Disputed tours coming to island where JFK Jr. wed

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CUMBERLAND ISLAND, Georgia: John Fry mashes the brakes and curses under his breath as a pack of wild hogs scurries across the narrow dirt road, where spiky palmetto fronds claw at both sides of his National Park Service pickup truck.

It takes nearly an hour to drive the bumpy 13-mile (21-kilometer) Main Road on wild Cumberland Island. Fry's truck passes within inches (centimeters) of burly live oak branches drooping overhead. Backpackers hiking the route are forced to step off and let him pass.

"We lose a lot of mirrors and windshields here," says Fry, the Park Service's chief resource manager for the island, nodding toward the twisted mount for the truck's missing passenger-side mirror.

Getting around has never been easy on Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness off the Georgia coast that's larger than Manhattan. Reachable only by boat, and off-limits to most wheeled vehicles, the island's inaccessibility made it the ideal spot for John F. Kennedy Jr. to ditch the prying paparazzi when he married Carolyn Bessette here in 1996.

For more than 25 years, government rules have required most of the 43,500 visitors who come each year to explore the island on foot. But under a mandate from Congress, the Park Service plans to change that early next year by offering daily motorized tours in spite of the tough terrain and cries of protest from environmentalists.

Fry says the tours will dramatically boost visitation to remote areas few tourists get to see. Critics say the change threatens to spoil the island's primitive tranquility.

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