Thanks to a very generous donation, the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park is moving forward with plans to rebuild the children’s playground adjacent to the Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center in Cruz Bay.
Tonia Lovejoy, executive director of Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, said Steven and Jann Paul – part-time residents of St. John – donated $350,000 towards the project “in the hopes that it will inspire others to give.”
According to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Steven Paul has had a long career in medical research and the development of pharmaceuticals.
“We’re very grateful to the Pauls,” said Lovejoy. “They love this island and wanted to give back for the benefit of the entire community. It’s been a long time coming to get this playground going.”
The Friends of the Park took on the mission of rebuilding the playground after Hurricane Irma did serious damage to the facility in 2017. Local businesses helped clear the property following the storm, and Michael Milne of the Barefoot Design Group “spent countless hours” drawing up plans.
In 2019, the Friends called together stakeholders to contribute their ideas. At that point, Lovejoy, who then served as the Friends’ development director, realized that the scope of the project would go far beyond repairing a knocked-down chain-link fence and replacing some weathered equipment.
“Since then, I’ve learned how agencies work together and [the complexities] of compliance issues, especially when things are near water and children are involved,” said Lovejoy.
Among the costly items are paved walkways for wheelchair accessibility and rubberized surfaces for placement under climbing structures.
The playground is located next to the Visitor Center in Cruz Bay, an area that serves as the gateway to the national park. At the 2019 meeting, community members said they wanted the facilities to educate young residents and visitors by reflecting on the cultural and natural resources of the island.
To meet this goal, the current playground plan includes a climbing structure based on the old Customs House that stood in Cruz Bay until the early 1980s; traditional stonework will be used to enclose the tot’s play area.
Lovejoy has set a goal of $800,000 to complete the project. “We welcome donations in any amount. The community has been very patient. I think people will rise to the occasion,” she said. The Friends is now finalizing a contract with a local company, and Lovejoy said construction will begin in 2022.
The playground and the adjacent ballfield are managed by the Virgin Islands Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation under a special use permit.
Most of the work for the ballfield has been completed. Lovejoy said that bleachers, lighting, fencing, and other features have been installed, and the field has been seeded.
The funding for that project came from a special appropriation for disaster recovery as authorized by Congress, according to Nigel Fields, superintendent of the Virgin Islands National Park.
Lovejoy said the Friends of the Park is stepping up to assist the Park Service, which has a maintenance backlog amounting to millions of dollars.
Anyone wishing to donate to the playground can visit the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park website.