the new Cumberland Island coin. Zinke praised the pristine coastline and stopped short of mentioning any role his department may play in allowing residential construction.

“Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore is made up of pristine coastlines and more than 9,000 acres of wilderness,” Zinke said in a statement released by the mint. “The site offers great opportunities to camp, fish, bike, and kayak. It’s a perfect addition to the America the Beautiful quarter series.”

In regards to shooting rockets over the island, the Federal Aviation Authority is considering the proposed Camden Spaceport. The documents under review include a draft environmental statement that says the possible drawbacks don’t warrant rejecting the project. The possible drawbacks include noise pollution on Cumberland Island, according to the draft report:

spaceport, trajectories
Rockets launched from the proposed spaceport in Camden County would soar over a portion of Cumberland Island at a height of some 30,000 feet, according to the FAA statement. File/Credit:
  • “Noise at Cumberland Island National Seashore would be of particular concern because of the expectation among visitors of a completely natural soundscape…. Although existing research does not support prediction of a specific percentage of visitors that would be highly annoyed by the noise of rocket operations, disruption of the natural soundscape, particularly in the designated Cumberland Island Wilderness Area, could degrade the positive experiences of visitors to the island.

The proposed spaceport and residential developments are the latest skirmishes – and may end up in litigation, according to David Kyler, executive director of Center for a Sustainable Coast, on St. Simons Island.

“Both the proposed development of private homes on Cumberland, and the unprecedented risks imposed by Spaceport Camden, blatantly disregard the legal obligation to permanently preserve Cumberland Island National Seashore’s primitive character,” Kyler said in an email Saturday.

The prospect of residential development on Cumberland Island has prompted a number of the center’s major donors to promise “significant financial support” to fight the proposed development, Kyler said. The Sierra Club Georgia Chapter and Wild Cumberland are partners opposing the housing development.

For its part, the U.S. Mint fairly gushed over the island’s beauty as it released on Aug. 27 the Cumberland Island National Seashore Quarter. A description of the 44th coin in the America the Beautiful Quarters program states:

  • “Cumberland Island National Seashore was established in 1972. It maintains the primitive, undeveloped character of one of the largest and most ecologically diverse barrier islands on the Atlantic coast, while preserving scenic, scientific, and historical values and providing outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation and solitude.
  • “Cumberland Island contains a rich concentration of cultural resources that recount 4,000 years of human habitation and includes a remarkable diversity of ethnic and social backgrounds.
  • “There are almost 18 miles of pristine beach open to the public for recreational activities such as swimming and walking. The island is also known to have one of the largest oak maritime forests remaining in the United States, which provides an unparalleled visitor experience.
  • “Cumberland Island National Seashore protects the largest designated wilderness area on an east coast barrier island. The island’s physical location provides visitors opportunities to experience outdoor recreation in an uncrowded, undeveloped setting. Moreover, this isolation helps to preserve and protect the island’s fragile natural and cultural resources.”

Congress established the commemorative coin program through the America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Series Act of 2008. The list of 56 sites to be honored were selected by then Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, following consultations with the governor or other chief executive of each jurisdiction, and with then Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar, according to a report on the mint’s website.

Alabama is the last state slated to be honored, in 2023, when a quarter is to be minted in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

cumberland island coin, two sides
Prices for the Cumberland Island National Seashore Quarter start at $18.95 for a roll of 40 coins and top out at $154.95 for an uncirculated 5 ounce, 3-inch coin made from 99.9 percent silver. Credit:, David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written...

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