Friends Director Hails the Five Faces of National Parks in the VI

National Park interpreter Corinne Fenner leads students in reciting the Junior Ranger’s oath in Cruz Bay on August 25. The students were on hand at a 100 year anniversary celebration of national parks nationwide. [hr gap=”1″]

ST. JOHN — The director of the group, Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park says the Virgin Islands has more national parks per capita than anywhere else in the United States. Friends director Joe Kessler made that declaration at the 100th anniversary celebration of the National Park Service on Aug. 25.

Kessler joined St. John Superintendent Brion Fitzgerald and VINP staff, volunteers and school children at the pavilion the Cruz Bay Visitor’s Center for an informal celebration Wednesday. The Friends director’s comments spoke to the NPS centennial slogan, “Find Your Park.”

Park staff members and volunteers also promoted the theme by organizing a week’s worth of events, lectures and activities designed to help residents and visitors enjoy the park they way they like best.

Kessler said protecting resources for future generations is a cause all residents can rally around. In doing so, he cited five different national parks that have been established in the territory since 1952, including the most recognized one, the VI National Park.

In December another celebration is planned to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of the VI park, established in 1956.

Crowded around were maintenance workers, interpreters and archaeologists working with the U.S. Geographical Survey. All wore the sage colored shirt and green khaki pants with a park service insignia patch.

There were also dozens of students from St. John Christian Academy, wearing hand colored paper campaign hats. Campaign hats are the high crowned, round brimmed felt headpieces with chin straps popularized worn by uniformed NPS worker, mostly on special occasions.

Chief Interpreter Dave Worthington thanked the volunteers who helped put on the daily events celebrating the NPS 100th anniversary on St. John. He also thanked Joe Kessler for support the Friends are providing during the celebration year.

In his remarks, Kessler highlighted the things Virgin Islanders and visitors can celebrate by finding their parks on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. “The Virgin Islands has more national parks per capita that any other state ,” Kessler said. “Here in the Virgin Islands, we have five national park units — Virgin Islands National Park, Coral Reef National Monument, Christainsted Historic Site, Buck Island National Monument and the Salt River Historical Preserve. That’s five parks in one territory,” Kessler said.

Looking closely at each park unit sheds light on a finer view of history in the Virgin Islands. The first park established as part of the national system was Christainsted National Historic Site in 1952. It’s easily seen by visitors to the Christainsted waterfront as the grand yellow structure surrounded by manicured lawns. Information provided on internet web site says Christainsted historic site was chosen to represent life in the former Danish West Indies, from 1733 to 1917.

Next came VINP, established on St. John, St. Thomas and Hassel Island with the help of philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller and local lawmaker, Julius E. Sprauve. It became the 29th national park in the U.S. park system, encompassing 14,737 acres and is known for its popular string of beaches along St. John’s north shore.

In 1961 Buck Island Reef National Monument joined the national park system. The 176 acre island and surrounding coral reef is known as a resource for environmental research and features an underwater snorkel trail.

Two more VI park systems came under the NPS umbrella most recently. The Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve joined the system in 1992. Salt River is cited as the first location now under the U.S. flag where Italian explorer Christopher Columbus landed in 1493.

The fifth park, the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, joined the system in 2001. Found in east St. John in and around Hurricane Hole, the underwater monument encompasses 12,708 acres of submerged marine habitat.

As he addressed the significance of the park service, Fitzgerald spoke about the lessons that have been learned and will be learned by future generations because of the natural resources preserved through the park system.

“Everybody, when they sit down and think about it, can understand why a nation would value its natural resources and cultural heritage. But you have to think back 100 years. If somebody didn’t have the drive, consideration and concern to create an agency that puts those natural resources at a natural level under one umbrella, I shudder to think what our natural and cultural resources would be like today,” Fitzgerald said.

The superintendent also said the National Park Service has set an example for other countries who have set up park systems of their own.

Photo provided by Judi Shimel.