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HomeNewsLocal newsFriends of the V.I. National Park Face Accomplishments and Challenges

Friends of the V.I. National Park Face Accomplishments and Challenges

When the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park met with the public at their annual meeting on Saturday, there was plenty of good news to go around.

During the past year, the Friends VINP awarded seven college scholarships, presented 300 seminars, guided 835 students on trips into the park, planted hundreds of trees and more than a thousand mangroves, treated 2,838 corals for disease, and monitored 40 beaches for sea turtle nesting activity. The park has also reactivated its Learn to Swim program for children and adults.

Tara Murza is now directing a free Learn to Swim Program for children and adults on Saturdays. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

It’s all part of the Friends VINP’s mission to assist the Virgin Islands National Park in preserving and protecting the natural and cultural resources of the park and making the park more accessible to community members, according to Tonia Lovejoy, executive director of the Friends.

Tonia Lovejoy, Friends VINP executive director, and her daughter Penelope Alterio with VINP Acting Superintendent Scott Simmons. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

“What happens when you go into nature is you get a sense of wonder, of being a part of something more. That’s what outdoor education does for us,” Lovejoy said.

Lovejoy said that given the importance of education, it was appropriate that, once again, David Hall, president of the University of the Virgin Islands, was the keynote speaker.

David Hall, UVI president, gives the keynote address at the Friends VINP’s annual meeting. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Hall began his speech by mentioning a special connection he had with the Virgin Islands National Park and with Cinnamon Bay Campground, where the annual meeting was held.  He said he and his wife, Marilyn Braithwaite Hall, spent their honeymoon at the campground 35 years ago, adding, “She’s as beautiful and vibrant as she was.”

Hall said the university, the park, and the Friends are all in the same business of promoting education, preservation, and social justice. “You can’t preserve without educating,” he said. “We must save trees and people.”

Hall spoke of the many research programs at UVI that were “ripe for partnership” with the park, but also of majors including agriculture, education, and business that offer opportunities for collaboration.

Hall said that some Virgin Islanders tend to undervalue resources like UVI, which he described as “a gem that exists in our midst.”

“Proximity can become a liability,” he continued, noting that local people may also undervalue the beauty of the Virgin Islands National Park. “People will pay thousands of dollars to fly and visit our park, yet some people [here] will not take a ferry ride to visit it.”

Part of the reason for undervaluing the park may be a result of the islands’ troubling history of slavery, Hall said. “You might ask, ‘How can trees oppress and enslave us?’ But the social and economic injustices of the past deprive people of enjoying these magnificent views,” he said.

“Some might argue that [Laurance] Rockefeller [who donated the land to create the park in 1956] ensured that it was available to all and not a few,” he continued. “But stories of oppression are passed down through the generations. If the people of the Virgin Islands don’t feel it’s their park, it won’t be preserved. They must see their story as central to the park as much as these trees.”

“What permits some of us to feel they belong while others do not?” Hall asked. “This is a question we three [the university, the park, and the Friends] must embrace and explore.  People have to see that the park brings improvement to our daily lives, even if they never set foot in it. Our collective mission is to preserve culture and the people, that we empower the land as well as people.”

Hall plans to retire as UVI’s president in July, and toward the end of the meeting, Lovejoy asked him about his future plans. Hall said he plans to spend more time at the beach with his wife, take a year to devote to research and writing, and then return to UVI as a faculty member.

Before the meeting ended, Acting Superintendent Scott Simmons updated the audience on a number of ongoing projects. Construction of the new Resource Management and Science Complex at Lind Point should be completed by early April. New housing at the site will allow park employees who have been commuting from St. Thomas to reside on St. John.

The reconstruction of the NPS pier and bulkhead in the Creek in Cruz Bay should be completed by the end of March.


A giant crane has been on site for months as construction of the NPS pier and bulkhead continues at the Creek. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Simmons said that the park hoped to partner with UVI to rebuild the Virgin Islands Environmental Research Station at Lameshur Bay, but that funding for that project and for rebuilding the road there were not yet available although some design work had been done.

Friends VINP board president congratulates outgoing board member Cid Hamling and incoming board member Lila Uzzell. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Audrey Penn, president of the board of the Friends VINP, presented flowers to Cid Hamling, who served on the Friends’ board for 25 years, and to Lila Uzzell, a new board member who recently graduated from UVI with a master’s degree in marine and environmental sciences.

 

 

 

 

 

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