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Lessons Are Learned at the Caribbean Urban/Community Forestry Conference

Dear Source:

This year’s conference, held in the progressive Municipal of Caguas, Puerto Rico, for me, was more of a confirmation for many of the same issues and points I have been stressing and addressing.

There was example after example supporting the collective effort needed by the government, private and corporate businesses and the community to protect and preserve the green spaces in our urban communities. Study after study all conclude that green spaces in urban areas have measurable economic, social, physical and psychological benefits for everyone.

The theme, "Community Empowerment: Nature Tourism" of restoration for self-echoed a conference forum held here 10 yrs. ago sponsored by the Dept. of Tourism, "The Small Businesses and the Cruise Ship Industry," the guest speaker from National Geographic spoke about creating a global appeal that would attract visitors to your shores. Her messages, "Do it for yourselves, and the World will come to enjoy it with you."

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At each conference, membership votes for an outstanding project, a group and an individual recognizing their contribution and impact their efforts have made in their communities.

This year in the category of Outstanding Citizen-Volunteer (the recognition of an individual, most instrumental in organizing an urban or community forestry activities in US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico.)

Mrs. Alma Winkfield was this year’s recipient for her efforts in spearheading the development of the new community park, called "Sundial Park," in Tulipan Welcome, Christiansted, St. Croix.

The Spring Garden Homes Association, Inc. received funding from our V.I. Urban & Community Forestry Program over a two-year period inborder to clean up what was essentially a 2-acre dump site and restore it to a beautiful community park. The movers and shakers who made this happen are Mrs. Alma Winkfield and her husband, Mr. Rudy Winkfield. These two people have spent countless hours hauling garbage, raking soil, moving rocks, digging holes, planting trees, and a myriad of other tasks, along with their neighbors, to make this park happen.

This project should be used as a template to create parks and green spaces in neighborhoods throughout the territory.

During this financial and social realignment period here on St. Croix opportunities, in an abundance, are opening up in many sectors of development. Studies are indicating that the trend of today’s travelers are not to stay at these mega hotels and resorts, because they can get that everywhere else. We can and should offer different accommodations. Consensus among those who are encouraging an agri-eco cultural tourism package feel that the best way to go is the bed and breakfast, the mom and pop (family owned) type businesses. Travelers who are coming solely to experience the culture and environment, would flock to these establishments.

This would open up the financial benefits for many locally having visitors being hosted within the community, and not isolated in hotel compounds. Community park areas would support all sorts of neighborhood activities: parties, shows, concerts, lectures, meetings, weddings, etc. This economic empowerment would immediately address our most basic social issues: crime, unemployment, poverty, depression, etc.

If the government can give tax exemptions for millions of dollars to businesses coming offering a handful of jobs, I surely believe that we the people (government) as a community would not object to supporting a B&B industry here in the Virgin Islands, empowering their residents. All throughout Cuba, B&B’s are being opened to meet the increased demand for rooms, in Puerto Rican Municipals they are now supporting the B&B’s industry which brings visitors into the communities expanding their economies.

Backing a Green Space in every neighborhood and a Bed & Breakfast Industry, the growth opportunity would be established here for the residents of St. Croix, within no time.

Ivan Butcher II, St. Croix

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