(L to R): Senator Shawn Michael Malone, Friends of VINP President Joe Kessler, Senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land Ray Christman, Southeast Regional Director of National Park Service Stan Austin, Lt. Governor Gregory Francis, Trust for Public Land Senior Project Manager John Garrision, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, and VINP Supt. Brion FitzGerald marked the transfer of Estate Maho Bay from Trust for Public Land to V.I. National Park on Friday, February 21.
John Garrison, wrapped up the delivery of the biggest gift he could find for the St. John Virgin Islands National Park with a small luncheon ceremony at Maho Bay Beach pavilion on Friday, February 21, marking the transfer of the former Marsh family Estate Maho Bay property from the Trust for Public Land to the V.I. National Park.
Garrison, who was the first executive director of the Friends of the V.I. National Park from 1995-2001, helped orchestrate the TPL’s purchase of the pristine property and its subsequent transfer to the U.S. government for inclusion in the National Park Service’s V.I. National Park after he left St. John to join the nationally-recognized non-profit TPL.
Starting with a morning boat ride from Cruz Bay for Friends of the Park members and government dignitaries – complete with a dinghy landing at Maho Beach and a hike to the top of the, Garrison literally threw a party for “friends” of “Friends” on St. John to mark the transfer of the property.
Delegate Makes Dinghy Landing
Even V.I. Delegate to Congress Dr. Donna Christensen took off her shoes for the boat ride and dinghy landing — although when the boat left Cruz Bay the Delegate wasn’t sure she would take the “guided hike” to the top of the Marsh property which provides a major link between the V.I. National Park’s holdings on the north and south shore of the St. John.
Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis lead a V.I. government contingent including St. John Administrator Leona Smith who joined the luncheon at the Maho Beach Pavilion.
In a short ceremony at the pavilion before the luncheon, Garrison joined with about thirty dignitaries, members of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park and visitors to celebrate the largest addition to the St. John park since it was established by Laurance Rockefeller.
“Now the park is a continuous property,” Garrison said.
Garrison, whose wife Ginger worked for the VINP, first got involved in the Friends group in 1995 — as a volunteer and then as an unpaid director.
When it first began in 1985, the group was a “very, very informal organization, entirely volunteer,” according to Friends executive director Joe Kessler, who moved to St. John with his wife Christina and succeeded his long-time friend Garrison in 2001.
Garrison raised the first funds to hire staff to raise more funds to support the VINP archaeology program which has made significant discoveries within the park and the mooring program which Kessler has nurtured and expanded to enable the VINP to be “anchorless”.
Garrison didn’t forget St. John after leaving the Friends for the non-profit Trust for Public Lands where he lead the organization’s negotiations with the heirs of the Estate of Harvey Monroe Marsh, who died in 1971 at the age of 102 leaving the undivided interest in the Estate Maho Bay property to eleven grandchildren.
Garrison Thanks Marsh Heirs
In his presentation at the Maho Pavilion, Garrison thanked the heirs of the Marsh family who sold most of their historic family property to the trust for Public Land in lieu of selling it to developers.
One heir to the estate, retired California physician Dr. Alva Marsh, retained his share, which includes the ruins of the brick plantation building on the west end of the Maho Bay beach where his father lived for the last 45 years of his life, according to Garrison.
Dr. Marsh is restoring the property as a private residence.
“We would like to acquire that property also,” Garrison said. “Even though he’s not going to develop it.”
Having completed the Maho transfer to the VINP, Garrison is now eying retirement from the Trust for Public Lands in June.
“I’ll always have a connection to St. John,” Garrison said.