Residents dressed “island chic” enjoyed the beautiful scenery at Villa Delfina in Peter Bay and the delicious spread catered by Mathayom Private Chefs on Friday evening, November 30, all in the name of a good cause — supporting the Friends of the V.I. National Park.
About 100 people attended the celebration, where more than $15,000 was raised for the Friends, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the VINP.
“It was a really fun evening,” said Friends Development Director Karen Brady, who organized the gala. “It was the perfect-sized group for the home, and we had In the Sand Band playing. There was a love train at some point in the night.”
The money raised at the $200 per ticket gala will go into the Friends’ general fund to help with operation costs. With many other fundraising galas taking place throughout the year on St. John, the Friends wanted to make their event a little different and more intimate, explained Brady.
Presentation on Successes, Challenges
“The smaller group allows us to get to know people better,” she said. “We also presented a program, where we tried to showcase the successes and the challenges we face.”
National Park Service Fisheries biologist Jeff Miller, VINP Archaeologist Ken Wild and VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove made the presentation, followed by Friends president Joe Kessler asking guests for their support.
“We shared some of the projects and programs we completed last year, and we asked guests for donations to help us keep supporting the park at the level which we do,” said Brady.
The majority of the challenges the VINP faces have to do with money, explained Hardgrove.
“One of the first things I did when I got here was to try to define how much money it would cost us to get all the park facilities and resources in good condition, and that figure came in around $22 million,” said the VINP superintendent. “The challenge we face is keeping our facilities in good condition, and the reason they aren’t in good condition now is our operating budget isn’t sufficient enough to allow us to treat the facilities on a regular basis with preventative maintenance — which in the long run saves many, many dollars. The challenge for the National Park Service is to work together with our partners to not be a total burden for the American taxpayer.”
Friends Motivate Park Staff
VINP partners, such as the Friends, help lighten this burden, Hardgrove continued.
“Having groups like the Friends is huge, because they can assist in ways the federal government can’t really provide for,” he said. “They can recruit for us and purchase things without having to deal with all the bureacracy.”
This year, the Friends recruited a volunteer coordinator who finds volunteers to work on maintaining the park’s trails, effectively doing what would usually take the efforts of three to four VINP employees, Hardgrove added.
The VINP would not be operating at the level which it does without the support of the Friends, the VINP superintendent explained.
“Having the Friends understand our problems and issues is very powerful and motivating for the park’s staff,” said Hardgrove. “They have a great president, board and staff who come to work every day and make a difference. I think without groups like the Friends, the National Park could not deliver the services it does today and protect the resources in the way we’ve been able to.”
To donate to the Friends of the VINP, call the organization at 779-4940.