Alternative Break: Cumberland Island

beach viewGain hands-on experience with environmental management activities with the National Park Service through the Alternative Break: Environmental Conservation and Restoration on Cumberland Island. Our group will have the opportunity to learn about, contribute to, and experience the island in ways that few people do.

The Issue

Some of America's most scenic and historic places are protected by National Parks. But parks do not existhorses in isolation. They face numerous threats from invasive species to budget pressures to climate change. They must navigate the tricky balance between conservation and visitation. During our week on Cumberland Island, we'll experience the beauty of America's largest wilderness island and the threats facing our public lands. We will help the National Park Service with natural resource management projects while learning about Cumberland's unique human history, barrier island ecosystem, the challenges it faces – and efforts to protect the island for years to come.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore, managed by the National Park Service, was created in 1972 tomain road preserve Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island, located just north of the Florida state line. It is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world! The island supports a diversity of habitats including salt marshes, dunes, the country's largest surviving maritime oak forest, and a 17 mile long undeveloped beach. It is home to animal species such as loggerhead turtles, bobcats, alligators, and wild horses. The island also has a rich human history that spans almost five centuries. The island is only accessible by boat, is not open to car travel, and visitors are limited to 300 per day.

Accommodations and Food

porchBecause there are no stores on Cumberland, we will carry all of our gear and food with us. Our lodging is an historic building that has been converted into group housing. Rooms typically have two or three single beds and participants should be comfortable sharing will share a room with other students. There are group bathrooms with showers and flush toilets. Participants must provide their own sleeping bag, small pillow, towel, toiletries, sturdy work shoes/boots, and outdoor clothing, including a good raincoat. ASB participants must pack light due to transportation and will receive a detailed clothing/gear list.

reading at beachThe residence hall has a kitchen, but there is no TV or wifi (cell phones typically receive reception, but that can be variable). We will prepare and cook all of our meals so students must be willing to help with daily meal planning, cooking, dish-washing, and kitchen clean-up. All meals will include a vegetarian option, if requested in advance of the trip. However wheat-free, nut-free, low-sugar, vegan, and other restricted dietary options cannot be guaranteed.

Service Projects

Cumberland Island National Seashore hosts a number of volunteer groups each year and relies on them for ongoing park maintenance. Our typical work day is 8 hours (between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and is spentwheelbarrow working outside. The work is physical and not glamorous – count on getting dirty! It will provide valuable insight into what it takes to maintain a National Park. We won't know specific details of our project until we arrive, so it's important to remain flexible. During past years, we have cut and raked brush from trails and fences, cut and hauled large stands of invasive bamboo, cleaned up a trash dump site, and cleared vines and roots from old building structures. You must be prepared to work outdoors in a variety of weather. Because we will not have a car on the island, we will do a lot of walking.

Typically, the high temperatures are in the 60s or low 70s and low temperatures are in the 40s. However, groupweather can be cooler than this or rainy. It can also be buggy! Sand flies and mosquitos love Cumberland, so this may not be the break for you if you cannot tolerate insects. The National Park Service requires all volunteers to work in long pants, long sleeves, sturdy closed-toe shoes, and work gloves at all times.

While we will spend most of the day working on park service projects, there will be time in the evening to enjoy the island, beach, and trails, and we typically have at least a half-day during the week that is free for exploring. Participants will also learn about the unique ecosystem of Cumberland Island and participate in group reflection sessions on the island to process our experiences.

Pre-Trip Sessions

reflectionsIn addition to actively participating in all activities during spring break, participants will also engage in three pre-trip education sessions to learn more about the island's history and ecology and important trip logistics. Participants should ensure they are able to make these sessions when applying for the program:

  • Friday, February 9, 2018 from 4:45 to 6:45 p.m.
  • Friday, February 23, 2018 from 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Friday, March 2, 2018 from 12:45 to 2 p.m.

sunriseTrip dates are Saturday, March 10 – Friday, March 16, 2018. Participants must arrange and purchase their own round-trip plane ticket to Jacksonville, Florida to arrive and depart at specific times, which will be communicated to participants. Meals on travel days (to and from the island) are the responsibility of each student. The ferry to/from the island, and all on-island food and lodging is covered by the trip fee of $385. Site leaders receive a discount (see info below). Students should not purchase airline tickets until they are officially accepted into the ASB and have received detailed instructions from staff.


To officially become registered for the break, please complete the following steps: lopping palmetto

  1. Complete the online application by Friday, December 1, 2017. However, spots will be filled on rolling basis.
  2. If selected, you will be asked to turn in by Friday, December 8, 2017 a non-refundable deposit of $200, which will be applied to the cost of your break. Payments can be made by cash or check (checks made payable to : Case Western Reserve University) and turned into the CCEL office – Tinkham Veale University Center, Suite 165.
    • Your remaining trip balance will be due to CCEL by Friday, January 19, 2018. Note: all payments are non-refundable.

Interested in being a student Site Leader? Site Leaders will work in pairs alongside a CWRU staff learning partner to enhance the education, service, reflection, and group bonding experience for the break. Selected Site Leaders will earn a $150 stipend that will be automatically applied to the cost of the break. Review the Site Leader responsibilities, and apply online by Sunday, November 26.

Please contact Betsy Banks with any additional questions or if you would like to set up a meeting to talk in more detail about the trip.