The Virgin Islands National Park had a “reasonably good year,” Rafe Boulon, the park’s chief of resource management, told a crowd of more than 100 gathered for the Friends of the VINP’s Annual Meeting on Sunday, January 21, at T’ree Lizards Restaurant at Cinnamon Bay Campground.
With frequent changes in the Superintendent and Acting Superintendent of the VINP positions last year, Boulon was called on to give the State of the Park Address for 2006.
Former VINP Superintendent Art Frederick departed in September, when Acting Superintendent Walter Chavez took over. Chavez left the territory earlier this month and Catherine Light will take over as acting top brass of the VINP for the next two months, by which time a new Superintendent should be on board.
50th Anniversary of VINP
Despite the leadership fluctuations and a lack of increased funding for the fourth year in a row, the VINP had a fairly successful year, according to Boulon.
The VINP’s 50th anniversary and the 40th anniversary of the V.I. Environmental Resource Station (VIERS), which was marked by a Science in the Park conference in November, were two major events of 2006, Boulon explained.
“As a result of the conference, a science advisory board has been set up to see what’s been done in the park, what needs to be done and how to go about doing what needs to be done,” said Boulon.
Preserving the large in-holding at Estate Maho Bay was a major accomplishment for the VINP, according to the chief of resource management.
VINP officials are now working with Trust for Public Land representatives and the last Marsh heir, who did not agree to sell, to decide how to partition the roughly 400-acre site.
More Improvements Slated For North Shore
Improving the North Shore Road has been a major project for the park and will continue to be until at least 2009, Boulon explained.
The original allocation of $2.1 million was spent this past year refurbishing subsurface road failure and while the park “did more than was originally intended, there is a long way to go,” said Boulon.
An additional $4.5 million has been allocated for the continued improvement of the North Shore Road, but the remainder of 2007 will be spent dealing with compliance and scoping issues.
Further subsurface improvements should be completed in 2008, and full paving of the road, from King’s Hill to the VINP’s Visitor’s Center, including striping, should be completed in 2009.
GMP Progress Stalling
The General Management Plan, which will guide the park for the next 15 to 20 years, is stuck at last year’s funding levels, making it difficult to move forward, Boulon explained.
While announcing that the unpopular idea of back-country camping has been “tossed out the window,” VINP officials don’t know when the GMP will be ready, according to Boulon.
“We don’t know when the document will be ready, but we are hoping the narratives will be available to the public later this spring,” Boulon said.
The VINP has identified land in Estate Catherineberg where a new St. John public school could be placed, explained the chief of resource management.
Land Swap “In Government’s Court”
“It now lies in the government’s court to provide land of equal value to trade,” said Boulon, about the long-discussed School Land Swap issue.
While previous discussions about adequate land to trade centered around off-shore cays, there has been no word from V.I. government officials.
Although Gov. John deJongh has pledged his support to move Julius E. Sprauve School out of Cruz Bay and to construct the island’s first public high school, he did not mention anything about the plan in his State of the Territory Address on January 22.
As the beauty of the VINP continues to draw increased visitors, officials conducted 706 programs which attracted about 116,900 attendees, 1,400 of which were young adults, according to Boulon.
The “Learn to Swim” program, a collaboration between the VINP and V.I. Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation, was one of the most popular draws to the park for children.
The park was able to offer so many programs in 2006 thanks in large part to the 147 volunteers who donated about 18,000 hours of work, explained Boulon.
Cummings, Tuttle VINP’s Volunteers of Year
Since it was too difficult to choose just one volunteer of the year, VINP officials awarded both Frank Cummings and Anna Tuttle the distinction.
Cummings approached Boulon in 2005 with plans to restore the look-out on Caneel Hill, which was in dire need of repair. With federal and private funds, the project was completed last year and the the new look-out is a big improvement, Boulon added.
Tuttle has been volunteering for the VINP for the past three years and spends most of her time at the Visitor’s Center and helping the interpretive division, Boulon explained.
The VINP’s mooring program, funded by the Friends, has been an “incredible success,” said Boulon.
High Fee Compliance for Moorings Fee Program
“The mooring program has enjoyed high use and high fee compliance,” said the chief of resource management. “We have seen significant increase in sea grass coming back in the mooring fields. These things do work.”
The Hurricane Hole Mooring program — which was funded by Friends and is scheduled to be completed in 2007 — is also working well and has been accepted by the boating community, Boulon added.
The state of the island’s coral reefs, which were first devastated by a bleaching episode and then struck by a disease, was the only dour point in Boulon’s presentation.
In “a very significant loss,” almost 50 percent of live coral cover was lost in some areas, said Boulon.
On a better note, elkhorn coral — which was put on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s endangered species list — is “doing O.K.” as the species was not affected by the disease which plagued other types of coral last year, according to the chief of resource management.
Cinnamon Bay Bones
VINP officials are working to reinter a “large number” of human remains that have been retrieved throughout the park, explained Boulon.
Park officials are planning an inter-denominational service to reinter the bones, but have had difficulties finding a suitable location at Cinnamon Bay, where most of the remains have been found. The originally planned site of the interment, on the landward side of the archeology lab at Cinnamon Bay, contained artifacts, forcing officials to find another area.
“It is very difficult to find a site that has long-term protection and isn’t really rich in archeological artifacts,” said Boulon.
The VINP could not accomplish what it does without the support of the Friends, Boulon explained.
“The park very much appreciates all the support of the Friends and the community,” said Boulon. “Together we can work to preserve St. John as the special place that it is.”