ST. JOHN – Senate President Myron D. Jackson thanked residents for turning out Thursday to a filled Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room in Cruz Bay to gain insight into plans for realignment of the Virgin Islands National Park. He also took the opportunity to clarify a previously released statement, based on details provided by Caribbean National Parks Superintendent Randy Lavasseur and Delegate-to-Congress Stacey Plaskett.
“Based on information received by the Office of the Senate President, we issued a press release to invite interested community members, particularly on St. John, to engage with meeting organizers – park officials and members of the Virgin Islands Unity Day Group – on the matter,” Senator Jackson said. “While there was some confusion in the community regarding the status of the park, we are encouraged to learn there will be no name change to the land and natural resources under the National Park Service in the territory and that management of these precious resources will continue to be maintained in the Virgin Islands.”
Lavasseur, who was previously stationed for the last six years in San Francisco, on July 11 was named superintendent of the Caribbean National Parks. The Caribbean National Parks is a new administrative designation which includes parks in Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and St. John – areas which have historically reported to the Southeast Region of the National Park Service based in Atlanta. The parks under the new designation include the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, land on Hassel Island, the Christiansted National Historic Site, Salt River National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, Buck Island, and the San Juan National Historical Site.
Under the recent realignment, the parks on St. John and St. Croix as well as in San Juan will retain their own superintendents, but will report to Lavasseur, who is based in Puerto Rico. He said the realignment was based on a study completed in February to determine how best the Caribbean parks could operate in terms of efficiency, localized decision-making, increased buying power, and shared resources.
A public meeting held by Delegate-to-Congress Stacey Plaskett will be held on August 3rd to address the issue in more detail, and will include the regional director of the Southeast Region of the National Park Service, Mr. Stan Austin, who supervises 70 parks.
Residents took the opportunity to share concerns regarding a myriad of issues to do with the Virgin Islands National Park. Some of the issues raised were the training and hiring of Virgin Islanders to maintain and manage the park; the state of cadastral records and need to determine what designated land the park system legally owns; effects of trash and oxybenzone on the environment; conflicts between park rangers and the public; programming that reflects the local culture; and the need for cultural sensitivity training.
“I have spoken to Delegate-to-Congress Stacey Plaskett and she assured me she is planning to conduct public meetings regarding the National Park Service. I support her efforts and hope the restructuring of our region does not have any damaging effects to the Virgin Islands,” Senator Jackson said.