Friends of VINP Offering Expanded, New and Exciting Seminars This Season

Seminar participants toured Susan Stair’s tropical garden, above, last year.

With high-season just around the corner, Friends of V.I. National Park officials are gearing up for their most exciting seminar series ever.

“I went over all the numbers from last year and saw where we had great spillover on our waiting list and when we had the most people on island interested in the seminars,” said Friends of VINP’s program manager Audrey Penn. “So I added extra seminars during the month of January which is when we have the most enrollment and I also expanded some of the most popular seminars for people who could only get on the waiting list last year.”

Penn has not only expanded the Friends’ most popular seminars, she’s added new adventures, new venues and brought back one educational experience especially close to her heart.


As an undergraduate student at Rollins College in Orlando, Florida, Penn studied anthropology and came across the work of a St. Johnian she knew well.

“One seminar that is very dear to my heart, which I’ve been trying to get back in our schedule for some time now, is our Caribbean Creole seminar with Dr. Gilbert Sprauve,” said Penn. “When I was studying anthropology at Rollins in Florida, I came across his research and since I started working at Friends, I’ve wanted to be able to work with him. So this is really exciting for me.”

A local linguist and retired educator, Sprauve recently completed extensive research on the very last speaker of Dutch Creole, Penn explained.

“Dr. Sprauve will take us on a journey through the origins and use of Caribbean Creole languages, how they relate to one another and how they relate back to the root language,” said Penn. “He’ll also share his recent research on Dutch Creole. This will be a great seminar for anyone interested in linguistics or history.”

Sprauve’s Caribbean Creole seminar, which was last offered by Friends several years ago, will be on December 20 from 10 a.m. to noon at St. John School of the Arts.

History buffs will also want to mark their calendars for February 9, for Chuck Pishko’s Cinnamon Bay Historic Tour, Penn added.

“Local historian Chuck Pishko will lead a historical tour through the ruins at Cinnamon Bay, along our new accessible trail and down to the archeology area down by the beach,” she said.

In addition to the historical opportunities, Friends seminars also offer the chance to get up close with the island’s wildlife. The group’s popular sea turtle sails always book up quickly, so this year Penn added an additional sail later in the season.

The first sea turtle sail will be in January and the second will be in April. Both excursions offer seminar-goers the opportunity to snorkel with green and hawksbill turtles and enjoy a sail aboard Cruise Ship Excursion’s Castaway Girl.

“Our sea turtle sails are always super popular, so we’ve added one this year to accommodate more people,” said Friends’ program manager. “We have to give a special thanks to Cruise Ship Excursions who are donating their Castaway Girl twice. The boat will meet guests at the apron in Charlotte Amalie and sail them out to Buck Island off St. Thomas with a marine biologist.”

“At Buck Island, guests will get to snorkel in the sea grass beds and check out the resident green and hawksbill turtles that call the area home,” Penn said.

The sea turtle sails often fill up early, so be sure to sign up soon. Castaway Girl sets sail on January 28 and then again April 8.

Penn is also unveiling two brand new seminars this year, both of which are sure to be big hits. Friends is teaming up with Maho Bay Campground to offer exciting art seminars. The campground’s Art Center will lead a class on Batiks on February 7 and then the eco-resort’s Clay Works will host a Taino Clay workshop.

“Gail Van de Bogurt is working on a museum recreation from the Cinnamon Bay archeology lab,” said Penn. “She’ll be showing us how to make pottery the Taino way.”

Both Maho Bay art class seminars will be capped at small enrollment, so interested residents are urged to register early, Penn added.

Other popular seminars sure to fill early again this year are Doug White’s Green Building tours, of which he will be leading two, and Irene Patton’s tropical gardening tours. Patton will be leading guests to several local gardens on two different days and also lead a tropical gardening class.

“After people tour the island gardens, they can take Irene’s class and learn how to put those tropical garden elements into their own gardens,” Penn said.

Other seminars include hunting for a missing Reef Bay petroglyph with VINP archaeologist Ken Wild, learning about marine biology with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Jeff Miller aboard Kekoa, snorkeling the mangroves with USGS’ Caroline Rogers, and going on a critter crawl with Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Renata Platenberg.

“There are so many seminars and I had so many ideas for seminars, I even had to scale down,” said Penn. “So I have some already on the schedule for next year. There is definitely something for everyone.”

Kicking Friends’ 2010/11 Seminar Season off will be Karl Pytlik who will discuss the lionfish threat and the local response during Lionfish 101 on December 18.

“This is a new and exciting seminar which will highlight our efforts in capturing as many lionfish as we can and getting a better grip on what we’re doing to manage the problem,” said Penn.

December 18, Saturday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Lionfish 101
December 20, Mononday. 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. – Caribbean Creole
December 22, Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Native Arts and Crafts I
December 28, Tuesday, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Eco Spa
January 5, Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Reef Ecosystem Exploration
January 8, Saturday, 10 a.m. -3 p.m. – Kayak the Mangroves of Hurricane Hole I
January 9, Sunday, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Pastels Workshop I
January 12, Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Medicinal Herbs I
January 15, Saturday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Beach Cat Adventure Sail
January 19, Wednesday, 6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. – Full Moon Hike
January 21, Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Petroglyph Hunt
January 22, Saturday, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Kayak Caneel Bay I
January 23, Sunday, 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Botanical and Historic Hike
January 26, Wednesday, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Park Critter Crawl
January 28, Friday, 1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. – Sea Turtle Sail I
January 29, Saturday, 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. – Native Plant and Bird Hike
January 30, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Stories of the Winter Sky
For more information check out Friends’ website at or pick up a brochure listing all of Friends’ 2010/11 Seminars at Friends of VINP Store in Mongoose Junction. For more details call Penn at Friends at 779-4940.