Hundreds Gather For Friends of the VINP Annual Meeting

The Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, the private, non-profit official fund raising partner of the park, funded almost $400,000 in projects in 2006, Joe Kessler, the group’s executive director, explained at the organization’s annual meeting on Sunday afternoon, January 21, at T’ree Lizards Restaurant at Cinnamon Bay Campground.

On a personal note, Kessler, who was in Florida for medical treatment most of the year, thanked the Friends’ board of directors and staff who “stepped up and filled in” while he was away.

The Friends’ executive director also thanked his wife Cristina, who he said was alternately “Nurse Ratchet and Florence Nightingale,” and said it was “because of her (Cristina) that I am here today.”

Preserving the large in-holding of Estate Maho Bay was the Friends’ biggest achievement of the year, explained Kessler.

The seven remaining Marsh heirs spent years in local courts trying to subdivide the land, but no progress was made on the deal over the past 10 years — until September 5, 2006, when TPL officials announced they had signed contracts with six of the seven heirs to purchase the land.

While TPL representatives did not release the purchase price of the land, the group announced they must raise millions for the purchase and Friends has been helping the cause.

“The Friends-sponsored summer Eco-camps at the V.I. Environmental Resource Station saw its student participation rate increase by 50 percent, Kessler explained.

The non-profit group also helped the appearance of the VINP by sponsoring the Student Conservation Association for another year, whose participants maintained six miles of trails, according to Kessler.

Friends also supported annual events like the St. John Folklife Festival and the popular Beach-to-Beach Power Swim.

The group continued to offer its grants for public school classes to take advantage of the VINP for academics, sponsored the Earth Day Festival which drew hundreds of local students and funded a digital preservation program in collaboration with the University of Maine.

Jackie Small is awarded the Park Partnership of the Year by the Friends by Friends President Joe Kessler.


Smalls, Speer Honored
Jackie Smalls, a VINP resource management administrative assistant who played an integral role in the park’s 50th anniversary festivities, was given the Park Partnership of the Year Award by the Friends.

Glen Speer, who volunteered long hours creating the new Philanthropy in the Park exhibit outside the VINP’s Visitor’s Center was recognized as the Friends’ Volunteer of the Year.

Speer, who has also served on the Friends’ board of directors since its inception, is a “model of volunteerism,” said Kessler.
$790,000 Goal for 2007

In 2007, Friends hopes to raise $790,000, expand their membership to 3,000 and increase volunteer opportunities, explained Kessler.

“2006 was a very busy year and 2007 will be at least as active,” said the Friends’ executive director.

Another Earth Day Festival and the fourth annual Beach to Beach Power Swim are already on the schedule for 2007, and Friends officials are open to new ideas for fund raisers. The group’s seminar series is already underway with a seed bead jewelry workshop, botanical hike and steel pan lesson, among other programs, planned for the upcoming weeks.

Friends also plans to construct trails at Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay which will be accessible to people with disabilities and to remodel the Cinnamon Bay archeology lab, Kessler added.

VINP Still Faces Threats
Despite the numerous successes of 2006, there remains much to be done for the park, Kessler added.

The VINP still faces serious threats from irresponsible development on in-holdings and land that borders the park, as well as chronic under-funding which limits park management, Kessler added.

The average person can do a lot to help protect the VINP, explained Kessler.

“Talk to people who are building on in-holdings and encourage them to use responsible and sustainable building practices,” said the Friends’ executive director. “Educate friends and visitors about how to be a good park citizen. Communicate with representatives and insist on increased funding for the National Park Service.”

“Stewards of Tradition”
Vin Cipolla, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation — the U.S. Congress-chartered  philanthropic partner of the

NPS — was the keynote speaker. Cipolla expounded on the importance of supporting National Parks.

“We are the stewards of the tradition of park philanthropy,” said Cipolla. “We do this because the environment matters. Because it isn’t someone else’s responsibility to care for our green spaces, it is our responsibility — all of ours.”

“The old adage that all charity is local has a good application here,” Cipolla continued. “Every citizen can and should preserve their shared green spaces.”

John Fuller stepped down as chairman of the Friends’ board of directors, a position he has held since 1999, and Fraser Drummond took over the post.

Sybil Lefferts and Friends will perform at Maho Bay Camp-ground in March as a Friends fund-raising event and expression of thanks to the community and Marsh heirs for the preservation of Estate Maho Bay.