Not for Profit: Preservation is St. John Land Conservancy’s Goal

With three and a half acres at Haulover Bay on its preservation success list, the St. John Land Conservancy is moving forward with plans to acquire more land. However, the group is keeping the lid on the details until the deal is finalized.

“Expect an announcement soon,” the organization’s president, Raf Muilenburg, said of its future endeavors.

The group formed in 2011 when part-time residents Lauren and George Mercadante saw a need. “It really had to do with the overdevelopment of the island,” Lauren Mercadante said.

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She said that lots of places outside V.I. National Park were gobbled up for “McMansions,” preventing residents from using many spots around the island. Mercadante said that when the Haulover property came on the market, it provided a place for the Land Conservancy to start its preservation efforts.

The group paid Dreekets Bay developer Dave Prevo what Muilenburg termed the “conservation price” of $800,000 for it in 2011, and in February turned it over to V.I. National Park.

Muilenburg said, “The seller wanted the property in the park.”

The Haulover property preserves a beachfront piece of land that many assumed belonged to the park or other public entity.

The property runs from the south to the north side of Haulover, including most of the south beach, about half the north beach and the land in between.

The south side has a white sandy beach and the north side, a rocky one popular with beachcombers.

Route 10 runs through it, with a path heading north to reach the rocky beach.

The land abuts both park land and V.I. Coral Reef National Monument waters.

Because of this location, the park was happy to accept it. However, Muilenburg said the park cannot accept parcels that do not abut its existing properties. He said to accept the Haulover donation, the park had to expand its boundaries.

With many parcels that need preserving not within or adjacent to park property, Muilenburg said it’s up to groups like the St. John Land Conservancy to acquire them.

“We want to be an alternative to the park,” Muilenburg said.

According to its website, the Land Conservancy is a nonprofit dedicated to the protection of lands of important historic and natural beauty on St. John. It shares the concern that St. John is threatened with the destruction of natural habitat, cultural resources and the loss of public access.

When the group organized in 2011, it had just four members, the Mercadantes, Muilenburg and St. John resident Athena Swartley.

This winter, the board reorganized and brought in some new members. Muilenburg became president, St. John-based ecologist Gary Ray is the vice president, Thai Muilenburg is the secretary, and St. John resident Mary Vargo the treasurer. Other members include Prevo, Matthew Crafts and Marty Beechler.

Ray said the Land Conservancy fills a niche left vacant by groups like the Trust for Public Land and the Nature Conservancy, which focus on large tracts of land rather than small parcels.

He said the Land Conservancy’s efforts will help preserve some of St. John for future generations so they also will be able to explore the island’s biodiversity.

“If we develop everything, we don’t have that legacy,” Ray said.

For more on the Land Conservancy, visit www.stjohnlandconservancy.org.

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