Students Volunteer at Cumberland Island

Florida Times Union
Monday, June 28, 2010

Georgia crew gets to work.

Cumberland Island CrewAnita Nicholas and Andrew Savage clear brush from an old duck pond Thursday on Cumberland Island. They are part of a team of Student Conservation Association volunteers working on the island this summer.

by Gordon Jackson, Florida Times Union

CUMBERLAND ISLAND - Andrew Savage could have earned money working as a caddie this summer, but chose to work at Georgia’s largest barrier island clearing brush, moving boulders and performing a variety of other tasks, all for no pay.

“There’s more to life than money,” the 16-year-old Philadelphia native said. “It’s a productive way to spend my summer.”

And he’s not alone. He is one of six high school and college students working at Cumberland Island as part of a Student Conservation Association program.

The SCA programs are designed to help national parks, seashores, refuges and other federal lands with tasks that might not be done because of staffing and funding shortages.

Savage said he wanted to spend some time this summer working on a service project and learned about the program on the Internet.

“It exceeded expectations,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to turn down something this nice.”

Anita Nicholas, 17, of Humble, Texas, said she learned about the program from a friend and decided to volunteer before she starts college in the fall, where she plans to major in biochemistry.

“It feels like a vacation,” she said of her three-week tour of duty on the island.

The participants, from as far as California, are accustomed to being connected to the outside world through the Internet and their cell phones. They have learned to live without that communication because reception is poor, at best, on the island.

Some say they stay too busy to miss the electronic devices.

“We don’t even have our cell phones, so coverage doesn’t matter much,” Nicholas said. “You have so many distractions around you, it doesn’t matter.”

John Fry, the Park Service’s chief of resource management on the island, said the volunteers are performing tasks his staff doesn’t have time to do, such as clearing brush from a duck pond that has been dry for years and clearing weeds that have grown through the concrete floor in an old barn.

“We don’t have the staff to get this stuff done,” he said. “It’s not easy to do. It’s hot, sweaty, hard labor.”

But not all of it. They have also helped on patrols to monitor nesting sea turtles.

“They are gaining a better appreciation for the parks,” Fry said. “They’ve experienced a lot of things they haven’t seen before.”

The experience has also ended any questions for Nicholas about a possible career as a ranger.

“I love doing this work as a volunteer, but not as an occupation,” she said. “But I want to volunteer for SCA as long as I can.”