CUMBERLAND ISLAND -- Art Frederick's first assignment to Cumberland Island as a National Park Service ranger ended after two months, but it made a lasting impression.
His time there as a firefighter during a severe drought in the early 1980s gave him a chance to appreciate the beauty and serenity of the largest undeveloped barrier island on the Atlantic seaboard.
"I always wanted to come back here," Frederick said. "There is something about the island that grabs you."
He finally got his wish when he returned last month as the island's new superintendent.
Frederick, 51, has served full-time in the Park Service since 1978. His most recent position was as assistant superintendent at Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, where he served three years.
His experience in Atlanta, along with 12 years at the 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway, where he helped manage many historic structures, will help him deal with the complexities of the top job at Cumberland Island, Frederick said.
Among the difficult issues Frederick will try to resolve:
-- How to manage an island with deteriorating historic structures on limited federal funding.
-- How to improve relations with island residents who claim the Park Service is ignoring their right to live on the island.
-- How to deal with domesticated animals such as hogs and horses that have escaped and are competing with native animals for limited food and living space.
-- How to strike a balance between tourism and island privacy.
Frederick replaced Denis Davis, who served as superintendent for three years. Davis was reassigned as assistant superintendent at Glacier National Park.
"My goal is to bring in more funding to meet the park's goals and objectives," Frederick said.
Increased funding is vital, he said, to care for Cumberland's many deteriorating historic sites, such as Plum Orchard and Dungeness mansions; the Chimneys, a slave settlement built in the early 1800s; and structures in St. Marys.
Frederick said that seeing the structures after nearly two decades, he was shocked by their poor condition.
"I don't remember any buildings looking the way they do today," he said. "All the buildings were in good shape. This shouldn't have taken place.
"We just don't have the funding to do the things we were mandated to do," he said. "Many of the problems are because of the lack of plans to manage the island."
Davis was midway through writing a comprehensive island management plan when he was reassigned. Frederick vowed to complete the plan, which will set guidelines for everything from fire suppression to wilderness management.
His goal is to have the plan written by the end of the year.
The challenge given to Frederick from his supervisors at the regional office in Atlanta, he said, is to manage the island's cultural resources without neglecting the natural resources.
"They want to see all the structures maintained and the wilderness maintained in a harmonious fashion," he said. "I don't think the management of one supersedes the other. It's a very complex situation."
Richard Ramsden, chief of the architecture division for the Park Service's regional office in Atlanta, said Cumberland's funding problems won't be solved overnight.
"This park has so many resources and they're all important," Ramsden said. "There's a list of a lot of things that need to be accomplished."
This year's operating budget for the island is $1.7 million, said Julie Meeks, chief of administration on the island. That number is $300,000 higher than the previous year, enabling the Park Service to hire an additional five employees to maintain the island's historic structures. …