TODAY | July 04, 2012
>>> special series, america the beautiful, cumberland island off the coast of georgia. jenna bush hager with a southern gem.
>> this place has southern charm. used to be home to the steel family carnegie . as i learned on my visit there i've been pronouncing it wrong my entire life. according to the irish descent , it's carnegie . they left their mark everywhere. setting foot on cumberland island is like stepping back in time. on this barrier island in gorge you'll find 17 miles of windswept white beaches, soaring oaks with spanish moss and abundance of wildlife, steeped in history.
>> it's a magical place, a mosaic of history, incredible nature. you can come and have this experience to see what a barrier island would have looked like on the atlantic coast 2, 300 years ago.
>> the original inhabitants of the island were native american who opened it for over 3,000 years. the most famous residents were the carnegie family who bought the land in the 1880s . the remains of their wealth visible today. in 1982 , the carnegies turned over 80% of their land to the national park service . today about 300 people a day come here by ferry to take in its unique natural beauty and relish in its tranquility.
>> for us it's been a fantastic way to unwind. the landscape amazing, the beach is pristine.
>> since there are no cars on the island, visitors must either bike or hike to get around. where are you taking me down? during my visit i hit the trails with park spinned mark boyle , first stop, retreat. tell me about these ruins. obviously it burned down.
>> believed to be an act of arson. it was a tragic loss of a tremendous sculptural resource.
>> why do you think people are still fascinated with this place?
>> it's an important part of our history. of course, we wouldn't have skyscrapers and all of the things we know of today in our society if it wasn't for the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the carnegie family. it's a beautiful mansion.
>> the carnegies have several homes on the island. plum orchard was one of them.
>> wow. this isn't really a campground that i was expecting.
>> no. it's a beautiful mansion built in 1898 as a wedding present for one of the carnegie children.
>> a wedding present . all i got was a blender. this is amazing. but it was another wedding that really put cumberland island on the map. the wedding of john f. kennedy , jr., and carolyn bessette .
>> lifelong resident helped make their treasured day a private one.
>> it was very touching, because he looked everywhere for a place he could have his privacy and he said would like to get married on cumberland and we made it happen.
>> what do you think it says about him he found this place so manual cal.
>> he loved kayaking, being on the beach, clamming, oystering. it was everything he could do and just have the freedom of being on this island.
>> it is that kind of freedom that makes her childhood perfect.
>> i had a wonderful grandmother. we watched sea turtles come in and lay their eggs. as children we were shoved out the door and we made it our playground. i think all of us are so creative from that.
>> that creativity inspired go-go to start her own business.
>> i went to art school and decided i was going to start a business designing jewelry from nature. so it's all rattlesnake ribs. anything i find hiking around. i'm always looking down because that's what she told us to do. you can't walk along the tide line without looking at something special.
>> and special it is, like the wild horses that run freely on this island, this is the place full of mystique and unbridled beauty, a unique oasis that's become an inspiration to generations of residents and visitors alike.
>> accommodations are scarce. only one hotel, so most people camp out.
>> carnegie .
>> are you going to make fun of me?
>> i'm still calling it carnegie hall .
>> it's the fourth of july. let's be nice to each other.