Camden County Land Trust
Grover Island: The Nation's First Forest Preserve
GROVER ISLAND AS SEEN FROM THE MAINLAND
The Camden County Land Trust is currently working to protect Grover Island, a site of national importance. This island, containing over 400 acres of high ground and many acres of surrounding waterways and salt marsh, is located within Crooked River in Camden County and is just four miles from Cumberland Island National Seashore. It is hard to overstate the historical importance of Grover Island. Grover Island was the first national forest preserve to be established in the United States, and may actually be the very first land set aside by the federal government for conservation. The forest preserve on the island was established in 1799, far earlier than any of our national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges, or national forests. Grover Island could rightfully be called the nation’s first national forest, as the preserve was established more than ninety years before the creation of any of the forest preserves that we now call by the name “national forest”.
The island was bought by the United States as a forest preserve at the direction of President John Adams at the close of the 18th century as the first of several preserves for live oak timber (1). At that time, live oak was a valuable and highly regarded timber in the U.S., used to build such ships as the Constitution, the ship known as Old Ironsides because of the tremendous strength of its live oak framing. The young federal government recognized the critical importance of a continuing supply of this timber for its navy, and took action to maintain a sustainable source by establishing these preserves.
It is not known whether live oak was actually ever harvested from Grover, but the island now supports an outstanding example of a mature maritime forest, a beautiful landscape abundant with live oaks, but rapidly disappearing because of extensive poorly planned coastal development and industrial forestry practices. Now in its naturally forested state, Grover Island provides a spectacular habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including the endangered wood stork, and is a refuge for many other migratory and nonmigratory birds, such as ospreys, which are known to nest here.
In addition to its beautiful forests and abundant wildlife, Grover is rich in archaeology, containing aboriginal sites apparently dating many centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans on this continent. There is an historical record of a 1700's house on the island and its archaeological remains are likely still present. Dwight Kirkland, an archaeologist who knows the island, has stated that there are very few archaeological sites that remain as extensive and as intact in the coastal plain of Georgia as those on Grover Island (2).
In 1926, its important place in history forgotten, and no longer needed for its live oak forest in an age of steel, Grover Island was sold into private hands. It is now owned by a private development company. Preliminary plans of the development company are to build a quarter-mile long bridge to connect the island with the mainland and develop Grover into a gated community with a full golf course.
Camden County Land Trust believes that Grover Island occupies a unique and important place in the history of the United States. We believe this island should be preserved so that our children and their children and generations to come may appreciate our national, as well as our natural, heritage as represented by Grover. We are currently working to achieve this goal in collaboration with other organizations and concerned private citizens who share our feelings for this special island, an island that is truly a national treasure.
(1) Wood, Virginia Steele. Live Oaking: Southern Timber for Tall Ships. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1981.
(2) Kirkland, Dwight. Personal Communication.
|COLOR INFRARED AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH OF
GROVER ISLAND, NORTH AT TOP. (Island is
about 1.4 miles across, east-west.)