More than 100 people gathered in the ball field adjacent to the V.I. National Park Visitor’s Center to wish a happy 50th birthday to the Virgin Islands National Park on Friday, December 1.
Recently-appointed National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, NPS Southeast Regional Director Patricia Hooks and Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen were among the dignitaries who gathered under tents as the morning rain cleared and blue skies prevailed.
British-born Bomar, who became a naturalized citizen in 1977, expressed her pride at attending the 50th anniversary festivities. “I’m proud to be an American by choice and privileged to be Director of the National Park Service,” said Bomar, who introduced a taped message from Secre-tary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne who was unable to attend.
In his taped message, Kempthorne outlined the upcoming 10-year Centennial Challenge, which will culminate in 2016 — the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
“The goal is not to start projects in 10 years, but to start project now,” Kempthorne said in the taped message. “We are calling on all Americans to participate through philanthropy, volunteer and conservation efforts to gear up for the next 100 years of the National Park Service.”
While the NPS mission to preserve resources has not changed, the way officials go about their mission has evolved over the years, Bomar explained.
“We must prepare the National Park for another century and identify signature projects and programs that will continue the legacy of philanthropy,” the NPS Director said. “Philanthropy has always played a key role in the National Park Service. Not only people like Rockefeller, who donated 5,000 acres to start this park, but also the countless people who donate an acre or two to ensure conservation.”
Public Support Essential
While the Centennial Challenge will rely on government action, the public and various non-governmental agencies have important roles to play as well, Bomar continued.
“The government must do their part, but it’s going to take funds, energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to work in partnership,” said Bomar.
Park officials will also launch the Ocean Park Stewardship Action Plan, Bomar announced.
Ocean Stewardship Action Plan
The plan will focus greater emphasis on identifying, assessing and managing ocean resources to engage visitors to become stewards, the NPS director explained.
“In August, the NPS, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and other groups signed an inter-agency agreement to develop regional ocean plans to increase our emphasis on ocean research,” said Bomar. “Through this plan, our NPS will be able to restore and preserve the grandeur of our precious resources for future generations.”
The NPS Director applauded the rangers and community that supports the VINP.
People Make A Difference
“Places are special, but people make the difference,” Bomar added. “To the folks in gray and green, I applaud and thank you. Here’s to your next 50 years — Happy Birthday Virgin Islands National Park.”
Protecting the Virgin Islands’ cultural heritage and precious natural resources are a few of the ongoing projects which hinge on the NPS and the community working together, explained NPS Southeast Regional Director Hooks.
“None of this would be great without the team effort,” said Hooks. “I am thankful that the world is better off after 50 years of care by the people. It’s important to focus on the present, but also the future to ensure the ongoing protection of these significant resources.”
While the VINP faces many challenges, it is a source of pride for the entire country, according to Delegate Christensen.
Island, Territory, Nation’s Pride
“The VINP is one our island’s, our territory’s and our nation’s most treasured sites,” said Christensen. “The 50th anniversary is a golden opportunity to take this to the next level and ensure the park continues to enhance the futures of St. Johnian families and their children.”
“As we set forth on another 50 years, let’s go hand in hand,” Christensen said.
When St. John’s national park was first dedicated 50 years ago, many people doubted it would stand the test of time, explained former VINP Superintendent Art Frederick, now the NPS Southeast Region Deputy Director.
“Looking back 50 years, this park was dedicated and became the 29th park in the National Park Service,” said Frederick. “There were doubters who thought this site would fail. They asked how people would even get here.”
“There were 11,000 visitors that first year and now the VINP sees more than one million visitors a year,” Frederick said.
Opening Philanthropy Garden
Bomar, Hooks and Christensen cut the ribbon opening the recently-constructed Philanthropy Garden outside the VINP Visitor’s Center.
Designed by Michael Milne, constructed by Glen Speer and soon to be gardened and landscaped by Eleanor Gibney, Gary Ray and Alfredo’s Landscaping, the creation of the garden itself is an ode to philanthropy and volunteerism.
The afternoon festivities also included performances by St. John School of the Arts students, who sang a tribute medley and acted out a dance drama outlining the life cycle of coral reefs. Lockhart Elementary School students danced the Quadrille and Love City Pan Dragons entertained the crowd as well.
The entire community enjoyed a buffet lunch provided by Starfish Market as KoKo and the Sunshine Band kept the attendants in high spirits.
Turtle Bay Gala
A gala reception dinner and Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park fund raiser at Caneel Bay Resort’s Turtle Bay on Friday evening capped off the VINP’s 50th anniversary celebration.