Maho Bay Campground Future Uncertain as Lease Nears End

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With just two years and one month left on Maho Bay Camps’ lease, hope looms above an uncertain future for the eco-resort and its 112 guest tent cottages spanning 14 acres of lush beachfront property on the island’s quiet northeastern shore.

Maho’s 37-year lease expires in January 2012, according to John Garrison, Trust for Public Land’s (TPL) Southwest Florida and Caribbean field office director. TPL is engaged in negotiations with the landowners for possible purchase, but Garrison remained tight-lipped on the details.

“I am not at liberty to say a great deal — all I can confirm is that we are definitely working with the landowners of the property where the campground resides,” Garrison said. “We have a confidentiality agreement and we can’t give any more information than that. All I can say is that we are working on it.”

If a land acquisition by TPL or a similar conservation organization is successful, Maho Bay Camp officials hope to lease or get a concession to use the property in order to continue to operate the Caribbean’s first eco-resort as it has been for more than three decades.

“Our hope is that the property will be acquired by a land conservation or preservation company such as the National Park or the Trust for Public Land,” said Maggie Day, vice president of Maho Bay Camps and Estate Concordia Preserve. “We are really hopeful that they will be successful, and of course, we hope to be able to operate Maho Bay Campgrounds as it is. We would certainly try to obtain a lease agreement.”

Even in the tougher-than-average market, Day said Maho Bay Camps continues to experience financial success year after year due to the unique niche it fills in the Virgin Islands tourism industry.

“We continue to offer a very strong, nature-based campground with simple accommodations at moderate pricing,” Day said. “We think we are an important part of the tourism market and we’d love to see that continue.”

Maho Bay Camps began operating as an eco-resort before “ecotourism” was a coined term, and over the years, it has continued to maintain a very low impact on the island’s resources through its minimal use of energy, creative recycling efforts and low water usage.

“Our interests are to continue to work in ways to minimize wastes and keep coming up with ways to engage our guests in recycling and preserving energy and water,” Day said. “Maho continues to get older but looks better now than ever, and we would like to continue seeing that into the future and so would our guests.”

The eco-resort’s main clientele are repeat guests — many of which are three-generation families who visit Maho year after year — compromising 80 percent of its occupancy rate during season and consisting of 20,000 names in its data base, according to Day.

If Maho was able to extend its lease, Day said the already green eco-resort would be looking at ways to become even greener.

“Something we would like to look at would be ways to improve our alternative energy capability,” Day said. “It would be a real focus for us if we could get an extension on the lease.”

But for now, it looks as if Day and others who would like to secure a more permanent place for Maho will have to keep their fingers crossed and wait to see what the future holds.

“I don’t anticipate there will be any major announcement in the very near future,” Garrison said.