He was more than a decade younger than me but had been born here, where I was borne here. He had local knowledge beyond mine. We sat on a Northside bluff, and he stretched his hand out, saying, “I remember when there were no houses here at all.”
Older people have vivid recollections of green hillsides that are now concrete littered.
Even transplants like me carry these old mental postcards: bygone times when there was no road here, no dock there, no noise but the surf and wind. Maybe a chatty laughing gull.
I’m wary of such nostalgia. Memories tend to be sweeter than perhaps the lived experience at the time. Sauntering into that deserted beach was beautiful, and being there all alone with just the sea and the sun was dreamlike, but remember almost dying of thirst hiking out? Remember the cactus and catch-and-keep tearing up bare legs?
In week four of our experiment, asking locals to review their community with fresh eyes, as a first-time tourist might, we ponder the role of development. What is working well, and what could be improved.
The three government agencies I reached out to with some of your concerns and suggestions are still getting back to me. As mentioned, between COVID and their regular work, they’re swamped. Rust never sleeps. What these government agencies are looking after, of course, is what we’ve built here: development.
To be sure, a lot of your 100-plus suggestions had to do with what needs to be painted, planted, organized, maintained, and otherwise constructed. But a fair number of your comments sought addition via subtraction.
They didn’t use to allow jet skis in the BVI at all — as far as I remember. That was nice. Cane Garden Bay smelled so sweet you’d think the sea’d rolled off flower petals. Water Island’s Honeymoon Beach used to seem like the far end of the world, where you could sit in silence and ponder sunset legends in relative solitude.
To poorly mix metaphors, developments’ double-edged sword is in the eye of the beholder. For sure, some development feels like a knife in the eye. But where do we set the baseline? If it’s always when each of us individually had our peak experience at a certain spot, well, then we’re just being selfish.
I was disgusted to find one of my favorite quiet spots — Honeymoon Beach in St. John — transformed into a … well … I’m deleting a bunch of words. Let’s just say I was less than pleased to see and hear the development on this otherwise gorgeous stretch of sand along the National Park. But, my stateside friends loved it! They wanted nothing to do with any beach not offering food, drinks, umbrellas, and loud music.
One reader sided with me, saying we need to be “extremely careful and judicious regarding concessions within the National Park boundaries. The loud, party-type atmosphere that has evolved in places like Big Maho Beach is a terrible thing!”
Booze and blasting tunes have their place, they wrote, but not in areas where tranquility is the attraction. They longed for enforcement of traditional “quiet hours and unplugged atmosphere at Cinnamon Bay campground.”
Proper use of the park and associated beaches was a sore spot for several readers, in fact.
“Our biggest complaint is the actual development of the island. We now must avoid certain beaches due to the swarming rude crowds and blasting music. We visit National parks to enjoy peace and nature, not Blue Tooth speakers. Unfortunately, it seems they are almost everywhere now and unstoppable. Why are there not at least signs at the beginning of trails and beaches to discourage this? We can’t be the only people who find this completely offensive.”
Tourists and locals alike wrote to say they wanted existing rules and behavioral norms enforced, even expanded.
“Please take complaints from beaches seriously. When dinghies are pulling in, that shouldn’t be when music is blaring, when people are smoking or drinking from glass. I think there should be a ranger on patrol at all times, and they can educate people when not needed to turn the volume down or ticket dinghies. Hold people accountable so we know we can come and peacefully enjoy the park.”
Some suggested a tourist education program outlining the importance of starting conversations with “good morning,” not to touch coral, don’t harass turtles, “keep your music on the beach at a volume that only you can hear. I think this could go a long way to promoting better interactions between visitors and local folk.”
While you discouraged certain development, other projects are needed.
One reader wrote asking for improved parking areas near beaches. Several other readers wanted to see new hotel projects in St. Croix and a big boost in flights.
“We need one or two major new resorts to be developed by major resort developers,” one Crucian wrote, “And a commitment of five cruise ships per week if we are ever going to have a tourism industry that can actually support a critical mass of full-time employment. The hotels will bring more flights that will fill all the other rooms we have in addition to the new ones, and the cruise ships will enable businesses to flourish in Frederiksted with steady employment.”
One reader suggested flights to St. Thomas make additional stops in St. Croix before heading back to the mainland and vice versa.
Another reader from St. Croix noted flights to the island are always full. “Get direct flight from the New York area to St. Croix. Base the pitch to airlines, not in hotel beds but number of rooms including all Airbnb’s and vacation rentals.”
Just as one person’s development is another person’s spoiler, so too is the rise of Airbnb and other home rentals, which have been blamed for pushing local residents out of potential long-term rentals.
A reader from St. Croix hoped our “local tourist” experiment would raise awareness about all these complexities. I do too. Where’s the line between promoting paradise and paving it over?
“We are at a very dangerous crossroads here,” they wrote. “I hope your project will enlarge consciousness of what is happening while we snooze or party on.”