In 2001, the Nature Conservancy, a global environmental organization, was asked by the USDA Forest Service to conduct an assessment of need to identify properties throughout St. Croix that should become part of the Virgin Islands Forest Legacy Program.
This forest assessment was done on behalf of the State Forester, who is the commissioner of the V.I. Agriculture Department. That same year, the department joined the USDA Forest Service Legacy Program to buy forestlands to be preserved in perpetuity for the people of these islands.
The Nature Conservancy, of which I am a member, identified the northwest of St. Croix, Maroon Country, which includes the entire watershed of Annaly Bay and Estate Hermitage Valley properties, as a top priority for the Virgin Islands government to purchase because of its natural, historical, cultural, and marine resources.
In the past few weeks, I have been educating the Virgin Islands public and the wider world about preserving the living cultural resources of the GREAT northwest of St. Croix, and I have explained why a Maroon Territorial Park is so essential to preserving Virgin Islands’ Crucian history.
This is my final article, although I could write several books on Maroon Country. In this final episode, I will share with you two letters that document the rare northwest natural and cultural resources located there, including the gravesites of enslaved Africans, virgin tropical forests, habitats of rare plants and animals, coral reef environments, and the very real human history that is connected to real people that once occupied the area as Maroons seeking freedom.
On March 11, 2005, Paul Chakroff, then the director of the Eastern Caribbean program of the Nature Conservancy and a good friend of mine, wrote as follows: “Dear Delegate Donna Christensen, As you are certainly aware, The Nature Conservancy is working closely with private landholders and the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture to purchase and conserve over 2,000 acres of forest land in Annaly Bay, St. Croix. This project will significantly benefit the people of St. Croix through sustained economic development and enhanced quality of life on our island.
“The U.S. Forest Service has included $500,000 towards the purchase of the Annaly Bay/Hermitage Valley property, under the Forest Legacy Program in the 2005 budget and there is currently an additional $500,000 in the President’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2006. With a total project cost of $25 million, this falls short of the $6 million in federal funds necessary to complete the project, with the Conservancy committing $19 million to match the federal funds.
“In addition to the funds available under the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, we will depend upon funding under NOAA’s Coastal and Land Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) for purchase and conservation of coastal lands in the Annaly Bay tract. The Nature Conservancy proposes to request $500,000 of CELCP funding in FY06 and FY07. Your support for applications for CELCP as well as Forest Legacy funds is paramount to the success of this project.”
In 2008, I wrote a letter to Mr. David Rockefeller Jr., asking him for his financial assistance to protect the northwest: “Dear Mr. David Rockefeller Jr., It is indeed a pleasure for me to introduce myself to you. I am Olasee Davis, an ecologist with the University of the Virgin Islands Natural Resources Program. I have elected to write to you because of your long conservationist stance and your family relationship with the United States Virgin Islands, particularly the island of St. John.
“As you are aware, the National Park on St. John was established in 1956 through the efforts of the late Laurance S. Rockefeller. The main purpose in donating this land to St. John to be used as a national park was to ‘conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of future generations,’ stated by the late Laurance S. Rockefeller. As a result of the foresight of your family member, today the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John is a major part of the United States Virgin Islands economy.
“In the late 1970s, the Rockefeller family purchased over 4,000 acres of land in the Northwest A Quarter of St. Croix from the late Mr. Ward Canaday. During the 1970s, your family attempted to donate the 4,000 acres of land in the Northwest A Quarter to the U.S. National Park System. Unfortunately, this attempt failed to come to fruition for various reasons, one being the death of Cyril E. King, then governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“In 1984, the Rockefeller brothers sold the Northwest A Quarter to a developer. Since then: a) 2,795 acres of this land has been rezoned to permit residential and commercial development and, b) 1,000 acres of this land has been protected under a perpetual scenic and preservation easement. In 2001, the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture joined the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program for acquisition of forestland to be preserved in perpetuity.
“In 2002, the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture approved the northwest which includes Annaly Bay, Wills Bay, Estate Annaly, Sweet Bottom Bay, Bodkin Mill, and Hermitage tracts as priority for purchase with federal forest legacy program funds. A little over $1 million was secured through the Forest Legacy Program from Congress. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of funds needed to secure the protection of the Northwest A Quarter. It is out of this need that I write to you.
“Currently, the Northwest A Quarter is threatened by a major hotel, casino, condominiums, and residential development. This area is a major historic, prehistoric, cultural, archaeological, and sacred site of enslaved Africans known as Maroons. It is also a significant natural and pristine marine environment. I am seeking your financial assistance in helping with the protection of this rare area for the future enjoyment of the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands and its visitors.
“Today, the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands are grateful for the wisdom of your family in establishing the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John. I am beseeching you to assist the people of St. Croix in preserving what is most precious to the history and future generation of its people. Your financial assistance in this matter is desperately needed. We would greatly appreciate your efforts in helping us to achieve our goal.
“Enclosed, you will find information in print, DVD, CD, and booklets on the Northwest A Quarter and the efforts to protect this portion of the island. This information will offer you greater detail on the urgency of this situation. In closing, I would like to thank you for your time, and I look forward to a favorable response from you. Thank you for your kind consideration in this serious matter.”
I never got a response from the Rockefellers. Today, I am still fighting to create a Maroon Territorial Park on the northwest of St. Croix. Would you help me? My hope is built on faith.
– Olasee Davis is bush professor who lectures and writes about the culture, history, ecology and environment of the Virgin Islands when he is not leading hiking tours of the wild places and spaces of St. Croix and beyond.
Editor’s Note: Previous columns in this series include “Join the Call for a Maroon Territorial Park,” on June 17; “St. Croix’s Northwest Quarter Worthy of World Heritage Status,” on July 6; “Our Maroon Ancestors Deserve A Sanctuary on St. Croix,” on July 18; “St. Croix’s Maroons Set the Stage For Freedom in the Danish West Indies” on July 27; “A Maroon Territorial Park is Not an Option But a Must,” on Aug. 2; “Puerto Rico Shares Some of St. Croix’s Rich Maroon History,” on Aug. 11; “Setting Aside Wilderness Areas a Tremendous Value to Territory,” on Aug. 22; and “It’s Time to Reclaim Maroon Country,” on Aug. 30.