July 25, 2002 – Tranquil grasses swaying with the gentle winds welcome wildlife and humans into the plains of the Southgate Salt Pond on St. Croix's East End, a gift recently deeded to the St. Croix Environmental Association.
Arthur Gaines of the Center for Marine Policy at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts spent a couple of days on St. Croix reviewing the environmental and scientific benefits of the ecosystem found at the 100-acre site.
The parcel was donated to SEA by an owner who chooses to remain anonymous. The benefactor felt that the association would preserve the cultural and historic character of the property, located between Chenay Bay to the east, Cheeseburgers in Paradise to the south and Green Cay Marina to the west.
"I am here to discover the ecological importance of the site," said Gaines, a coastal environmental systems researcher at Woods Hole for more than 22 years. He said his Southgate site studies involve how to interpret the natural, chemical and non-natural environments of the coast and the impacts of human intervention and behavior on the ecosystem.
Gaines said that SEA is seeking "to find ways in which human interaction is successful," with activities that "are sustainable and provide the correct mix for preservation."
SEA has posted a sign off Route 82 that invites people to enjoy the nature preserve. Driving down a dusty trail best suited to an all-terrain vehicle leads to one of St. Croix's most beautiful ecosystems, replete with plains for nesting birds whose species change to adapt to the climatic seasons of the island environment.
"Not a great place to drive when it's wet," commented Bill Turner, SEA executive director on a recent visit, noting that the species of birds found there change depending on the amount of rainfall. Green reed vines and cracked brown mud are remnants of the evaporated salt pond. Explaining the layout of the landscape, which encompasses the plains, mangroves and a protected beach, Turner warned, "Watch where you step. It may look dry, but it is slippery in some parts."
SEA has pledged that the preserve will remain open to the public, but Turner asked that visitors stay on established paths. He said the shrubbery around Southgate Pond is a popular spot for nesting birds and turtles.
"The donor was a person of remarkable vision who chose to keep traditional use of the property and maintain the natural resources," Turner said. "We have a concrete strategic plan for the site."
"Nature is constantly changing and adapting with varied climate," he said. "We want to be open and sensitive to that. If it is a cultural change, we want to work with that."
The SEA board is assessing bids to develop trails, a nature park and an education center within the preserve. A former teacher, Turner said hands-on instruction is a "remarkable tool" for teaching environmental values.
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