A replica of a Taino canoe and a climbing structure in the form of Cruz Bay’s old Custom’s House are just two of the features being considered for the renovation of the playground next to the Virgin Islands National Park’s Visitors Center in Cruz Bay.
The Friends of Virgin Islands National Park is working with the National Park Service to completely redesign the island’s only public playground, and the Friends VINP is hoping to get input from the community as plans are developed. Once the design has been approved, they’ll look for financial support as well as donations of labor and materials.
At a June 18 public meeting Tonia Lovejoy, development director for Friends VINP, unveiled a preliminary drawing (NPS playground plan) for a complete overhaul of the playground. Prior to that meeting, community members had suggested creating “a ridge-to-reef playscape,” rather than simply replacing the swings and slides, and the current plan has incorporated some of these ideas.
The goal is to design structures and activities that educate youngsters about the cultural, historical, and natural resources within the park.
“The question is, what stories do you want to tell?” said Jean-Louis Williams, who has been serving as the park’s acting facilities manager since April.
Suggestions include a climbing wall that could double as a mural with an educational component. Children might play with blocks of stone and coral to make small-scale models of traditional buildings. A map of St. John might be formed out of the natural configuration of the landscape.
“Architect Michael Milne of Barefoot Design Group has spent countless hours listening to conversations and translating them into a plan, without charge,” Lovejoy said.
“Once we have buy-in at a local level, and 30 percent of the plans have been finalized, the V.I. National Park can submit the plans for a ‘Rapid Review Process’ to the Park Service’s Southeast Regional Office for approval, and then construction can begin,” Lovejoy said.
Contractor Dave Carlson, who has volunteered to oversee construction, has developed a budget of $186,000 for materials and labor. Almost $6,000 has already been raised. St. John Concrete, Alfredo’s Landscaping, and St. John Hardware are some of the local businesses that have volunteered to assist.
Plans call for the use of eco-friendly materials and native plants whenever possible. The design includes a native species garden and a completely enclosed “tot lot” for small children. The Friends VINP plans to install wooden benches made by the woodworker trainees at My Brother’s Workshop.
The V.I. National Park is also hoping to construct a seating area, something along the lines of an amphitheater, where rangers can conduct talks prior to leading hikes and other activities.
With so many trees destroyed by the hurricanes of 2017, the need for shaded areas is imperative, community members have said. Designing a structure that provides shade but also can be taken down in the event of an oncoming storm presents a design challenge that could be posed to architectural schools.
While the Friends VINP is spearheading the reconstruction of the playground, the Virgin Islands National Park is overseeing the rehabilitation of the adjacent ball field. Phase I – including clean up and temporary fencing – is now underway, according to Joe Lamm, an NPS leadership program team member who is working on the project.
The ball field served as a staging areas for military operations immediately after the hurricanes in 2017, and then as a storage depot for BBC, the Missouri-based company contracted to replace the island’s wooden power poles with composite poles.
BBC removed all of its equipment in late 2018, but the area still contained debris that required the use of special equipment to remove, according to Nigel Fields, superintendent of the V.I. National Park.
The superintendent said the park plans to completely overhaul the ball field, perhaps shifting the orientation of the baseball diamond so that the field could be used for soccer as well as baseball. The installation of turf, new fencing, and new lighting is also planned. A public meeting will be held once the tentative plan has been developed, and work is expected to be completed in 2020.
Both the playground and the ball field will be managed by the territory’s Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation under a special use permit.
The playground and ball field actually serve as the gateway to the V.I. National Park, and the overall design should include features that serve to welcome the public, according to community activist Lorelei Monsanto.
Members of the public still have time to submit suggestions by sending email to [email protected]