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@Work: Couple Promotes Eco-Tourism on Water Island

For Paul and Deborah Quade, the “road less traveled” has meandered around the Caribbean, circled St. Thomas and led to a lush hillside on Water Island where they created the small, award-winning Virgin Islands Campgrounds.

She was teaching home economics and he was working at a car dealership when they left their home in Ohio more than 30 years ago. After a stop in Florida and some time sailing, the couple landed in St. Thomas in 1983 where they put down stakes, worked in various positions, and eventually established a successful business providing support services for movie and other media shoots through Grip Flicks.

Drawn to its natural beauty, they built a home on tiny Water Island, just offshore of St. Thomas with easy access to Crown Bay, at Charlotte Amalie’s western end.

“My husband is a design genius,” Deborah Quade bragged. He set their home at the top of an acre lot to take advantage of the sweeping ocean views. “He positioned it perfectly, without even knowing” that their next venture would take advantage of the land below.

When work took them to St. John, she said they got a close-up look at the Maho Bay campgrounds and came away inspired to try something similar, though on a smaller scale.

In January 2007, the Quades opened their own Virgin Islands Campgrounds. The property consists of seven wood and canvas cottages, a shared kitchen and bathhouse, and a community room featuring satellite TV and wireless Internet access. There is also one suite available in the main house with a private bath.

Quade calls it “up-scale camping” and says it appeals to “low maintenance” people who like nature and the simple life.

“It’s a communal situation and people get that,” she said. “If you want to party all night, this isn’t the place.” But if you play well with others, it’s exactly the right place.

“I’ve never had anyone complain about (another) guest,” Quade said. “They enjoy each other. We’ve had amazing people come through here.”

It’s not just for youth, either. Quade said guests come in all ages, including some using walkers. What they have in common is an appreciation of the natural beauty and the quiet, laid-back atmosphere. There’s hiking, swimming and snorkeling in easy walking distance at popular Honeymoon Beach and the more secluded Limestone Bay.

For adventure, there’s a seven-minute ferry ride to Crown Bay with access to tourist attractions, restaurants and shopping as well as excursions to other nearby islands.

The Quades sold their interest in Grip Flicks in 2010 and have concentrated on the campgrounds since then. Their business got a significant boost last year when Maho Bay campgrounds closed, Deborah Quade said. Recently, the destination received an Award of Excellence from the online travel service site, Trip Advisor.

It might look like Nirvana to an outsider, but the couple is already contemplating the next venture.

“Actually the (campground) property is for sale,” Quade said. She and her husband are planning retirement – not to a boring condo or regular ol’ house, of course. No, they’ll be heading to a log cabin in Kentucky.

For more information about the Water Island campgrounds, go to www.virginislandscampground.com.

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