The U.S. Department of Interior has funded a $250,000 study to evaluate the natural and cultural resources on land at Catherineberg, St. John, slated to become the home of a new combined elementary and high school. The land is part of V.I. National Park.
Park Superintendent Mark Hardgrove said, “The study has already started and will take eight months.”
Speaking on Sunday at the annual Friends of the Park meeting, Hardgrove said that the park, the Public Works Department, the Education Department, and a consulting firm would meet Friday to discuss the project. He did not know the name of the consulting firm.
According to Hargrove, the study will also include selecting 10 out of the 20 acres available at Catherineberg as the school site.
How the local government will get the park land for the school remains up in the air.
A deal worked on by the Trust for Public Land to exchange land at Estate Grange on St. Croix for the St. John land fell through, but Delegate Donna M. Christensen said in December that a deal is in the works to exchange local government-owned land at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve on St. Croix for the Catherineberg land as part of the development of a marine research center at Salt River.
About 100 people attended the meeting held at T’ree Lizards Restaurant at Cinnamon Bay Campground.
Hardgrove spoke about the challenges facing the park in a time when budgets are reduced and the park is chronically underfunded.
“We have 20 percent less staff than 2002 and it shows,” he said.
Additionally, Hardgrove said the growing number of visitors poses big challenges for the park.
University of the Virgin Islands President David Hall was the keynote speaker. He spoke about how the “rivers” of the university and the park continue to cross.
While the park is charged with protecting natural resources, the university’s job is to stimulate intellectual resources, Hall said.
“Each of these sacred resources depends on each other.”
Hall said one of the university’s major challenges comes from male students, given that only 30 percent of UVI graduates are men.
Friends President Joe Kessler touched upon the Friends’ accomplishments and its plans for the upcoming year. While the Friends have installed moorings for smaller boats, this year it expects to put in 15 moorings for boats 60- to 100-feet long.
Both Hardgrove and Kessler said volunteers for the Park and Friends of the Park are a big help.
Kessler said that 1,465 Friends volunteers put in 9,000 hours of work last year, which was up 20 percent from the year before.
In kudos to their volunteers, the Friends group named Jeff Chabot volunteer of the year for the second time. Chabot organizes crews of visitors to clear ruins and do other similar tasks that the park can’t fund.
“Jeff takes volunteering to a new level,” Kessler said.
Chabot, who had similar experience at Acadia National Park, talked about the challenges that are different at this park on St. John.
“I endured a lot of wading through a lot of B.S.,” he said.
The park picked Rich and Cherry Glass as its volunteers of the year. Hardgrove said they were selected because of their volunteer work at the Visitors Center front desk.
The Friends gave Mike Anderson, the park’s deputy superintendent, its partnership award.