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Cinnamon Bay Campground to Reopen in December, Friends Learn

Superintendent Nigel Fields of the V.I. National Park (Screenshot)

The Cinnamon Bay Campground in the Virgin Islands National Park is expected to reopen in December, Superintendent Nigel Fields announced at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park.

The meeting, usually held on the last Sunday in January at an outdoor venue, was held online via Zoom this year.

The Cinnamon Bay Campground has been closed since Hurricane Irma destroyed most of the facilities in 2017. Now that a critical archaeological survey has been completed and pipes with asbestos have been removed, Fields said construction is underway.

It was one of many items of interest reported during the first hour of the meeting, which is held to update the public on projects directed by the Virgin Islands National Park, as well as programs held in partnership with the park by the Friends.

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The Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park’s annual meeting started with the unexpected news that its president, Todd Sampsell, is resigning after two years on the job.

Andy Rutnik, the Friends board chairman, made the announcement at the beginning of the meeting. Rutnik said Sampsell is returning to the States with his family for personal reasons and will be greatly missed by the board and staff.

Sampsell said strategic plans made by the Friends when he came on board had to be modified to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Some programs supported by the Friends, such as the Learn-to-Swim program for children, had to be put on hold but will restart as soon as it is safe to do so.

The Friends of the V.I. National Park annual meeting opened with the news that the group’s president, Todd Sampsell, is resigning the position and returning to the States. (Screenshot)

Other programs, such as the seminar program, have been redesigned to allow for social distancing. The Annual Gala, scheduled to be held on Feb. 6, “will be brought to you,” according to the Friends’ website. Ticketholders will have their dinner delivered to their homes and they’ll be able to watch the auction, live music, a raffle and other activities online.

The ever-popular Folklife Festival will not be live this year. Now in its 30th year, the program will be broadcast on WTJX at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, and again at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14.

Some programs have continued and even thrived during the pandemic. The Sea Turtle Monitoring Project doubled its number of volunteers, who counted more than 2,200 baby turtles hatching from their nests on beaches and moving out to sea. The co-directors of the program initiated a genetics study that will contribute to the understanding of turtle populations.

Under the direction of Eleanor Gibney, more than 600 trees were planted along beaches by volunteers to help restore the vegetation lost in hurricanes Irma and Maria, and 300 native fruit trees were given to community members.

Volunteers continued the efforts to eradicate lionfish and treat corals affected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

Sampsell noted that the Friends have been actively advocating for more community participation as the Park Service makes decisions about the future of the Caneel Bay Resort. The iconic resort has been closed since Hurricane Irma struck three and a half years ago. The current leaseholder’s agreement with the Park Service expires in 2023.

Baby sea turtles scramble from the shore into the water during the Friends’ annual Sea Turtle Monitoring Project. (Screenshot)

The property has a long history of environmental contamination, and Superintendent Fields said the park’s goals now were to conduct environmental and cost analyses, as well as human health and ecological risk assessments, to determine remediation options. The cost of these studies is being borne by the National Park Service.

Fields said plans also were moving forward to offer land in Catherineberg owned by the National Park Service to build a public school for kindergarten through 12th grade. The Park Service is in the second phase of an archaeological study of the property at Catherineberg that is slated to be swapped for Whistling Cay, a small island located off Francis Bay owned by the Virgin Islands government. The National Park Service and the territory are in the process of determining the value of the properties considered for the exchange.

Another project that is also in progress is the redesign of the playground and ball field near the Visitors Center in Cruz Bay.

“This has been slow, and a little bit frustrating,” Fields said. “We’re wrapping up hydrology studies to design better drainage for the entire area. We expect to see progress very soon.”

Fields said food facilities at Trunk Bay are now open, and the design for the construction of a reverse osmosis facility to provide freshwater for the showers and bathrooms has been completed.

Plans for the new science center, which will house the park’s artifacts and archives and new housing units at Lind Point, are moving forward, Fields said.

The Friends board also announced that it will be setting up an endowment to enhance children’s access to cultural and natural resources to honor the memory of Andy Stillman, a board member who died last year.

The second hour of the meeting was devoted to a presentation by David Vaughan, a biologist who has developed a technique to grow coral, called micro-fragmentation.

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